There is a misconception about what goes into fundraising that can sometimes keep organizational stakeholders (such as board members, or dedicated volunteers) feeling a little skittish about getting involved—that fundraising is all about asking for money.
Yes, of course fundraising includes asking for money, but a development department’s work is so much more than that. We could go on and on for pages about how to make the ask itself feel less daunting, but when you’re trying to convince an organizational stakeholder to support your fundraising efforts, one of the more salient points in your argument is likely to be about all of the things that person can (and needs to) do that don’t involve asking for money.
The industry lingo for these tasks is “Cultivation,” but we’ve also heard the phrase “Friend-raising” batted around to describe the subject—and perhaps no term is more apt. So, for those times when you really need a stakeholder to do some friend-raising with prospective donors in their own network, we’ve come up with a few low-barrier projects you can assign them.
Invite prospects to organizational events. This is one of the easiest things that you can ask a stakeholder to do. Whether you are organizing a cultivation event, or you work with an organization that provides public programming on a regular basis (such as a museum or a park conservancy), task them with inviting a few friends or colleagues to come along with them, to expose those friends and colleagues to the organization and the great work that it is doing in the community.
Review lists of names. If you are trying to get the attention of a prospective foundation, for instance, put the foundation’s trustee list in front of your board. You never know when the president of a foundation you’re trying to get to know is going to turn out to be the next-door neighbor of your own Board Chair. The same applies to lists of individual donors. If you have an event coming up, float the list of attendees by your board, to find out where there may already be relationships that you can leverage, or whether your board has any important information to share about those people.
Help Provide Background Information. Once you’ve identified that a stakeholder personally knows (or knows about) a prospective donor, you can mine that stakeholder for more information. Is there anything you should know about that person as you continue cultivating them? Are there topics of conversation that you should stay away from? Do they have extenuating life circumstances that would make this a bad time to try to solicit a gift? This is all important, intangible information that you won’t necessarily find using traditional donor research tools, but that will come in handy as you spend more time with your prospect.
Extend a Thank You. When a gift comes in from a donor who knows one of your stakeholders, have that stakeholder extend a thank you (be it on the phone, via email, or in a handwritten note). The personalization and recognition from a known entity will make the “Thanks” even more meaningful. You might also do this if you receive a gift from a donor who you think could become a significant supporter of your organization. A personalized note from the Board Chair, for instance, can show how highly you value their support.
Publicly Share Their Support for Your Organization. From time to time, and where appropriate, there may be opportunities for your stakeholders to share with their friends and colleagues that they are involved in your organization (and explain why they are so excited to be there). This might involve anything from listing their affiliation with your organization on LinkedIn, to sharing some great press about your organization on Facebook, to adding their work with you to a professional bio, or even talking you up at a dinner party. While all these things might seem very small, they open a door to potentially interested members of your stakeholders’ networks to ask more about your work, and learn how to get involved.
Host a cultivation event. This one is more labor and time intensive, but has the potential for a big payoff. By playing the role of host, your stakeholder had the opportunity to naturally invite friends, colleagues, and peers into their home for a celebration of your organization’s work. Using this as an opportunity to raise friends, rather than funds, the evening can be a great opportunity for your staff—and even for your stakeholder—to learn more about the attendees’ interests, and involvement with other non-profit organizations. You can even offer for your team to do the heavy programmatic lifting, such as giving a speech about the organization, and offering thanks to the evening’s host for being such a fabulous supporter.