A Fresh Perspective: Swastikas, Uncle Tom and a Nerd
Connecting the Dots

Networking Tips from Beggars

My boss has a little ceramic plaque in her office that she bought at the 99cent store.  Raisins
Life is about raisins:

Raisin children!

Raisin money!

Raisin hell!

The wisdom you can find for under a buck! Those of us who have had to raise money/fundraise for causes for a living and a lifetime, consider ourselves beggars. While we may not use a tin cup and squat on a street corner, the process of getting people to part with THEIR money to fund your organization and cause is one of the most humbling and challenging tasks in life.

I was invited to be part of a prestigious panel of "begging" experts last week to help provide non-profit fundraisers and leaders gain a few insights into the current world of fundraising that is dripping with economic uncertainty and a receding donor pool. Stewart Kwoh, the founder and head of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the leading civil rights organization for Asian Americans in the US and winner of a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation in 1998. Stewart is a big time beggar. Kafi Blumenfield who leads the very progressive and effective Liberty Hill Foundation, is a consummate beggar. And Gayle Yamada, who leads the fundraising for the Little Tokyo Service Center, one the region's most innovative local cultural preservation and development non-profits. She is a professional beggar. I know what you are thinking, what was I doing with them?!!

They shared some insights, how-tos, and ideas that seemed to be very helpful to the audience. I think these lessons will help fundraisers but also apply to anyone interested in deeper and more fulfilling networking and relationships.

  1. Not about you: Never forget that you are representing a cause and an organization that are bigger than you. Many people will reject your proposals and your requests, but you can not take it personally. Learning from each rejection is critical to get better at pitching and begging, but don't waste time with how bad you feel. Yes, people give to people. But you are not representing yourself but the greater mission of your organization.
  2. Listen! What do they want?: Find out what makes people tick, who they are and why they are interested in your organization. What triggered their first gift? Eventually, you might get to a story that is very personal that tells you more about them and their motivations. Don't just show up and throw up your latest and greatest propaganda, find out what they think.
  3. Not just when you need something: Cardinal sin of all networking but especially fundraising. Reach out only when you need money or help. Bad form. Contact "important" prospects and supporters to check in, for advice, to share an article on something they care about (not your newsletter), to congratulate them on an achievement and then listen!
  4. Treat everyone like they are important: Many of the largest donors start off very small. They often don't look wealthy and may not even think they are wealthy. People are also connected, related to, know other donors, foundations, corporations--ones you are cultivating now. The moment you decide to treat a person with less importance, is the moment you find out her uncle is a billionaire! A story was told where a quaint elderly gentleman was a volunteer janitor at this struggling homeless shelter. He overheard the Ex Dir worrying about meeting next week's payroll. To the shock of the staff, the old man wrote a check for $20,000 to help them bridge the gap. When he died a few years later, he left them an endowment of $10 million! You never know who can help you.
  5. Passion to passion: Have to assume that you are passionate about your organization, not just interested or supportive. When a passionate fundraiser meets a passionate donor and they can find their common ground, great things happen. Connecting passions is the soul of relationships and of fundraising.
  6. Your existing donors are your best donors: No better donors than your existing ones. Don't ignore them for the newbies. More than likely you don't know them and your some of your donors would love to give more. Start with who you know before you just leap to people you don't.
  7. Short term needs with a long term focus: Our jobs as beggars is to help our organizations have a better future. Yes, that means meeting payroll and keeping the doors open. But some relationships need to be nurtured for the longer term. Your job is to meet you goals but to also seed the path for your successors who follow you.
  8. Make the ASK!: Number one complaint of donors, "Nobody ever asked". I am serious. Most supporters of organizations have not been courted or asked to give more. No an e-mail or a direct mail solicitation does not count. There is no substitute for meeting your donors face-to-face and asking them for more help. The ASK is a conversation about support and matching the donor's interests with yours. It is a logical consequence of the relationship. Blurting out an ASK when you don't know them can freak out everybody. But once you make the ASK, be quiet and listen!
  9. Say Thank You: I know this is really basic stuff but make calls and write notes. Make it as personal as you can. Thanking people is a lost art.
  10. Keep track of your relationships: Even if you only have 100 donors you have to have a shared system to document the relationships. A database that allows everyone to input info, facts, that help the organization understand the status, experiences, and opportunities of each donor. People in your organization have different interactions with donors/prospects and you want the current and future organizational team to be understand what the latest info is. Great networkers also have a "database" of notes to remember things and events.

Life is about raisins! Great begging and networking have the same assumptions at their core. It's the relationship, stupid! The opportunity to get to know people, really understanding them, and what they care about, is a priceless opportunity. It will reveal things that will help advance your organization and help you.

Thanks for reading. John

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