Adapted from Andrea Kihlstedt's book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in Ten Bite-Sized Steps. For more information about her book, click here.
A million dollars.
For some it’s an unthinkably large sum. For others it’s a small blip on their radar screen.
In How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps, I offer a proven strategy for attaining that goal.
Here, I simply want to share some tips I’ve learned in my 30 years of directing campaigns.
As you think about financing the vision for your organization, you may be surprised to discover that rather than thinking small your best bet is to begin by thinking big. Why? Because raising $1.5 million is usually no more difficult than raising $1 million. In either case, you’ll go through the same process and approach the very same donors. The difference is only one of scale. This sounds strange, I know. But often the same person who can afford to contribute $100,000 can also give you $250,000 if she’s convinced the larger expenditure will make the project notably stronger.
When you’ve devoted yourself to a campaign, and lived and breathed it for months, it’s easy to lose perspective and to think everyone should give. “Don’t these skinflints see the importance of what we’re doing?!” But ultimately that attitude is poisonous – for you, for the campaign, and for your organization’s relationships. It’s your job to ask; it’s their job to say “yes” or “no.” If the asking comes as an invitation rather than a moral judgment, it’ll spread goodwill – for your cause, for this campaign, and for the others that will someday follow.
No surprise here – wealth isn’t evenly distributed in our society. To raise $1 million or more, you’ll need a few big gifts, more middle size gifts, and lots of little ones. What decades of experience have shown is the following: most fundraising campaigns require one gift that totals 15 to 20 percent of the goal; in most campaigns, the top 10 gifts will comprise at least half of the goal.
Of all the jobs in fundraising, being a campaign chair is both the most frustrating and most exhilarating. Frustrating because it falls to the chair to be dogged when others come up short. Exhilarating because there’s nothing quite like having someone tell you he’ll contribute a large gift to your project. From my campaign experience of working with dozens of chairs, I believe that to do the job well a chair needs three specific traits: a passion for the cause; personal generosity; follow-through – the ability of the person to do what she says she’s going to do. And with apologies to the old rock group, Meatloaf, two out of three IS bad.
Many people resist asking their friends. Again and again you hear volunteers say, “I’ll ask for money but I won’t go to my friends.” And that’s understandable – people are worried about the possibility of damaging their friendships. But friends asking friends is a key ingredient in fundraising, and part of your job is to help volunteers and committee members overcome their frustration.
Some donors prefer to give late in the campaign. Perhaps they’re the same people who arrive late for events or for dinner. I’m not sure. My guess is that the urgency of the last moment inspires them. So particularly when the finish line is near, let people know you’re close to the goal and that they can help push you over. I suspect many of us like to be finish-line heroes.
Certificates and recognition notwithstanding, I’ve learned over the years that for the people who drive the fundraising process, working doggedly from beginning to end, the public hoopla and celebration marking the campaign’s end has surprisingly little effect on them. When volunteers finish a large campaign, there is the sense of satisfaction that comes from raising the money. But the lasting reward is the realization that one has accomplished something that makes a difference in the lives of others.
How long will it take to raise, say, $1 million? If you’ve already established relationships with donors and volunteers – and people are passionate, informed, and committed to your project – you may be able to raise the sum in a year or 18 months. But if you’re like many organizations that have one or two major donors already engaged but many more relationships to develop, you’d be wise to allow at least two and perhaps even three years from beginning to end.
Andrea Kihlstedt is fascinated by what makes people tick. She has spent the last 30 some years as a capital campaign consultant, working with organizations large and small, giving her ample opportunities to observe remarkable people who through their courage, commitment, and energies make our world a better place through fundraising. She lives in New York City with her husband, Tyko.