Dear Joan: Can I Ask For Donations at a Ticketed Event?

Once or twice a quarter, Joan responds to readers who send emails asking for nonprofit advice, practical solutions, or just general therapy (Joan tries not to make direct comments on a reader’s psychological state — that’s called practicing without a license.) You can send your questions to Joan by clicking here.

dear joan fire donor need a raise

For Jeopardy fans, consider these question in the Potpourri category. One of them touches a nerve for me (how to hold a consultant accountable) and another seems mundane, but trust me it isn’t (board meeting minutes). Lastly, from the hundreds of emails I am now getting, I picked one I hear a lot – can I ask for money at a ticketed event?

Never hesitate to shoot me an email with questions you have or blog post ideas. I hear often from readers that my posts really connect with them — there’s a simple reason why — ideas from my readers drive most of my content.

Hope you find this helpful and as always, thanks for what you do

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WE HIRED A CONSULTANT AND I’M NOT IMPRESSED

Dear Joan: We recently fired our development director and because we have been taking the necessary time to find the right candidate, we hired a fundraising consultant. I’m not impressed and think we may be wasting our money. She hasn’t brought in any new money and it’s been 4 months. A board member says give it time.

– Impatient to Raise Money

Dear Impatient:

First of all, take a deep breath and give yourself a pat on the back. The very best thing you said in your note is this: “We are taking the necessary time to find the right candidate.” The best candidates are often worth the wait and if in the interview process you feel a slight twinge, the twinge that says, “this just doesn’t feel right,” listen to it!

You fired your previous development director. What’s done is done. But I often worry that organizations can be too quick to judge the success of their development directors. That said, if you fired your development director for the right reasons, we need to assume that your development program is a bit of a mess.

That leads to the question at hand. So in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a consultant. But rather than saddling me with bias, I believe it gives me a pretty good vantage point for this one. So here are my thoughts, questions, and observations regarding your consultant.

Was the scope of the engagement clear? In the proposal, did the consultant outline specifically what she would do for you? Did she indicate that she would ask for new money?

If she said she would ask for new money, that’s actually a flag on the field. A temporary development consultant can set you and your board to make asks for new money. But people, foundations and corporations give money to those who are deeply invested in the organization. Consultants may be deeply invested in your cause but they are by definition not sticking around.

Are you receiving regular written updates from your consultant outlining her activities? You should be. Not just meetings. Share those with the chair of your board development committee (if you are lucky enough to have one). Are you getting your money’s worth?

Generally, development consultants are excellent for:

  • Cleaning up the back office mess left behind
  • Assessing your current fundraising efforts – what is working? What isn’t?
  • Keeping you and your board on track with their fundraising assignments
  • Spending time thinking about new sources of revenue and researching contacts

Bottom line: a development consultant working in an interim capacity should keep things moving, engage in fundraising research and strategy for new opportunities, and get the shop in order for the great new hire you make.

One last thing. The root cause of most unhappiness with consultants is not their skills but a lack of real attention to defining the scope (read: success) of the engagement.

– Joan


IS IT OK TO ASK FOR DONATIONS AT A TICKETED EVENT?

Dear Joan: We are a national organization and have a number of fundraisers around the country. They are held in a lovely home and folks buy tickets at either $150 or $200 to attend. Our new development director wants me to make a pitch at the event to encourage attendees to make an additional gift and I feel uncomfortable about it. We’ve never done this before. Is there a good rule of thumb to follow?

– Squirming Executive Director

Dear Squirming:

OK, so before you pushed back, did you thank your development director for taking initiative and suggesting the new idea? Oh, I hope so. Whether you choose to do it or not, your new staffer is generating new ideas and thinking outside the box and should be applauded.

The short answer is that there is no short answer. It can work beautifully if you do it just right.

Elements of “just right?”

  • Thank the heck out of the attendees for supporting the work through the purchase of their tickets. If you ignore the fact that they already wrote a check, you can forget about a home run additional ask.
  • Seed a gift or two. Better still, seed a gift and ask the generous donor who agrees if you can announce it and then use it as a match. This can be VERY successful if the match is from your host. It shows just how much skin in the game your host has (and yes, there is a certain kind of guilt pressure that comes into play). And folks love the idea of their money being leveraged.
  • You have to deliver a pitch perfect, eloquent, powerful ask with just the right dose of urgency. Anything you can do to tie the amount of money someone contributes (or the total goal for the evening) to very specific and tangible components of your program is great for several reasons – it shows folks how far their money goes, educates them about what the work costs, and reminds them of the kind of impact you have.

– Joan


WHO CARES ABOUT BOARD MINUTES?

Dear Joan: I’m the President of a non-profit board with 10 members. My executive director and I are not on the same page about something very mundane – the minutes. He wants nothing to do with them and tells me that editing is taking way too much of his time. He also says that the Board Secretary takes minutes as if she is transcribing the meeting and that it’s way too much information.

– Minute Minutae

 Dear M-Squared:

For readers that have just decided this is a boring topic, stay with me. This is actually important.

Your Executive Director is right AND wrong. Minutes are not transcriptions and editing should not take forever. On this score he is right. As for his involvement, he’s wrong. The minutes should be OK with both you and your E.D. before they are sent out. Remember you lead this board together.

The person taking the minutes is often asked to do so with absolutely no guidance or training. An ideal way to set someone up to fail, right? So when you enlist someone to serve as secretary, send them to a few links at the very least. Like this one.

Lastly, minutes serve important legal value AND communications value. Minutes are a legal obligation of a 501c3 – you’ve gotta do ‘em and you’ve gotta get ‘em right. But they are also, if you get them out in a timely manner, another form of communication with the board to remind them of discussions and decisions. They help incoming board members.

Your E.D. thinks he should be focused on the ‘big stuff.’ That’s right. But you might want to remind him that the recorded history of the work of your board is big stuff. Big stuff you and he should do together.

And in the same conversation, tell him he is right about the transcription thing and get your secretary some support so he can take fewer, more substantive notes. He’ll be happy because it will likely free him up to be an active board member instead of a scribe.

– Joan


Now it’s your turn. What are you struggling with? 

Please let me know (just click the link above.) Perhaps I can help you. I promise you will remain anonymous.

And if you have further advice for any of my readers above, please share in the comments below.

Joan Garry
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Joan Garry

Widely known as the "Dear Abby" of nonprofit leadership, Joan works with board and staff as a strategic advisor, crisis manager, change agent and strategic planner. Joan also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania with a focus on nonprofit communications and leadership.
Joan Garry
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  • pamrose4arts

    I liked all of your answers. The question concerning the fundraising consultant struck a note though. I am a new ED with only one other staff person. We are both supposed to be half-time. We hired a very knowledgeable consultant with years of experience with non-profits. To me her input has been invaluable. This NP is over 20 years old with no changes in infrastructure, but the board keeps wanting to expand. They are finally seeing that it is not reasonable to expand with no new staff and have begun to create room in the budget for me to delegate more things out. We may or may not get new funding, but she is helping us to see things realistically, she has my back and validates what I have been trying to say to them, she is helping us to get a lot of missing pieces up to speed (more current strategic plan, professional packets for board member recruitment, getting more set for what donors really want to see, etc.) I, as you might guess, have had not time to address many of these things even when I was aware of them. I would have left by now if she hadn’t come on. AND the board has stepped up to the plate as well and made some big changes. So she is worth her weight in gold. Without all of these changes, a fundraising program has no foundation. Fundraising is not just asking for money. It is part of every thing an NP does in terms of how newsletters look, how workshops are planned, how we reach out to and stay connected to our supporters, etc. I always say that it’s about connection (genuine caring connection). Money follows, if the structure is also professional and in place. Some board members still see her as someone who is just going to go out and ask for money for us, but I her role is getting clearer—I hope so!

  • Gloria J Miller

    Our agency began in the 1870’s. We have the Minutes from that very first formal meeting, and every meeting since – and those records are invaluable! It’s not just a record of what happened at at Board meeting – it’s a history of the agency! I can’t tell you how many times over my 20 years, I have referred to those Minutes for some piece of information – compiling a list of past Board Presidents; when we started taking care of boys instead of just girls; when our Board helped commission studies; when new programs and buildings were begun, and why….lots of information and history. Good stuff!

  • You are absolutely right when you say that when asking for money at a ticketed event, you must tie the ask to “very specific and tangible components of your program.” In fact, this is not just a good rule of thumb for ticketed events. ANY time you ask for money, you must tell people a story—not just about how it will be used programmatically but about the people those programs will affect. Tie your stories to people and emotions and you won’t just capture your listeners’ minds; you’ll capture their hearts as well. And hearts are ALWAYS much more generous than minds.