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Asking For Donations

I'm in the process of starting a not-for-profit organization. I was wondering what is the polite way to solicit donations for such an organization? I don't want to become the person who is always asking for money, but I also don't want the organization to suffer from me being overly shy.

M. C., Flushing, NY.

Success in business is based on building relationships and that certainly is true when soliciting for donations. By building a relationship with the donor, you build trust. Trust is key to being successful at the ask.

Just like building relationships, asking for donations is a skill. Just like other skills some people do it naturally and easily, while others learn it. Because it sounds like this is a new venture for you, try to identify a couple of people in the non-profit community in your area who you think would be good mentors for you. If they agree, don’t try to mine them for contacts to solicit, but rather work with them to understand what makes them successful and emulate them as you develop your solicitation skills.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard for people who are going to solicit donations is this: Instead of thinking of it as "asking for a donation," flip your mindset to "offering an opportunity to learn more and give to an amazing cause."

When making phone calls, be warm and personable but get to the point and be considerate: "Jackie, I'm calling because of this opportunity I'm excited about and am personally involved in. Can we have coffee so I can tell you about what I'm doing for the American Heart Association? I'd love to have you be part of it!" If they have time to meet, they will. Face-to-face is always the best way to solicit. If they don't have time, ask them right then and there on the phone and for a specific amount.

Here are four other keys to being successful:

1. Don't solicit for a cause unless you have a passion for it or a personal relationship with it. You must be sincere when you ask for donations.

2. When you take on fundraising, be open and realistic about what you think you can do - don't bite off more than you can chew. That is respectful of you and the development team at the non-profit.

3. Thank the donor verbally when they make the donation. Thank them again when they send in the actual donation (ask the non-profit to notify you). Yes, the non-profit will thank them but, as the solicitor, you should, too.

4. Help the organization by getting complete contact information for their records, future solicitations, or invitations to events. Be careful to note how people wish to be addressed or acknowledged: Is it Mr. and Mrs. John Doe, or Mr. John Doe and Ms. Amy Buck?

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