If a 17 Year Old Can Fundraise, So Can You!

Here’s the tree carrying the apple. Photoshop courtesy of Kit’s twin brother.

In my work with boards I hear it all the time.

“I don’t have a great rolodex.”

“I only have folks who can give small amounts.”

“Why doesn’t the staff do more events with a lower ticket price?” (Because events take time and money, maybe?)

Here’s a story about raising sizeable money in small increments and how a person with no real rolodex can bring big bucks to an organization. No kidding.

It’s also a story about my daughter and about apples not falling far from trees.

My 17 year old daughter Kit is shy.  I don’t have a shy bone in my body.  So when she was offered an internship at the NYC LGBT Center and asked to participate on the Crew for Cycle for the Cause, the Northeast AIDS ride to raise money for the AIDS work of the NYC LGBT Center, she nearly plotzed (technical term.)

“I cannot raise $500,”  she said emphatically.

YES SHE DID.  AND THEN SOME.

We chopped it into bite size pieces.  10 people at $50 a person.  That’s doable, right?  We made a list.  “Oh, I can’t ask them,” she’d say for one reason or another.  OK, so let’s take them off.   It was still a good list. She wrote an email – from her heart and in her voice – with a link to her fundraising site. And in several days, thanks to her older sister’s contribution, she hit her goal.

Magically, she transformed into a fierce fundraiser.  “I can do better than that!”  “Why didn’t I send to Person A?”   “You said you didn’t feel comfortable,” I gently reminded her.  “Really?  That’s crazy.  Let’s ask!”   By the time of the weekend of the ride, she had doubled her goal.   During the ride itself, she texted me.   “Here’s a picture.  Post it to your Facebook –  you have friends!”  “And don’t forget to link to my donation page.”  By the time the  Crew returned, she was closing in on $2,000.  The #2 Crew Fundraiser.

BUT WAIT THERE IS MORE.

Kit was told that a rider that she had recruited had significant giving capacity.  Kit made sure that this rider had the experience of a lifetime.  She’d see him, double check that he had eaten, joined him for dinner, and chatted about who she was and why the Center meant something to her.  Little did she know how much capacity he had.

Last week she was invited to a dinner with the executive director and development director.  He made a $50,000 gift to bring the ride’s revenue over $500,000.  And discussions are underway for a multi-year grant that could mean a minimum of $500,000 over two years for the Center’s Youth program.

Kit nearly danced down the street after dinner.  She never dances in front of me.   The executive director sweetly encouraged Kit to wait until the donor was out of sight before dancing.

WHAT CAN YOU LEARN FROM KIT?

1) Fundraising is rewarding.

2) It makes people feel good to give money to causes they care about

3) Fundraising is not transactional.  It’s about building and sustaining relationships.

4) Money is program.  If you want to do important work, you need to be willing to ask.

So, when was the last time you asked 10 people you know to write a small check to support the organization you work for?  Or the organization on whose board you serve?  When was the last time you made a specific ask for a specific amount to a specific person?  If it was within the last week, hats off to you.  If not, I’m keeping my hat on.

Sometimes it’s not about the asking.  It’s about the relationship.  I have always said that a check is the organic end result of a powerful story told by a credible messenger.  You are, as a board or staff member, a credible messenger.  And you have more access to the stories than anyone else.  Create connections, even if they are not people in your own rolodex.  There is no downside, and in Kit’s case, there was $500,000 in upside for a program she cares about. Deeply.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

Nothing I didn’t already know.  Daughter is awesome.

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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