I've been getting the same type of question from a wide variety of nonprofit leaders in many different sectors. The question goes something like this:

"This guy is rich. What's my next step?"

Part of me wants to applaud them. These leaders are doing the hard work of trying to expand their fundraising.

But most of me wants to scream. The assumption is there must be a perfect "thing" to do that will cause them to give money. The implication is the "rich person" is really only a slot machine or ATM. Push a few buttons, pull a lever, and they'll spit out cash.

It's as if they're looking for a magic sign.

The magic? Hard work

The real money comes from the "magic" of doing the hard work of the Get R.E.A.L. framework:

  • Research,
  • Engage,
  • Ask, and
  • Love.

1. Research

First, research your organization: what are you asking them for? Most nonprofits leaders asking this question seem to want to get as much money as they can. That is 100% the wrong approach. Muggers just grab as much cash as they can get. Fundraisers look for places where values line up and donors can invest in causes that matter. (Click here to tweet that.)

So that means we have to be clear on what we're doing and why we're doing it. We have to know what we're inviting donors to give to. Are we:

  • Inviting them to buy a ticket to an event?
  • Fund payroll for the week?
  • Help transform some aspect of a community or cause for the quarter?
  • Save lives year round?

Look at your nonprofit work. Not the budget, but the outcomes. What are you getting done. What are you doing that a donor might love?

Then, research the donor: find out if what you're doing in any way aligns with the donors interests. Being "rich" in no way obligates them to give to you. Your job will be easier if you are able to find out if they:

  • are generous - do they give to nonprofits and politics?
  • are interested in causes like yours - do they support and get involved with organizations that operate in the same space as yours?

These aren't foolproof ways of know if the person will give to you. But knowing a person is a giver helps move them from a "suspect" - someone you suspect might give - to a "prospect" - someone worth following up on.

You can use tools like DonorSearch or iWave to do this research. Or you can use simple tools like Google. Three searches to try are:

1. a person's name,

2. a person's name and the state or city they live in,

3. their name and a word like "supporter" or "donor."

2. Engage

Once you have a sense of where what you offer and the person's interests may intersect, you can move to the next step: engaging the person. This is where you test your assumptions. You find out if you're right that you and they are a good match.

You can engage by showing up at public events that they are at. Things like business chamber events, galas, and the like. Or you can engage by calling them up and setting up an appointment. You might say:

"Hi [person's name], I'm grateful for the work you've done in [the sector you work in]. I think we have common interests and would love to buy you coffee to find out. I'm sure you get inundated with calls and I want to respect your time. Would we be able to get together for 20 minutes this Thursday or next Tuesday?"

Use your own words but consider making these points:

  • You're interested in what the person values, not just that the person has money.
  • You're aware they are busy.
  • You're not asking for a lot of time. Or even for a gift (if you aren't going to ask for a gift).

This wording isn't perfect. It won't get past every gatekeeper or get you onto every influential person's calendar. But it will get you on more calendars than if you didn't ask.

And don't get caught up on how to communicate. Some people respond to calls, some to notes in the mail, some to tweets. So mix it up. And if you have a lot of people you're trying to reach, experiment with calling some before office hours, some during office hours, and some after. Find out what works for you and the people you want to engage in.

Even of the people you meet, most probably won't be interested in giving. Some gift charts suggest you need five prospects for each gift. So keep looping the research and engage cycle until you find the people who you can ask.

3. Ask

Do you see how much clearer your ask will be now that you've researched your cause, researched your project, and engaged the donor. You now have a mission-centered ask to invite the donor into. You have something to offer them that you have reason to believe they may be interested in.

Two of my favorite phrases to use when asking for money are:

  • "I'd like to ask you to consider a gift of _______" and
  • "I have no idea if this is even reasonable, but would a gift of _________ be in the ballpark?"

The point is, make a specific ask. Not a vacuous "would you support our cause." You need to make it ridiculously easy for the donor to know what you mean. State a dollar amount or a gift club. "Would you consider a gift of $10,000?" or "Would you consider joining our President's Club?"

And consider politely asking for more. Not manipulatively. Not like a thug. But a person who's gotten this far in the process is likely interested in your cause. Or aspects of it. So consider stretching yourself when politely asking them to consider a gift.

4. Love

There are dozens of posts on this blog to show donors you love them. The goal is:

  • An immediate acknowledgement of the transaction - often generated as the credit card or check is processed.
  • A thank you note or telephone call within 48 hours.
  • And an impact report showing them how important their gift was within 90 days. (Often this is done through a truly effective donor newsletter.)

This is the sign you've been looking for

Some will be frustrated with this post because it's a process. It takes a lot of work. It involves having the integrity to treat people like human beings. And honoring their decisions.

The donors you earn this way will love investing in your organization. And the ones that don't may refer others to you anyway. Because you are respecting them while you're pursuing your goals.

The power in this process is that you aren't a victim. As a nonprofit leader, you don't have to hopelessly wait until people figure out to give to you. There is always something you can do.

Will you honor the process?

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