The Most Productive Form of Fundraising

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard negative comments about fundraising. “I hate fundraising; I just really don’t like asking for money; fundraising makes me uncomfortable.”

Of course, very few people who say these things have actually been involved in a well-planned fundraising campaign. In the coming weeks we’ll try to provide some basics of fundraising and also try to deal with some common fears.

However, even before we get into, “techniques” I want to address a fundamental question. Though it’s most important to success, it is often is neglected. Simply stated, which method yields the best results?

Why Face-To-Face Asks are Superior

Many nonprofit organizations and boards prefer events, direct mail or even telephone solicitations over making direct face-to-face asks. Despite the fact that the aforementioned methods are costly, labor intensive and less productive, nonprofits and their volunteers continue to rely on them. Therefore, I thought we’d begin our series by looking at each method.

Direct Mail and Phone-a-thon Fundraising

In direct mail good response rates are typically 1%-3%, and 8-9% for house renewals. Phone-a-thons are more effective if people answer. In fact, a Showcase of Fundraising Innovation/Inspiration (Sofii) report cites a 38% response rate for telephone upgrade campaigns (vs. 4% in direct mail upgrades).

However, that doesn’t consider what it costs. In fact, direct mail is the most costly and least effective method of fundraising. Now I’m not suggesting that you drop it. On the contrary, direct mail also helps acquire new donors, renew or upgrade old ones, enhance brand recognition and increase visibility. It also can tell stories that demonstrate how you’re helping others, but it does have limitations.

Special Events Fundraising

Golf tournaments, auctions and galas can help, but you have to watch costs. While professionals suggest that they shouldn’t exceed 30%, in our capital campaign consulting we’ve seen them reach as high as 70%. And this doesn’t consider the labor-intensive nature of events. Still events raise organizational visibility and bring new people to the table.

Of course, well-balanced development programs include all of these methods and more.

Face-to-Face Fundraising

The operative word here is balanced. Often nonprofits employ plenty of the previous methods, but they neglect the most productive form of fundraising and that is face-to-face solicitations.

As fundraising consultants we often quote the statistic that 70% of the time a peer visits a peer this way, the answer is “yes”. Of course, it may not be at the same level you ask, but it’s usually “yes” at some level. Also, gifts are much larger in face-to-face visits than in any other form of fundraising.

Why People Fear Face-to-Face Visits

Fears generally come from one of 3 concerns. I’m afraid they’ll say “no”; I’m afraid they’ll get mad; or I’m afraid I’ll make a mistake. So what are the answers?

First, the reality is that 70% of the time the answer is “yes” and not “no”.

Second, in over 30 years of fundraising, I’ve only had one person get mad, and he later apologized. People are sometimes flattered, but they hardly ever get mad. In the one case where it did happen to me, I responded, “I’m not asking for myself. I’m asking for the kids who are being housed, fed and cared for here.

Third, no one is perfect. Whenever you initiate something new, you’re bound to make mistakes. In fact, Michael Jordan said that during his career he missed over 9,000 shots, lost 300 games and he’d been called on 26 times to make the final shot in a game and missed. Jordan noted that he failed over and over again and that’s why he succeeded.

Fundraising is the same; you simply get better with practice. In future blogs we’ll talk about some effective techniques for asking.