One of the hardest things for many charity professionals to do is to ask for money.
When you’re a small organization, you feel like you’re basically asking someone to contribute to your salary: “Hey there! Could I ask you to make a donation? We’ll use the money to pay me so I can pay my rent. I promise to work hard and do really really good work (or the best I can with no resources whatsoever)”.
You also don’t want to hear “no” in the middle of a funding crisis, because you have no Plan B. You don’t want to hear “no” because no one likes rejection.
Sometimes, you don’t want to hear “yes”. I’ve met people over the years who find “yes” scarier than “no” because “yes” means you now have to show up. You have to deliver. That’s hard. And hard is scary.
The first truly valuable piece of advice on fundraising I heard from Gandhi. (Yes, I know that’s pretentious, but it’s true.) Buried somewhere in his autobiography is a brief section that describes the time he left law to become a social activist. Someone asked him why go door to door and beg for money. Why not work as a lawyer and donate his profits to the cause instead?
I remember his response went something like this: We ask for money from the community because that is how we ensure our work reflects their needs. That is how we know we have their support and we work for them. If we fund it all ourselves, we have no way of knowing that the people support our cause.
It doesn’t make fundraising any less daunting, but it reframes it as checking in with the public and being accountable for what we’re saying and doing. It makes it an honour to receive their money to reminds us to keep their needs in mind every minute of every day.
The second piece of advice came from a stranger. I can’t remember the name. I can’t remember the exact words, just what I took from the interview/ article/ speech/ podcast/ whatever it was:
Donors give through you, not to you.
We aren’t asking for money for ourselves, our desks, our time. We’re asking for money for the cause. And we spend it on the cause. We spend it on programs, services, supplies, and people who accomplish real social good.
It’s a whole different (better) way of looking at fundraising. It also promotes a sense of mission, impact, and accountability. Because if that person’s $25 didn’t go to the cause, if it wasn’t a drop in an ever-growing impact puddle, then you didn’t give them what they paid for. You let them down.
But boy-oh-boy, if you did create an impact, that’s such an incredible gift. You turned that $25 into something that will change people’s lives for the better. You did what few people could do. And your donor was super lucky to have met you.