I'm reading another of those fabulous little books from CharityChannel's "In the Trenches" series. This one is 50 A$ks in 50 Weeks, by Amy M. Eisenstein, CFRE.
Eisenstein knows well what it feels like to be a new fundraiser and not quite knowing where to start. This book is definitely for that person, but also for the more experienced fundraiser who just needs some motivation to get going.
Eisenstein is a consultant these days, so she sees a lot of nonprofits who are struggling to raise the funds they need. She says:
"Another reason that nonprofits don't raise as much as they could is that 'asking for gifts' often falls to the bottom of a long list of urgent but ultimately less important work. Even experienced fundraisers can get sidetracked with other tasks such as planning events, writing grant reports, newsletters and thank you letters, managing databases, and updating websites. While extremely important, these tasks do not lead directly to any additional income for the organization. In fact, asking needs to be moved back to the top of the priority list."
To help ratchet up that level of asking, Eisenstein provides 50 ways to ask...nearly a full year of activity. Just following these suggestions week by week could result in a dramatic improvement in productivity for any development department.
Eisenstein defines an "ask" very carefully, and they run the gamut from a bulk mail appeal to asking an individual for a specific amount of money to a grant proposal to a sponsorship solicitation. What doesn't count is busy work. Eisenstein says that many organizations are only actually asking twenty to thirty times a year or fewer. A simple way to get more money is to ask more often and in more varied ways.
Each chapter of this short book provides detailed steps about making those asks. Eisenstein provides a form on which to track progress, definitions, tips, and charts that you can adapt for your own use. Frankly, I'm amazed that she manages to pack so much flat-out useful information into such a small book.
An example is Eisenstein's advice about cultivation. She explains what cultivation is, and how to develop a cultivation plan. She suggests steps to getting to know individuals that you do not know, answers questions such as, "Who should meet with the prospect? Where should you meet a prospect? What is the goal or outcome of the first meeting? She poses similar questions when it comes time to make the actual ask.
Eisenstein says that it is extremely important to listen to the prospective donor, not just talk about the organization. It is also crucial that you do not leave the meeting with the donor until the ask has been made. She says there are lots of reasons people say "no" when asked for a gift, but that asking good questions and being ready for issues that a donor might bring up will go a long way toward a successful outcome.
If your fundraising is stuttering, or you are simply confused about where to start, this book will help. It takes the scary out of fundraising by providing solid, step-by-step advice and a multitude of practical tips.