Read an Excerpt
Fundraising for the Long Haul
By Kim Klein
Chardon PressCopyright © 2000 Kim Klein
All right reserved.
Chapter OneSECTION ONE
You Can Learn from My Mistakes
In 1979, The Youth Project, a foundation that provided technical assistance and financial support to grassroots community organizations, sponsored a program called the Self-Sufficiency Training Project. The project's overall goal was to help grassroots organizations increase their income and decrease their reliance on foundations (for those who had been ablg to become reliant on foundations). One part of this project was to teach twelve people experienced in grassroots fundraising and working full time for grassroots organizations how to train others about both fundraising and the relationship between fundraising and organizing. The project was nicknamed "Clone Joan" because at that time Joan Flanagan had written the only book for people doing grassroots fundraising, The Grassroots Fundraising Book. (Joan has updated this book several times and it remains a classic-see bibliography if you don't already own it.)
I was one of the twelve being trained. Our trainers had a lot of training experience; most of them were community organizers with experience in varying aspects of fundraising. Heather Booth, Karen Thomas, Si Kahn, Hulbert James, Mary Harrington and, of course, Joan Flanagan, provided the training. I still have my notes from that training. They are yellowed, and the edges of the papers are greasy and worn with being handled so often.
One of the most important things I learned during those sessions was from a comment of Si Kahn's: "People learn more from your mistakes than from your successes." In that spirit, this section is devoted to six mistakes, or lessons. They are not my greatest professional failures, but they are mistakes that other people could learn to avoid. They are mistakes I have seen other people make, which gives me some comfort. I prefer to call them lessons because it sounds better than mistakes. Some of these lessons I only needed once, others I have repeated over and over, some as recently as last week. Some lessons are harder to learn than others. My hope is that you will learn them from me, rather than having to learn them from your own experience. This will free you to learn new lessons. Some of these lessons you have already learned, and so you will learn that you are not the first and you are not alone.
The Importance of Prospect Research
Early in my fundraising training I was given the tools for recognizing a prospect. First, the prospect must be known to someone known to our group. Thus, we narrow down from all the people in the world to focus on those people we have access to. Next, we take the people we have access to and focus on those who are GIVERS. We look for people who give money because that is what we want them to do. If we look for people who HAVE money we will find people who have money, which doesn't necessarily mean they are also givers.
If the person is a giver, we look at what they believe in to see if they might be interested in giving some money to our group. What other groups do they give to? What causes seem to move them? What opinions do they express? What do they read or listen to? Finally, we try to determine what amount of money would be appropriate to ask them for. What size gifts have they given to other organizations? Do they give only from income, or do they also have assets they might give? How much money do they seem to give overall? Is this the first time they are giving to us or have they been giving for years and years but giving an amount that is lower than what they seem capable of, given how much they seem to like our group?
This information is carefully recorded. Nothing is written down that is indiscreet or not our business. The information should be verified by more than one person. If someone tells you that a prospect is "worth millions," you try to check it out. My first boss told me to ask two questions about all information on prospects. The first is, "Can this be true?" and the second is, "Really, I am serious. Can this be true?" Over the years, I have realized that he was right. People will tell you things about other people's money that may not be true. So I am careful, but not always.
In the late 1980s, I was the development staff person for a $10 million campaign. The campaign had gone well for the first six months and we had raised $4 million, but for several months it had lagged. I was moving from discouragement to desperation when one of the volunteers on the campaign, Margaret, told me that a woman named Jean who had been giving money to us for several years was a multi-millionaire and heir to a large textile fortune. She and her husband, Seth, had given the organization $10,000 for three years and $25,000 for the past two years. Margaret was sure this woman could give the campaign $1 million.
"How do you know she could give $1 million?" I asked. "She has it," Margaret assured me. "In fact she and her husband are giving $10 million to another group. I have set up a meeting and want you to come and do the asking with me."
Margaret was competent and reliable. She had already gotten two gifts of $50,000 from other donors, so I only asked two other things about this prospect: Do we meet with both Jean and Seth, and if so, what is Seth like? And, does she have any idea how much money we are asking for and why? Margaret assured me the prospect was familiar with and supportive of the campaign. "You can see for yourself she is a generous donor from her previous history. Her husband is a very successful lawyer, but it is her money that they give away. She is a social worker by profession. They are both really nice people." Because Margaret spoke with great assurance and had been successful before, and mostly because I wanted to believe these people could and would like to give $1 million, I asked no further questions.
On the day of the solicitation, Margaret drove us to the prospects' house. She was more nervous than I had seen her before, and she made me promise that I would actually ask for the money. She said, "I know I am the volunteer and should do it, but I have never asked for anything like this amount and just don't trust myself to do it right." I said I would and did not reveal that I too had never asked for $1 million before. My absorption in my own nervousness precluded finding out why Margaret was so jittery. I calmed myself down by imagining what heroes Margaret and I would be if we came in with this gift. Thus I blew my last chance to find out if I really knew enough about these prospects to ask for this amount of money.
We arrived at their large rambling old house situated on two acres of land. Margaret introduced me to Jean and Seth and their two Labradors. They were warm, down-to-earth people, and I started to feel better. Their dogs lay at my feet, and we began the solicitation with small talk about the ride over and about their house. Margaret seemed willing to chatter about all that forever, but I moved the conversation to the campaign. They did know about it and asked a number of good questions. After we had been there about an hour, I felt it was time to close. Margaret told Jean and Seth that she had given the biggest gift of her life to this campaign and that we were looking for that kind of commitment from a few other people.
She looked at me and I looked at them and said, "We don't expect an answer today, but we are hoping you will consider a gift of $1 million."
I could tell by the way that both of their jaws dropped that they had no idea this was coming. The dogs, who had been sleeping by my feet, sat up, looked at me and then moved to their owners. There was silence, except for the sound of dog paws padding across the floor, and soon a slight choking noise from Jean, who finally managed to say, "I don't think we can do anything like that." Margaret seemed catatonic. I instantly saw how careless I had been in my research about them, and tried to rescue the moment with an even more stupid request. "If $1 million is too much, $500,000 would be fine or ..." Before I could dig my grave further, her husband, in a gesture for which I will always be grateful, raised his hand to stop me and said, "We'll think about your request." He smiled very warmly and I shut my mouth.
The dogs laid back down and we all laughed a little. The embarrassed silence that followed his comment allowed me to pull my wits together. I decided to follow the old fundraising adage, "If all else fails, try honesty." I said, "I have never asked anyone for this much money before and I don't know what you are supposed to say after you do it." Everyone laughed out loud, and then for the next few minutes Jean and Seth told stories of their most embarrassing moments. Margaret said nothing.
In retrospect, I could see that I made several mistakes. One, I did not find out what group Jean and Seth were giving $10 million to. As it turned out, Seth's law firm was co-signing a loan for $10 million for a low-income housing project in his town. The details of this deal had been in their local paper, which I could have easily found. Next, I did not find out if the $25,000 they had twice given us was their largest gift or a gift they gave to other groups. Margaret or I could have found this out by asking some other organizations. Nor did I check out the story about Jean being an heir to a textile fortune. It turned out that her family was in textiles and that she had inherited $2 million. Finally, I did not ask Margaret to show me any correspondence she had had with them or repeat verbatim any phone calls, so that I could decide how well prepared they were to be asked for such a large amount of money.
Every time I have made a mistake like this it has been because I wanted the money too much, and my greed has overridden my knowledge and common sense.
As mistakes go, this was pretty minor because Jean and Seth were so gracious. They ultimately gave $250,000 over two years, and they have continued to be supportive of this organization. I saw them a few times after our meeting and they were always friendly. A few years later, I heard that someone told them he knew me and admired my fundraising ability. Jean reportedly said, "We must have seen her at the beginning of her career," but, bless her heart, gave no further details.
The Importance of Being Straightforward
Twenty years before my lesson in prospect research, at my first fundraising job, I had the chance to shadow a successful fundraiser in a large urban educational institution by taking a job with the glorified title of "Development Associate." Basically I did whatever my boss asked and, in return, he took me wherever he went.
One day he told me we were going to see a donor to ask for a lead gift of $600,000 for a capital campaign. My boss said that this donor had given that much to our institution before and was just waiting to be asked to give again. He said I could go with him and the chair of the board development committee, who was also a close friend of this donor.
We arrived at the donor's office and sat across from him. A beautiful, tablesized teak desk with nothing on it but a phone separated the three of us from him. After introductions, the donor spoke quickly, "I hate fundraising. I hate being asked for money, but I love your institution, so here is my gift. Why don't we just go out to lunch?" With that, he pushed a check for $50,000 across the expanse. The development chair caught it, looked at it briefly, pushed it in front of me and my boss so we could see it, and then pushed it back to the donor. "We did not come all this way for that much money," he said. My insides did a double flip, but I said nothing. My boss looked impassively at the donor, like this was a normal conversation.
"Well," said the donor after a moment, "start talking." We did (or rather they did-I tried to look intelligent). After forty minutes or so, the donor said, "OK, I'll give $600,000 again. I hope you'll take this check as a first payment." He pushed it across the desk again and laughed. "Of course," said the development chair and then we all went out to lunch (which the donor paid for).
Afterwards I said to the development chair, "How did you know that giving his check back would work out? Because really, that was the rudest thing I have ever seen!" He replied, "This guy likes to think of himself as a leader. He likes to make the first gift, and to make big gifts. He would have been really embarrassed to find out that $50,000 is not a big gift in this campaign, and that friends of his are making bigger gifts. Believe me, he would have been angry if I had just accepted that $50,000. What I did looked rude, but it was really the kindest thing." Hmmm, I thought.
Excerpted from Fundraising for the Long Haul by Kim Klein Copyright © 2000 by Kim Klein
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.