THE BLOG

What All Nonprofits (and Donors) Should Know about Fundraising

08/15/2014 01:58 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2014

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Asking for a favor is one of the most important techniques of fundraising. That's according an expert who has helped raise an estimated $200 million for nonprofits as a volunteer in his home town of Santa Barbara, California.

(Full disclosure: The expert, Larry Crandell, also raised me.)

But perhaps you're thinking: Why would someone want to do you a favor if they don't know you or like you yet?

To answer this, we need to state a basic tenet of fundraising:

Charitable giving is like romance. It has a lot more long-term potential if it starts with a solid relationship.

And that brings us to the key question for all fundraising:

How do you build a relationship that can lead to giving?

Of course, Larry has the solution:

  • Ask potential donors to do you a favor.
  • Get them to like what you do by experiencing it in action.
  • Then see if there's a good fit for giving.

A nonprofit that provides a painless opportunity for people to be of service also helps those people learn about its work. Before being asked for money, these potential donors have the chance to become involved in the cause. This is good for both the prospective giver and the nonprofit.

But how exactly does Larry manage to pull off this magic trick -- to put the favor before the donation?

One of Larry's first moves when he begins to help a nonprofit is to find out what kind of volunteer support it has -- both from its board and from the community. If the nonprofit is new, he looks to how volunteer support can be developed. Then he helps the organization devise ways for potential supporters to do favors for the cause.

A favor might be simply asking for people's time and attention at an informational breakfast about a new nonprofit or program. It might be a specific project - like recruiting people to help in a soup kitchen. A potential donor might be asked to serve on an advisory board. And many of us have been asked to engage in an activity such as running or walking in a race to support a cause.

But often the best way to involve someone is to ask them to share their expertise. The accountant gives her financial insight. A lawyer gives advice on how to approach a legal problem. A construction company director helps build a home for the under-served. You get the idea.

Another effective approach is to ask a potential donor if their loved one might help. A granddaughter sings the national anthem at a nonprofit event. A son or a daughter is asked to apply for a volunteer internship. A spouse is asked to volunteer in an area where he or she already has skills.

And why does this matter to donors?

Philanthropists who support an organization often take on volunteer leadership roles in which they are asked to fundraise in addition to their own giving. In many cases board members are a nonprofit's most important fundraisers. A volunteer asking a favor of another potential volunteer is a beautiful and natural way to grow support for an organization.

Of course, nothing can make people give to organizations they don't like or donate where they feel no connection to the cause. But asking them a favor can establish a relationship and introduce a potential donor not only to an organization but the people it serves.

In this way, strangers become part of the team. And if they feel like part of the team, they may want to help fund that team's success.

There is nothing like being needed to inspire loyalty. Ask any mother or father.

Cross-posted on "Thinking Philanthropy"