The ideas in this article were initially presented by Kara Logan Berlin in one of her TED Talks. I expanded on her ideas and added some of my own.
Everyday, great ideas die on the vine because they don’t have enough capital to get off the ground. And the thoughts and ideas, no matter how revolutionary, can’t really change much if you don’t pay your bills.
While it’s true that most great social movements were galvanised by an idea and a powerful belief towards that idea, real change and impact require resources. The Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s was sparked by Martin Luther King’s ferocious fervour and active involvement into the campaign — we all know that — but the eventual constitution materialised because there was a solid revenue stream — from Georgia Gilmore’s underground canteen to the philanthropic helping hands of several major foundations. We just don’t really talk about it.
If you want to change the world, you have to know how to pay for it. You can try to squeeze a loan from the bank, formulate some sort of crowd-funding scheme, or actively seek for investors. Whichever route you take, there’s going to be a pitch, and to do that well, you need to practice the three basic pillars of fund raising.
Get into terms with your feelings about wealth and money
Money is complex and we all have mixed feelings for money. In our daily life, we are exposed to a lot of rich people and poor people and the subconscious associations that we form between the wealth of a person and their dispositions. Rich people are smart. Rich people are stingy. Rich people are rude. We’re contaminating our understanding about money because of these synecdochical associations.
Really, the only difference between a rich person and everyone else is that they have more money. It’s that simple. Let’s not overcomplicate it.
We all have our own problems with money, be it debt, investment losses, or an underwhelming take-home pay. These are why money is often regarded as a dreadful and grim entity. But money drives the world, and it steers the way we live our lives. So how we feel about it directly affects how we approach it.
A vital stepping stone in Berlin’s career as a development strategist was separating her feelings of wealth and money with her feelings about raising money for important causes. How people feel about asking money to help others do good work in the world should be different than how they feel about asking for money for themselves. This is an important distinction.
Through fundraising, you are giving people the opportunity to invest in an idea that has the potential to change the world for the better. Nobody should feel bad about that.
In order to become a good fundraiser, one must change the framing from asking for money to offering an opportunity. This shift in mental framework should at least get you on the right track.
Build solid relationships
Building a relationship with people takes work, but it’s vital for any effective fundraising to transpire. Some people call it politics, others name it lobbying, but really it’s just like fostering good friendships.
And just like any good friendship, you have to care about more than just what you want or need. You have to value what they want or need.
So building a relationship with people takes work, we’ve established that, but building a relationship with people you’ll be asking money from takes work, and homework. Have you done any research about this person? Do you know what they care about? Do you know why they should be investing in your idea?
This should all be obvious, but you’d be surprised at the amount of people who skip this part of the process. Please don’t be like them. Come prepared.
Fund raising is relational, not transactional
If you don’t care about what they care and what they value, how are you ever going to be able to tell them about your work? It’s not just about getting our work funded, it’s about inviting people to contribute in a really meaningful way (it’s like that mental model shift we talked about in point #1). Frame it like forming partnerships — a horizontal relationship — rather than treating them as your ATM, which is more of a vertical relationship.
It’s important to ask the right questions because the more you know about what they care about and what they value, the more you can steer the conversation in a direction about your work that will resonate with them.
This very concept is the central focus of Dale Carnegie’s timeless classic How to Win Friends and Influence People, a book that has unquestionably revamped my communication game and my ensuing social life. Whenever someone comes to me for communication advice, I tell them to read this book.
In terms of talking, it’s 75% them and 25% you.
Once you understand what they care about, you can start talking about what you care about. Be mindful not to get too deep into the weeds with your stories though, or you’ll risk losing them. Again remember, it’s 75% them and 25% you.
There are people who are naturally good with this part of the task, you know the people who usually start the conversation in the elevator, or in the grocery store, people who exude confidence wherever they go. The good news is that you don’t have to be a natural to raise money. You just have to respect the people and the process, and do the work.
How to ask what you want
So, will you commit to build relationships? Will you alter your perspective about money?
If you will, then you’re ready to make the ask. And the ask is oftentimes as simple as using the phrase “Would you consider _____?”
“Would you consider becoming a monthly donor?”
“Would you consider increasing your support by $100?”
“Would you consider investing in our work at the one-million-dollar level?”
Would you consider is great for mainly 2 things. One, it gives the donor an easy way out. Like, they can say no without it being a yes-no. And two, it sets you up perfectly for a second chance.
“Well, what would you consider?”
Again remember that you’re not asking for yourself. You’re asking on behalf of all the people you serve or are touched by your genius.
And be authentic. You might come to one of these high-profile meetings and be tempted to big-shot this. But really, just be yourself. Nobody likes a phoney.
But the most important thing of all is to simply ask. If you don’t make an actual ask, no one will give you actual money.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to ask people for money to bring about valuable changes in society. But there’s no changing the fact that this is the world we live in, and if we’re committed to doing this work, and doing it well, we have to be as committed to the art of funding this work as we are to the art of executing it.
And by that, we have to truly believe that the purpose and privilege of our work is to provide people with an extraordinary way to use their wealth that will change people’s lives.