Who Wants to Solicit A Millionaire?

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At one time or another, anyone who has been exposed to the fundraising process at a non-profit agency has probably heard someone ask, “Why don’t you solicit [insert super-rich person’s name here] for a major gift?”

If they’ve been in Midtown Manhattan lately, they’ll ask, “Why can’t you get Donald Trump donate to us?”

If they’ve watched Oprah on TV, they’ll say, “Oprah is awfully generous and she loves kids, we should send her a proposal!”

If they’ve read a business section article about the windfall that a Goldman Sachs executive has taken home, they’ll announce, “He should want to give us a big chunk of that bonus to assuage his guilt.”

All of this is good intentioned.  And once in awhile, it may even lead to some constructive action and a substantial gift.

But assuming that you’re not at a charity with a great national reputation and the ability to find a “six degrees” type connection to just about any prominent person, these sorts of discussions can be an unneeded diversion.

If an agency unearths a relationship with Warren Buffet, by all means it should attempt to exploit it.  But if the “connection” amounts to reading an article about Mr. Buffet’s interest in literacy and therefore deciding to ask him to fund your afterschool reading program – well, that might not be the most productive use of your time.

It’s not that sending a blind proposal to Omaha is somehow dangerous (well, usually not, at least) – but if you have no relationships or connections to a potential donor and the request really isn’t germane to their funding interests, 999 out of 1,000 times it will just get tossed into the trash.  Admittedly, no harm has been done, but nothing much has been accomplished either.

The real problem (besides failing to raise any money!) is that your time is a zero sumcommodity – there’s only so much of it in a day.  If you’re blindly tossing off proposals to the Forbes 400 because, well, they’re really rich and should want to support the worthy works of your agency, that’s time that could be spent on finding and soliciting people who are actually connected to your agency and potentially interested in supporting its mission.

Maybe you have a board member who knows Bill or Melinda Gates.  If so, then great.

But if you research your board and discover that no one works with anyone on the list of richest Americans, that doesn’t mean your hopes for major support are down the tubes.  Indeed, it can be a godsend to avoid having to approach someone who is well known for his or her philanthropy, as they’re probably asked for scores of gifts every single day.

Hopefully, however, researching your board, or alums, or volunteers, or others connected to your cause will turn up connections of all kinds to people and philanthropies perhaps a little less rich than those who are constantly lauded in the press, but who are actually connected to your agency through a personal or other tie.

For example, what if one of your volunteers went to college with someone associated with The Robin Hood Foundation?  She might be able to establish a connection that would lead to a meeting or a phone call to discuss mutual interests.  A proposal could be developed in consultation with the Foundation that wouldn’t just be flipped blindly over the transom.

The goal of this blog is to help you raise money.  We hope to show you where you can look, what you should consider asking for, and how to make your requests more effective.

But most of all, we want you to realize that for the small- and medium-sized charities we work with, successful fundraising results from much more than just throwing things against the wall.

Stick with us, and you’ll see!