Notes from a fundraising workshop

Below are my notes from a fundraising workshop led by Kim Klein, author of Fundraising for Social Change, at Starr King School for the Ministry, Monday 25 April 2011. My notes are just a bare outline of the presentation. perhaps the most important part of the presentation was Kim Klein’s straightforward, easygoing, no-nonsense, humor-filled approach to talking about money. She was not in the least uptight when she talked about money. In fact, perhaps the most important thing she told us was that it’s OK to talk about money, that we have to un-learn all the taboos and social constraints we have around money.

That being said, here are my notes:


The key questions nonprofit organizations must ask themselves before beginning fundraising:

— What does your organization most believe? You want to have a short memorable sentence describing what you believe. Example: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
— What does your organization do? You want to be able to talk very coherently about what you do.
— How well have you done? — your track record
— How much? — sources of money: Who gives?

The purpose of fundraising is to build relations.

“We don’t want a donation, we want a donor.” So you build relations with people who will be ongoing donors.

The hardest thing to do with a prospective contributor is to “get them to go from zero to one.” That first donation is hardest. Therefore, you have to be willing to start small. [My thought: perhaps this is one good reason to pass the collection basket in the Sunday service, because you’re getting that first donation early on.]

Another basic rule of fundraising is to ask for donations three or four times a year: you ask for the first donation, then you follow up three or four months later. Individual donations will increase over time, as people stay with your organization. If you’re willing to be more sophisticated, you start keeping track of how often different individuals can be asked to give; e.g., there will be some people who say, “This is all I’m giving this year, don’t call me again,” and so you don’t call them again; on the other hand, there may be people who prefer to be asked as many as six times a year.

For congregations, there is the annual canvass or pledge drive. But Klein recommends figuring out a way to ask for money two or three additional times in a year: a capital fund drive, a special project, etc. [My thought: I wonder about things like an annual church auction — even the people who don’t attend could be asked to give a cash donation to the auction.]


The basic fundraising equation: time in for money out. When looking at the time we put in, we have to be sure exactly what we want to get back for our time: money of course, but perhaps also more people, more visibility, etc.

The most effective use of fundraising time is personal, face-to-face asking.

You should ask people for about how much you think they can give. It’s not enough to simply ask for a donation — that’s too vague. You should know about how much you’re going to ask from a specific person, then ask for it.

If you’re looking for larger gifts (say, $5,000), to get the size gift you want, the prospect-to-donor ratio is about 4 to 1. So if you need a $5,000 gift, you should ask four people: 50% of the people you ask are likely to say yes (that’s 2 in this example), and half of those are likely to give you the amount you need (that’s 1 in this example).

You have to welcome it when prospects say “no.” First of all, when someone says “no,” that means you’re that much closer to having someone say “yes”! Secondly, it is important to remember that “no” actually may mean many different things. Here are some different ways people say “no,” and appropriate follow-ups:

  • The prospect may give a “no” which really means “not now” — then ask: “How should I leave it? When can I call you back?”
  • The prospect may say, “I have to ask my spouse” — then ask: What will your spouse need to know to make his/her decision?”
  • The prospect may say, “I can’t go that high” — then ask: “What feels good to you?”

When talking to prospects, you should take what they say absolutely literally. Do not try to read anything into what they say, because you might misinterpret. So if someone says, “Not now,” take that literally — they aren’t rejecting you, they are literally saying, “not now.”

If you contact someone by phone to ask for a donation, you’ll get a positive response about 25% of the time. If you contact someone via email or a letter to ask for a donation, you’ll get a positive response about 10% of the time. If you contact someone in person, you’ll get a positive response about 50% of the time. Obvious conclusion: when fundraising, the best approach is to contact someone in person.

What do you do after you write a note thanking the prospect?

It’s important to remember that $1,000 is a lot of money to most people. Yet most nonprofits do not pay much attention to such donors: if you give them attention, they’re often amazed. This is because we often give the same amount of attention to a $35 donor that we give to a $1,000 donor.

What kind of attention can you give to them? You can invite them to see a project your nonprofit is working on. It can be very low-key and non-threatening: “I’m going to be in your neighborhood visiting a project that you gave money to support, would you like to come along and see?” [My thought: in congregations, I’ve seen dinners for large donors work fairly well — but we religious liberals seem to have an aversion to this kind of thing.]

The approach

Before approaching a prospective donor, you have to know that they already give money to some charitable cause. This is easy to find out, and most people give some money to something. [My thought: if someone comes to Sunday services, and you pass the collection plate, most people will have thrown something into it — so you know that they give money!]

An approach often begins with a letter or email message, the gist of which is: you tell the prospect that you are going to ask them for a donation, increase, etc., but that they shouldn’t make the decision based on this letter, because you will call them in a few days.

Next step is to make the phone call. This is the hardest part! Therefore:

  • Since you are most likely to get voice mail, prepare a message that you are going to leave on their voice mail: write up an actual script!
  • The script for a voice mail message goes something like this: (a) give your name; (b) give your phone number (so you don’t say it too fast, write it out yourself each time you say it); © say you’re following up on the initial letter/email; say that you’d like to talk in person; (d) give your phone number again
  • Leave three messages before you give up and write off that prospective donor
  • If you actually get to talk to the person, act like everything the person says is literally true; do not read between the lines. If they say, “I can’t talk right now,” that’s literally true, so you say, “When can I call?” And pray for a hard question so you have an excuse for a meeting!
  • “The assumption of yes” — assume that you are going to be able to meet with the person

During the actual meeting, there are three things that a prospective donor is likely to focus on:
(1) The history of the organization. Default to your own story about your history with the organization.
(2) The philosophy of the organization. Again, be able to talk coherently about what your organization does.
(3) Benefits. Ditto.

Sometime during the meeting, you come to the close. That’s when you ask for the donation.

Kim Klein likes what she calls “the double close.” This is when you start out by saying something like: “I’m going to ask you for X dollars, but first let’s get to know each other, and talk about the organization.” You put it on the table, and then you take it right off again. Then, at the end of the meeting, you close again, and ask for the donation. She likes this because it takes a lot of the tension out of the meeting (for her, probably for the prospective donor). She doesn’t insist on it, but she likes it quite a bit.

When you come to the close, ask for the money — THEN SHUT UP. Don’t say anything, even if the silence goes on for a very long time. If you say something, you could wind up talking yourself out of a donation.

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