“Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
–William Butler Yates, Irish poet (1865-1939)
I wrote this article on Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog for a prior St. Patrick’s Day. I liked it so much, however, I decided to keep it as an article.
St. Patrick is remembered as a humble, pious and gentle man. He feared nothing, not even death, as Catholic Online reports in its Saints & Angels section. I suspect if he were alive today, he would not fear asking for donations, either.
The quote above by revered Irishman William Butler Yates brings to mind the thought that while nonprofit organizations must be careful not to solicit donations without proper advance preparation, when donors become interested in the work of a nonprofit organization and they are genuinely excited about being involved and helping, nonprofits should not be shy about asking for financial or other assistance. One must make the iron hot by striking!
I personally have never found a donor to be insulted by being asked. Most are flattered that you would think of them as able to help, even if they cannot make the commitment the nonprofit ultimately hopes for. Yet, one of the most common fears voiced by my nonprofit colleagues (staff and volunteers), is that they find it hard (even terrifying) to “ask.”
But I do not suggest you be irresponsible. For all but a few entrepreneurial-minded prospective major gift donors, “asking” at your first meeting – before you know the prospective donor well, and you have adequately explained the needs of your organization – can be disastrous.
Here is a case in point. Early in my career, I was asked to attend a private meeting with the Executive Director of my nonprofit and the owner of a private oil company. That we were allowed to visit at all was nothing short of a miracle. I attended to listen, take notes and follow up afterward. Once the meeting began, the Executive Director blurted out that he was not going to be shy: the nonprofit needed lots of money for its projects and that is why we were there. The meeting was courteous but did not last long, and I do not recall the nonprofit ever heard back. On the sly, I wrote a personal hand-written apology and mailed it to the oil company owner. I was mortified.
I have noticed since moving back to Austin, Texas in mid-2013 that quite a few nonprofits are moulding themselves to be more like business startups. If you are one of those and you prefer to “pitch” you project, read Neil Patel for Entrepreneur, “13 Tips on How to Deliver a Pitch Investors Simply Can’t Turn Down” (October 21, 2015). You must be prepared and well organized to pull a first class pitch off.
Qgiv is a growing online giving company with which I have worked, and with great success. In, “8 Incredible Tips to Ask for Donations in Person,” they provide advice for the modern era:
- Do research beforehand.
- Form a strong relationship before you make your ask.
- Meet them where they are.
- Practice your pitch.
- Communicate in a variety of ways.
- Be genuine, direct, and specific.
- Be prepared for rejections.
- Say thank you more than once.
In closing, and contrary to the above, in an article I wrote when I first launched Carolyn’s Nonprofit Blog, I discuss anonymous giving. Follow the link to read, Listening to Donors and “Serendipity” Happens. Sometimes you might not ask, but you just might receive because you have inspired someone by the good work you are doing.
While I am on an Irish theme, I wanted to point out a terrific nonprofit support organization that serves Irish fundraisers, Charities Ireland Institute. They seem to have both a modern and traditional approach to fundraising, which is my style exactly. Keep the tried-and-true, I say, but don’t be left behind. Make use of new methods, too.
Guímid gach rath agus tú!