Never Try to Teach a Pig How to Sing: And six other rules for fundraising

Get in harmony with the prospect

Some people contribute not so much because they believe strongly in the cause than because they want to help, or please, the person who asks for the contribution.  It is easier to support an existing cause to which you are asked to participate, than to create a cause you identified on your own.  Finding support among prospects is made easier if the solicitor can find common ground with the prospect.  Examples of common ground may include similar educational, business or life experiences you share with a prospective donor.  While it would be nice to believe that all donors contribute because they understand the campaign, individual or organization fully and believe in its purposes and goals, in truth, some people only contribute because they  want  to help or to please the solicitor.  It’s a lot easier to give to someone you like and know, than someone you don’t.

Give the prospect an insiders look at what’s going on

Most American’s are both in awe and intimidated by direct involvement in politics.  Your prospects are no different.  A recent study by the Institute for Money in State Politics shows that fewer than one percent of the U.S. population actually contributes to the political process.  How then, do associations and corporations get donor responses to PACs ranging from five to fifty percent among their constituents?  Easy, they spend the time educate them.  Other than the simple fact that “they are asked,” donors repeatedly state that their decision to give is predicated upon the amount of information available to them in print, electronically or from a fundraiser when contributing.  The educational effort should be year-round, ongoing and can be carried out in a variety of ways.  The educational effort might consist of a seminar for fundraising volunteers, presentations and speeches, articles in newsletters, direct mail, and having plenty of legislative and political material available.  Do not underestimate the importance of detailed information concerning legislative, administrative, and regulatory successes pursued, especially information detailing the dollar amounts saved by the industry due to your work.  You cannot expect people to contribute out of a belief in the cause if they do not know what that cause is and what is has accomplished.  In the fundraising process, education is as important as solicitation itself.

Ask for a specific amount of money

Many of us have heard the story of the candidate who visited a prospective donor and asked him for a contribution to her campaign.  After the hour-long meeting listening to the candidate’s reasons for running and the candidate asking for “support” and “financial help,” the donor promptly pulled out his checkbook and wrote a $500 check for her campaign.  The candidate, who was thrilled with her fundraising ability and the $500 check, left the donor’s office to attend her next fundraising appointment.  Upon her leaving, the donor opened his desk drawer and tore up the $2,000 check he had already written the candidate.  The moral of the story is to be specific.  Had the candidate asked for a “maximum contribution” or a “$2,000 contribution” the campaign would have netted an additional $1,500 that day.

One of the fundamental principles of fundraising is that people are not likely to contribute unless they are asked for a specific amount, or a least an amount within a clearly delineated range.  A “give what you can” or “give what you feel is right” approach does not work in fundraising.  In fundraising, every appeal must suggest a contribution amount.

Explain why you need the money

To succeed, a solicitation must state the case effectively.  Any solicitation must provide the prospect with all the information needed to understand why — and to what — he or she is asked to contribute.  A potential contributor needs to know more than someone is asking for a contribution “for the campaign or cause.”  They need to know the goals, the benefits derived by giving both for themselves and their industry, the impact that their dollars may have in the elections, and who decides how to spend it.  To ensure that the fundraising appeal is effective, make sure that all your fundraisers have read all the available information about the organization, and that they clearly understand the structure and purpose of the campaign and how it works.  Knowing the basics of election law is also important.  Vague, unspecified appeals will not yield the financial results you desire.

Don’t try to teach a pig how to sing, it wastes your time and annoys the pig

Spending five meetings trying to convince someone to give, not only isn’t productive, it can become a nuisance to the prospect.  If you ask someone to give three times and they still say no, move on.  Most organizations have more prospects than they can possibly communicate with regularly.  Remember that the time you spend on the prospect in hand, lose two in the bush.  If you make the case for giving, have educated the prospect and they still cannot determine a specific benefit from contributing they are not likely to do so, whatever the pressure. In order to be successful in fundraising, you must be able to convince your prospects that investing in your campaign will bring them a return on their investment, industry-friendly candidates, a more powerful presence on Capitol Hill or recognition for themselves among their peers and/or political elite.

Instill a sense of immediacy or follow-up  on  the pledge immediately

Fundraising for a charity is often described as courtship between a solicitator and a prospect.  Political fundraising is best described as a one-night stand.  Elections happen every two years, while charity projects are usually ongoing.  Tell your prospects why you need the money, when you need the money and how it will affect this year’s election and legislative battles.

While pledge drives are not the best method for developing political contributions, mostly because they fail to convert an average of thirty percent of the gifts, they are a necessary component of many phone and direct mail operations.  Upon completion of any pledge drive, several follow-up tasks remain.  If they are carried out with immediacy and persistence, they can greatly increase your total collections.  For local fundraising efforts emphasize same-day pick-up by someone in the area.  Ask if you can have “someone pick up the check by 5:00 today.”  If you’re collecting nationally, mail out statements or reminders, or make follow-up telephone calls from members of your committee.  If the statements or reminders go unanswered with a contribution for more than a month, send a “past due notice. ”  Always, immediately send thank-you letters to the entire targeted group, and don’t forget to thank your fundraising volunteers.

Thank your contributors profusely

You cannot lavish enough praise and attention upon your donors.  Be sure that every donor receives a thank-you.  While a letter from the candidate is fine in most cases, enclose a note from the campaign chairman, an insider’s memo, brochure, item of recognition, or an invitation to an upcoming event.  You may also want to enclose another request for funds and a business reply envelope.  Enclosing a reply envelope and contribution card usually raises enough to pay for thank-you mailing costs.  A personal telephone call from the candidate or campaign chairman should be made for those who give large sums.  Personal attention goes a long way to reinforce loyalty and paves the way for even more successful future fundraising efforts!

Trey Richardson is principal of Sagac Public Affairs, a national company providing communications, research, fundraising and management solutions to hundreds of political, non-profit and corporate organizations.  Sagac is the leader in the political community for strategy and implementation of candidate, committee and PAC finance operations.
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