Sunday, October 28, 2007

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru," October 29, 2007

Fundraising only gels if you sell well
By Stephen L. Goldstein

I know that people who work on behalf of nonprofits like to think of themselves as doing something for the common good. I know because whenever I hold workshops the first question I ask participants is, “What is a nonprofit?” And invariably, their answers accentuate an altruistic angle. “It’s an organization that serves society,” they say, or one “that helps the needy,” or “a group of individuals who hold events to raise money for worthy purposes.”

In addition, the last thing in the world that supporters of nonprofits like to think they are is salespeople; they consider themselves a cut above schnooks selling shoes or used cars. I know that because when I ask my second question—“What is fundraising?”—no one ever answers “sales.” Instead predictably, the answers have a mushy quality equal to the definition of a nonprofit. Fundraising is the “ability to raise capital for an entity,” “stewardship, relationship-building in order to raise funds for an agency,” “an effort to generate funds for a good cause.”

So, it’s time for a major reality check for everyone who works on behalf of nonprofits. From doctors and lawyers to entrepreneurs and athletes, successful people know how to sell--well. Fundraising is “nonprofit sales,” pure and simple. If you don’t know how to sell, you’ll never be an effective fundraiser. And if your first reaction to the idea of “nonprofit fundraising as selling” is to hold your nose, you’re probably holding back whatever cause(s) you support.

So, here are some basic tips to help you increase your effectiveness in fundraising sales:

1. Selling is the quintessential skill. It’s not about getting others to do something they don’t want to or to buy something they don’t need. At its best, selling is the highest form of communication: It’s about making the perfect match between what you have to offer and what someone else wants. It’s an art.

2. Rejection isn’t rejection. So what if someone says no to you. It’s not the end of your life nor should you punish them on your voodoo doll. Think of how many times you may have said no to someone without meaning any ill towards them—and move on to someone else.

3. Fundraising is not about “the ask,” but about “the listen.” Remember the lyric, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.” Consider your customers before you chew their ears off about your cause. Too many do-gooder fundraisers have a "prima facie, ipso facto" attitude. They think that all they have to do is blurt out the basics of their case and their prey will open their wallet. Ain’t so! Do your homework: Find out about people you approach. Take an interest in them. You’ll be amazed at how interested they’ll become in you.

4. Commit to selling 24/7. The best/most successful fundraisers even dream about raising money. Fundraising is a frame of mind, an all-consuming passion, not a 9-to-5 job. From a check-out line in Publix to a tuxedo-filled ballroom, fundraiser-salespeople know that there are six degrees of separation—or less--between them and the next contribution they receive.

5. Multiply your donors’ gifts. Donors who are treated well beget other donors. The most successful fundraiser-salespeople know that fundraising only gels if you sell well.

Send your “fundraising sales tips” to Stephen L. Goldstein at He is the author of the nationwide bestseller, 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and host of “Fundraising Success” on WXEL/National Public Radio, broadcast throughout South Florida Sundays 7 to 8 p.m., and available 24/7 at


Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Column Every Monday--The Fundraising Guru, October 22, 2007

Fundraising Lessons from Life
By Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein,
author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising
host and executive producer of "Fundraising Success" on WXEL/National Public Radio & available at any time from anywhere in the world by anyone with Internet access at

This column proves that the best fundraising advice is never based upon theories, but comes from personal success stories — from life itself.

1. Ask and you shall be given. Yes, it really is as simple as that. According to a recent news article, Jessica Knighton, the student president at Boyd Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, attended a meeting of the city commission and walked off with $18,000 on top of the $50,000, for which she had hoped for school improvements. Apparently, during her initial pitch, city officials “jokingly suggested that she hit up commissioners for more money.” No wallflower, that’s exactly what she did, but not in some mushy way: She, reportedly, stood at the lectern and asked them, one by one, to pledge “a generous donation” of their own money. Jessica, a 12th grader, later said, “It was a rush and my adrenaline was going.”Many seasoned fundraisers hold back. Having been rebuffed many times or thinking they “know” their potential contributors, they subconsciously torpedo their chances. It takes someone like Jessica to remind us that a fundraiser’s job is to ask, without reservation or consideration—or they’ll never be given.

2. You never know where the money’s going to come from. Some of the biggest gifts to nonprofits come from people they never knew — who never attended a gala, never wanted any kind of recognition, especially a silly plaque. According to a recent account, one such frugal mystery donor was a woman who died last year in Miami, leaving $35.6 million for medical research. Her two brothers died of complications from diabetes, and she lost part of a lung to cancer. She purposely lived below her means and wanted no publicity. Having made it her goal to build up a fortune to leave behind, she died at 101, leaving savvy fundraisers with the obvious pitch that “giving big” is the secret to longevity. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the real lesson to be learned from a story like this is that nonprofits and fundraisers have got to be nice to everyone. That means you should have a strong public relations strategy, so that people you don’t know think well enough of you to make contributions.

3. Donors: Dot every i. Fundraisers insist upon it. It’s every fundraiser’s nightmare: getting a major gift, then having it go sour. Florida International University received a commitment in writing of a staggering $20 million for its new College of Medicine — then lost it. It all came about because the donor and the university president squabbled over how the donation would be paid.In fairness to the university, the donor actually signed an agreement to deliver the $20 million in a lump sum 30 days after the school was named for him. It banked on receiving a single payment so it could use it to leverage a matching gift from the state. But later, the donor wanted to delay some payments because of a multi-million-dollar tax liability he discovered if he gave all the money at once. Such a situation should never have occurred. Everyone’s at fault. You have to wonder why a person smart enough to make so much money that he could give $20 million away didn’t consult with his accountants first, and why the president of the university lost his cool and said things that offended the donor. Money can always be replaced, but not the dedication of a long-term board member and major contributor, which is what FIU lost. Everyone should always dot every i and cross every t before going public with any, but especially a major, gift. When in doubt, wait.

4. Donors give because something presses their emotional buttons. A recent survey conducted by Bank of America and Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy reveals that “entrepreneurs who earn their wealth give more than twice as much to charity than do Americans who inherited their riches.” The survey found that the biggest motivations were “helping those in need and giving back to society.” Similarly, Washington Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss has a foundation that’s published the Tana-Man Activity Book, pushing education as the key to success. The book is based upon his decision not to go into the pros until after he finished school. His manager has been quoted saying, “Moss wants kids who don’t have easy lives to know that he wasn’t always a superstar and went through what these children are going through now. . . . If [the players] tell the stories, the kids will realize they’re not alone.”

Stephen Goldstein is a consultant and author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising and E-mail your comments and questions to him at

Sunday, October 14, 2007

New column every Monday--"The Fundraising Guru"--Oct. 14, 2007

Foundation foundationals
by Dr. Stephen L. Goldstein,
author of 30 Days to Successful Fundraising
host and producer of "Fundraising Success" on WXEL/National Public Radio: Internet radio/podcast at

For many fundraisers, foundations are a tantalizing cross between Fort Knox and the Sphinx. They know that there’s “all that” money there, they know it gets given away —t o others, but they just don’t know how to get their fair share. So, here are some initial foundation foundationals to help you open sesame — and get your cash register to ring.

1. Know which foundations give money, and which don’t. The first two things you need to know about an organization calling itself a foundation is (1) that it’s a nonprofit and (2) that it makes grants. Some for-profit businesses may use the word foundation in their name. Of course, you could ask them for money, the way you would any business. Just don’t approach them as you would a nonprofit foundation. Some foundations receive, rather than give, grants. So, they may be your competition, certainly not your benefactors.The foundations you want are grant-making. Some give away large amounts of money; others have more limited resources. The best-known foundations in America have been established by major corporations or wealthy individuals and have become the brand-names of charitable giving — historically Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie and now Gates. They have given the world of foundations its panache and mystery, because they are so big and involve rich people who appear remote and unapproachable.

2. Even if you can’t get to Ford or Gates, you are literally surrounded by local foundations that can help you, some even in major ways. Many, even sizeable, foundations are established by “average” people. They may literally be your neighbors, “the millionaires next door,” or their family members or friends. You probably don’t even know it. And yet, they may be far more approachable than you ever imagined. If they are sophisticated enough to have established a foundation, they not only have financial resources, but an unusually high commitment to ongoing charitable giving — every fundraiser’s dream donors.

3. Research the foundations in your area. Of course, you do not have to limit your approaches just to foundations in your community, but starting there is a great way to take the mystery out of the process and to begin forging an overall success strategy. First, go to and register for free, if you haven’t already done so. Then, in the search box, type the word foundation and your zip code. You may be amazed at what you’ll find. Once you make a list of foundations, you’ll have to sort through it to determine which give, and which receive, donations. But that’s just the beginning of (what could turn out to be) a most profitable adventure. will give you perhaps your only reason to love the IRS: Annually, almost all foundations have to file a Form 990. It’s public information, chock-full of spicy details — readily available on the Internet. So, when you find a grantmaking foundation in your zip or others near you, click on its 990. You’ll find out how much money the foundation has, what its giving priorities are, how much it gives away and to whom. Best of all, you’ll also see a list of its board members, in some cases, even with their personal addresses. Obviously, they help make the decisions that will mean the difference between your getting or not getting a grant.

4. Your board is key to approaching all foundations, but especially your local ones. Fundraising is always about people giving to people they know and trust. Ask your board members if they are close to any of the people listed on a foundation’s Form 990 — or if they know someone who might be.

5. Remember: By law, foundations have to give a certain percentage of their money away — why not to you? Usually, foundations of any size establish priorities for giving — for example, health care, education, the homeless, music education. Larger foundations will have formal guidelines for requesting money and timetables for making awards. Smaller foundations operate more loosely. No two foundations are alike. Each has a personality, like an individual donor. Obviously, you want to look for foundations whose giving priorities match those of your nonprofit. But, no foundation’s priorities are written in stone. With the right entree from your board member or someone else who knows you, almost any foundation will befriend your worthy cause.
E-mail Stephen Goldstein your comments and questions at

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

New Column Every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru"--October 8, 2007

Overcome Your Fear Of Asking For Money
by Stephen Goldstein

At some level, everyone hesitates to ask for money, even for a good cause. We all have a dollar threshold beyond which we are reluctant to go. Yet, unless we break through that psychological barrier, we will stand in the way of our fundraising success.

One surefire way to embolden yourself to ask for money is to remember that you are not asking for yourself. Another way is to know how to ask for money the right way. Follow these 10 tips:

1. Initiate every funding request with a letter. Everyone’s heard stories of how a chance phone call has inspired some millionaire to make a major gift, but as a rule, cold calls are bad strategy. Even if you get through, you will catch people off guard and they are only going to ask for follow-up information. So, it’s better to write and then ask for an appointment. (Exception: Always solicit major gifts in person with someone who knows the potential contributor--and bring written materials personalized for the donor with you.)

2. Show that you know to whom you are writing or speaking. Get to know the people you are soliciting before you meet them. (Don’t be so obvious as to let them figure out you have researched them, by dropping hints of the details of their life, or they may feel like laboratory rats.) Most donors have giving histories, so you should be able to determine their priorities. Let them know why you think your project would be consistent with their interests.

3. Personalize your communications. Never write boilerplate to a possible donor, no matter how small the potential gift. (I know you’re saying, “But I get them all the time.” And don’t you throw them out?) Even in a mass mailing, include some form of personalized message. Handwrite as many personal notes as you can, such as a P.S. If you can’t do them all yourself, get a group of volunteers to help. The more you personalize, the more positive your response.

4. Be clear, straightforward, and precise. Don’t waste people’s time. Let them know exactly what you want from them.

5. Ask for a specific amount or commitment. Always include a clear call to action. Don’t leave the ball in your donors’ court or they may drop it.

6. Be prepared with alternative scenarios. Give choices. For example, ask potential contributors to make an outright gift in the full amount this year, two installments (one this year, one next), or according to a schedule convenient for them.

7. Make it easy for everyone to say, “Yes.” Make your appeal so irresistible and flexible, that no one can refuse to give you something--even a small amount. Shoot for the moon, but if you can’t get it, settle for another constellation.

8. Don’t be afraid to ask after you’ve been rebuffed. Just because people said “No” the first time doesn’t mean they won’t say “Yes” later. Re-ask politely.

9. Ask for assistance. Ask everyone you solicit--even people who turn you down--for names of others who might support your project.

10. Always include a visual that “summarizes” your purpose. Think like a contributor. Ask the way you would want to be asked. Turn your fear and hesitation into dollars.

E-mail your comments and questions to Stephen Goldstein at

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