How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized StepsBy Andrea Kihlstedt, Author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps

Does the mere thought of asking for a six- or seven-figure gift unnerve you?

Do you wish someone would level with you and help ease the gulp-inducing part of fundraising?

Allow me to try.

Here are answers to key questions I’m asked time and again by both board members and staff. You’ll find fuller responses in my book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps.

Can we approach individuals like Bill Gates and Oprah to give big gifts? What we do is so important.

While it’s easy to imagine such people would want to support your cause, I’m afraid that unless you know Gates or Winfrey – and your cause touches on something they’re keenly interested in – it’s magical thinking to imagine they’ll be large donors to your campaign.

We’ve never received a gift of even $100,000. Is it really possible we can raise a million dollars?

While it may seem unlikely, it’s not so unusual. Think about it this way. Most small or young groups don’t ask for big gifts until they’re ready to take a leap in their growth. An organization with an annual budget of $750,000, for example, wouldn’t usually ask for a gift of $100,000 toward their operating budget. But they may well ask for that much and more for a special project—perhaps a new science center or launching a new program. In the context of a larger goal, requests for large gifts make more sense.

Which comes first, our plan or the money? It seems foolish to develop a big plan if there’s no chance we can fund it.

As I make clear in my book, you have to work on your plans first! You’ll be pleasantly surprised by the power of big, exciting ideas to inspire donors and leaders. And while it’s possible you’ll establish ambitious goals you can’t fund, at least not yet, these plans will help shape a direction that could become a reality over a longer time.

Our organization is about to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary. Would this be a good time for us to have a campaign to raise $5 million?

People often ask me this question. While birthdays are worth celebrating—longevity is worth something—by itself a big birthday is NOT a good reason for a campaign. That said, you can use an upcoming anniversary to inspire a breathtaking plan for what your organization hopes to accomplish over the NEXT 50 years. And that may well be a good reason to have a campaign!

How do we calculate what percentage of our capital campaign goal our board should give?

Lots of people would like a simple, specific answer to this question – say 20 percent or 10 percent. But in reality the percentage of the goal your board should give has everything to do with who happens to be ON your board!

If you’re a small organization without people of means on your board, it’s unlikely you can raise 25 percent of your goal. But if yours is a “fundraising board” comprised of people who serve specifically because of their ability to give and raise money, then 25 percent is probably way to low.

We don’t have any donors who seem ready to make a big gift. What’s the best way to get them involved?

The old saw “Ask for advice and you’ll get money. Ask for money and you’ll get advice” turns out to be true. The catch is that you can’t ask for advice just to get money. That doesn’t work. You’ve got to be genuinely interested in what people have to say. 

Obviously every organization should bend over backwards to make their donors feel appreciated and valued. That’s a hugely important part of the process. But there’s no better way to draw people in than to actively involve them in the process of developing bold plans for your organization. In my experience, this is the best way to get your major donors ready to give sizable gifts.

How can we get our board members to actually go out and ask for gifts?

I’ve found that people will go out and ask for gifts if they feel confident they’ll succeed. And that takes training. Which is why Andy Robinson and I wrote Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money, a book of 51 fundraising exercises for boards. All too often staff members assume board members know how to ask. But in reality they don’t. Every nonprofit would be wise to have a board training program specifically on fundraising. I don’t mean a one-time workshop. Board members should be trained in one way or another at every board meeting. You’ll see a huge difference in their confidence and willingness to ask.

Andrea Kihlstedt is author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps and co-author with Andy Robinson of Train Your Board (and Everyone Else) to Raise Money.