Some Thoughts On Asking People For Money

helpmepoorNot sure if it’s the time of year in general (a lot of non-profits have a fiscal year that ends June 30) or it’s the fact that the business bank account takes a hit in May (I pay the PO Box, workers comp insurance, liability insurance, and a few other once a year bills within a two week period- painful)… but I start noticing the solicitation letters start.

Now I’m not going to name names so if you are here for the gossip, you are going to be disappointed. (I do have to run into some of these people at the grocery store after all.)

What I am going to say is a few things about asking for money, on the internet or otherwise.

1) Your first contact with me shouldn’t be to ask me for money.
There is a local non-profit that sends me a solicitation via mail once a year. I’ve never been to one of their events, set foot in their building, or met any of their board. Yet somehow, I should feel compelled to write a check.

Here’s the thing. Getting anything from people- volunteer time, money, anything- is about relationships. You don’t go on a first date and say ‘Hi, nice to meet you, let’s get married.’

We all need a little romancing.

The Abbe Museum with their “Abbe Underground” program the last couple years has had quarterly-ish events courting the under 40 crowd (ie nurturing future donors and getting new people into the museum space and aware of their programs). The donation envelopes were always on the table at events but they never pushed… because they are in this for the long haul. Why guilt $20 out of me now when I’d gladly give $200 every year once I got to know them?

So let’s say you were a music non-profit and have bought a mailing list off your local chamber, didn’t have the money or staff for an in person event. What is a bootstrapped organization to do? Why not send me a card on World Music Day (October 1 in case you were curious but didn’t feel like clicking). It would cost about the same amount to send that in the mail as a boring letter and I’d think it was a lot more interesting. And speaking of that…

2) Please stop doing what everyone else is doing.

If I see one more $100+ per plate gala fundraiser in the summer on Mount Desert Island, I may scream.

First of all, I get that there are a lot of fancy people around here. And I get that they want to party down. But, come on, are we really going to keep hitting up the same 250ish people for money all the time?

An example of something different for around these parts? Dress Up At The Jesup, a fundraiser our local library is throwing in June (still in the works but I help set up the payment form so I know these things). Apps and dress up like your favorite character in a book for $35. Fun night out, ties in with their mission, and something different. Win, win, win. Why can’t more people get creative when it comes to asking for money?

3) Stop speaking non-profit.

So we’re all guilty of this to some extent (myself included though I will say I try very hard to not get too jargon-y on the blog or otherwise). Below is me speaking non-profit (warning I only worked at a non-profit for a couple years so it might be more like pigeon non-profit but you’ll get the idea).

Our mission statement allows us to partner with existing community organizations to increase programming range; develop curriculum to educate affected groups; and impact those in programs in a more impactful way.

Now read your last solicitation letter and really look at it. Could you cut half the words out of it and say the same thing? Is there a word that would make your grandmother feel stupid? Did you have to read a paragraph two or three times because you spaced out?

Ok let’s rework the sentence.

We work directly with organizations like the Bar Harbor Historical Society and Mount Desert Island High School to create history education programs that serve high schools to senior citizens, with a total reach of 500 households.

Now that sentence is actually a little longer but probably felt shorter. Why?

  • I got specific, with what we did and the impact we have (bonus points for numbers, people).
  • I name dropped actual other cool places (‘trust symbol’- i.e. other people think we’re cool so you can too).
  • I took out the jargon.

 4) Make it easy.

I once was at an event and they gave out Clynk bags with stickers on connected to the nonprofit’s account. All people had to do was go home, fill one up with returnable bottles, and drop it off at the grocery store. They didn’t just say ‘Oh we accept donations via Clynk.’ They made it very easy to give bottles that I heard through the grapevine added up to over $600 in donations.

The ultimate in easiness is setting up a donation form on your website. (By the way if you have a Wordpress website and a Stripe account, we’ll set it up an online donation form for you for $300. We might not do it that cheap forever but it’s a nice entry point for many.) One person we set up a form for got a $500 donation via the website… the next day. Results may vary but I guarantee, if you don’t make people mail in a check, it’s a lot easier to get money from them.

So as you get ready to ask donors and potential donors for support, I hope this helps give some perspective. Ask and you shall receive? Maybe. But ask with the person in mind and that is much much more likely.

 

Nicole Ouellette
Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she's not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

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