If raising money for good organizations and great causes was easy, more people would do it. And we’d have more good organizations taking on great causes. But fundraising for nonprofits is challenging, even for those of us that have built careers around it. Some of these challenges are readily apparent – the ongoing recession is hardly breaking news, and no one has ever run into a nonprofit leader who has said “Put away your checkbook, we’re already flush with cash.” Other barriers are more complex. Who should an organization ask for money? How should that ‘ask’ be made? And how do you make that donor feel like more than a dollar sign with legs, so they become a partner, a true investor in your operation? These answers are never easy to find and they vary for each organization – but they are out there!
At DC Central Kitchen, we’re getting closer to these solutions every day. And our progress is fueled by one simple principle: being earnest. Fundraising is the nonprofit sector’s version of sales and marketing. But when a for-profit corporation sells you an item in exchange for your money, you get something – sneakers, a hamburger, or a vacuum cleaner. A gift to a nonprofit, however, is just that: a gift. You don’t get anything tangible in exchange for your hard-earned dollars. What you do get is a feeling, a sense. A sense that you’ve done something that will make a difference for someone else, make a lasting change in your community, or even buy you a small sliver of redemption. For that ‘sense’ to feel real, you can’t feel like you’ve been hustled by a slick, smooth-talking salesman. You have to believe that the fundraiser you just talked to meant what they said about the organization’s mission, programs, and results. You have to believe that they believe.
A lot of people ask me what my secret to success is. And I’ll admit, I have something of a secret weapon. At the end of so many conversations, potential donors to DC Central Kitchen have said “I can tell, based on your voice, how excited you are about what the Kitchen is doing.” That’s an advantage you can’t learn in class, on the job, or from a blog (even this one!). When you’re raising money for your Campus Kitchen, don’t feel like you need to be a smooth operator. Be honest about your story, how you found the organization, how you feel about it, and what that donation will help you do. You don’t need to be the center of attention or even an extrovert. In fact, most donors really just want you to listen and respond to them thoughtfully. The key, in my experience, is to be comfortable with who you are – and that will make your donors feel comfortable talking to you, listening to you, and giving to your Campus Kitchen. So, be earnest – and you might be surprised how much you earn.
Brian MacNair is the Chief Development Officer for DC Central Kitchen and The Campus Kitchens Project.