“It’s all in who you know.”
Has anyone ever said that to you about fundraising? Did it conjure up images of smoky backroom deals, fancy socialites making formal introductions, or nepotism?
Did it make you feel defeated, because you’re neither a socialite nor in the mafia, and have never even met a super wealthy person? Did it make you glare at your family for not heading up foundations or being CEOs?
That’s why I would like it a lot better if the adage was, “It’s all in your community.”
The fact is, a lot of your fundraising success will be because of who you know. That’s because fundraising is based on relationships. Peer-to-peer fundraising is one example of this, but your organization’s relationships will influence everything from fundraising events to your annual appeal.
So, who’s in your community?
If you’re still thinking, “Nobody,” I’m so glad to tell you that you’re very wrong.
Your community is already full of people who care about your cause and want to help. And if they can’t help, they probably know people who can. You just need to make contact.
Where The People Are
Leaving your organization out of it for a second, consider your own life. You probably know more people than you think you do. Consider:
- Close family
- Extended family
- Close friends
- Less close friends
- Former colleagues
- Fellow congregants
- Former roommates
- Former classmates
- Parents of your kids’ friends
- Parents of your friends
- Your kids’ teachers and mentors
- Your own teachers and mentors
- Friends of your friends, that you see every year at birthdays and parties
- Members of your sports team, choir, book club
That’s a lot of people.
“Yeah,” you may think, “But I wouldn’t ask most of those people for money.”
That doesn’t matter. Right now, we’re just looking at people you know, not people you’re willing to solicit. Your extended network holds all kinds of help and opportunity.
Now, let’s bring this all back to your organization. Your nonprofit is made up of people, and your board, staff, volunteers, and existing donors all have their own extended social networks. You collectively know thousands of people. So let’s connect with (some of) them.
Working The Connections You Already Have
The phrase “work your connections” can have icky connotations of using people. If I had my way, we’d change it to “let people help you,” but I am not in charge of phrases. “Working” your connections simply means not missing opportunities to collaborate with your community.
So we’re not even talking about building new connections right now. There’s friend-raising, and first-time donor acquisition and networking to be done, no doubt. However, it’s easy to get focused on mythical fancy people and spend all your time searching for them. Like so many things, if you look at your community you’ll find the real treasure was there all along.
Lots of major donors, board members, and potentially very useful and helpful people are hanging around nonprofits, but are never invited to use their influence or get more involved. Not everyone will intuitively know what you need, or burst in and save the day. Many people wait to be asked.
So, you’re going to have to ask. Here are four “asks” to start leveraging your connections.
1. Ask For Advice
One of the simplest ways for connecting with people and deepening their relationship with your organization is to ask them for advice. It demonstrates you value their knowledge and experience, and want them to be involved.
Whether it’s asking your lawyer board member to take a look at a vendor contract before you sign it, or taking a volunteer out for coffee to ask how to make a process better, your network has wisdom and expertise that is yours for the asking. Many people love to help in this way because they can use their professional and life skills to help a cause they care about.
2. Ask For Something Specific
If you ask people for connections, it’s very likely they will silently think, “I don’t know any really rich people,” and say that they don’t know anyone. A specific ask will help a lot because it triggers specific thinking. Aim for questions like:
“Do you know anyone who could advise us on our marketing materials?”
“Do you know anyone on City Council? Would you introduce me to them?”
Don’t forget to work your connections for other resources than people–sometimes a specific tool or space will help an organization just as much as money or people.
Think of things like:
“Do you know someone with a pickup truck, so we don’t have to rent one?”
“Do you have a lead on an event space?”
“Does your office throw out cardboard boxes? The after school kids could use them for craft time.”
3. Ask How They Want To Help
Often, you’ll approach a contact with a plan, but leave room for serendipity. The person may have their own ideas for helping out.
You may find that your board member who won’t ask for money wants to host a party for their friends to learn about your project.
A major donor might want to bring in her employees for a day of volunteering.
A volunteer might have a giant yard he’d like you to use for your annual donor appreciation picnic. You never know.
To encourage folks to share their ideas, ask questions like:
“Do you have any ideas for fundraising this year?”
“How would you like to be involved?”
“Is there anything you’d like to try to help our organization?”
4. Ask Them To Go Deeper
As you’re working your connections, you may find some superstars emerge. People who are excited to help, share their own networks, and love your organization. Don’t let these people get away! Instead, invite them to connect more–activating and rallying these folks is crucial for community-driven fundraising.
One excellent way to bring people deeper into your organization is to invite them to participate in more of the development process.
Writing thank you notes, calling donors, and sitting in on meetings with program officers and prospects makes them an active part of the life of your organization. It also shows that you trust them and value what they bring to your organization.
Another way to connect people to your organization is to invite them to collaborate with you.
Working together on a project is a bonding experience, and establishes them as a leader in your community. Each time you plan a project, consider if there’s a way to bring in these helpful community members. Co-hosting events, planning a campaign, or developing new volunteer materials are all great opportunities to strengthen your connection.
Let Your Community Help You
Working your connections for fundraising isn’t as intimidating as it may seem. There’s a community of people and resources, ready to help your organization. Sure, not every member of your community is going to write you a check or introduce you to their friends. Some of them won’t even loan you their lawnmower. But within the network of people connected to your organization, there are people waiting to help out. You just need to ask them.