On Saturday, August 9th I took on a difficult challenge that pulled me outside my comfort zone. The physical endurance was only one aspect that made this experience unlike anything I’ve ever done. The personal fundraising for a charitable cause was completely new to me as well.
As I wrote in my blog explaining the GORUCK challenge, personally asking for donations isn’t something I’m comfortable with. I’m not used to not being in complete control of reaching my goals. Usually, it’s solely my hard work and efforts that earn me the prize.
From this whole experience, I walked away with quite a few new skills I never knew I had in me. One of which is my ability to set a fundraising goal – and exceed it. With the help of family and friends, I raised more than $1,200 for rare disease research. This was $950 more than I thought I was capable of receiving. What did I do to reach my goal? Here are some of the techniques I found to be most effective for personal fundraising:
Carefully choose your fundraising goal
In order to reach a goal, you have to first set one. I underestimated how important this number truly was for my own fundraising. If your goal is too small, donors may choose to give you a smaller amount than they would have it was twice that amount. Additionally, once you reach that goal, you have less power behind your plea for donations – even if you wish to continue to raise funds beyond it.
On the flip side, too lofty of a goal can turn donors off and make them feel like their small donation is merely a drop in the bucket. So where’s the middle ground? First think of the “safe” number that comes to mind, the one that you know you could reach with only about 60% effort. I would suggest setting your goal at twice this amount. This makes donors – at any level – feel like they can contribute to your success. It also holds you own feet to the fire to not get complacent or lazy with your fundraising.
Be strategic with who you ask
Simply put, people must be asked. If you don’t provide your family and friends with the opportunity to easily make a donation, you’re missing out on a huge opportunity. And as I preach with any other type of communication, you must be strategic. If you start asking every single person in your social network (even ones who you have no real relationship with) you’re bound to come off looking spammy and desperate. Let’s be honest, only a small fraction of these people will actually donate.
Save your time and effort by narrowing down a core list of people who have your back and have supported you throughout other moments in life. These are the people that deserve a quality solicitation and will most certainly have the greatest return on your investment.
Make it direct and personal – don’t rely on social media!
Once you’ve narrowed down who you want to ask, you need to make it personal and genuine. Simply sharing a link to your fundraising page on Facebook may garner a few “likes” and words of support, but it does nothing to compel people to make a donation. Your network is able to easily hide between the virtual curtain and don’t feel any personal pressure to support you.
Combat this by writing an email, a letter or picking up the phone. Craft your message directly to that person and the relationship you have with them. While your core “ask” may be the same, add in a paragraph or two that shows this is not a mass message.
Be strategic with the timing of your asks
If you ask too far in advance, you are likely to get the response of “Sure, I’ll support you.” But then these people don’t feel the need to make the donation immediately and the task gets lost among their more pressing to-dos.
You should make your first ask about one month in advance of your fundraising deadline. You can even use this as the reason why you’re contacting them at this time. This also allows enough time to go back and follow-up with these same people in a few weeks, if you don’t hear back.
Ask for specific amounts
Asking someone for a certain level of donation can be tricky, but it is also effective for closing the deal. This amount will vary for every person on your contact list. Consider their personal financial situation, how well they know you and whether they have supported you at a certain level in the past. Together, these pieces of information will direct you toward the appropriate amount to ask for.
Why this is so effective is because it can compel people who have the means to actually give at that level. Otherwise, they may make a smaller donation than you were expecting. Additionally, for contacts who have limited means, you can encourage them to donate by asking for just $5. The direct ask lets them know that this amount is what you expect and what you’d appreciate; it’s not too small to make a difference.
Give away something of value in return
Even though this is a charitable donation and the “warm fuzzies” should be a good enough reward, people still like to feel as though they’re getting something for their contributions. This does not have to be monetary or material. I wrote a blog on why I was fundraising and this allowed me to initiate the conversation again with my networks. Moreover, it gave deeper insight into why this cause is so important to me.
People want to know that this is something you truly believe in, that it’s something you are committed to and something that’s unique from anything else you may have asked them to support in the past. Share this by writing a story, hand making an item to raffle off or giving a small token of appreciation to every donor.
Remember that list of contacts I told you to put together? Do yourself a favor and put that in a spreadsheet. You can then track who you contacted, for what amount, on what date and note any correspondence you’ve had with them. This will show you the appropriate time to initiate a follow-up or another means of communication. This will also be a big help when it comes time to thank your donors.
Use that organized spreadsheet as a tool to carefully time when and how you will follow-up with each person you contacted. Sending an email with no response and failing to follow-up is your own missed opportunity – not your donors’. Much like hiding behind the virtual curtain of social media, people can easily brush off a single email or voice mail solicitation. Sending one or more personalized follow-up messages makes it harder to ignore. A no is as good as a yes, and that’s all you’re asking for. If someone can’t donate, that’s fine. Ask until you receive a response either way (then track it on your spreadsheet).
Thank donors immediately AND post-event
Finally, show gratitude! Once you’re alerted that someone made a donation, immediately thank them with a quick message. Then, hand write (yes with a pen and paper) your formal, post-event thank you notes. I’m a big fan of including a picture from the event along with a personal message to each donor. This is such a critical step for completing the fundraising process. You may have already gotten what you wanted out of your donors, but remember that for any future fundraising efforts, they will likely be the same network you come back to and will remember this experience!
P.S…my fundraising page is still live and open for donations! It would be a missed opportunity not to ask, right?
Have you had the experience of personally fundraising for a charity or cause? Share what you found to work – and not work by commenting below!