Support Comes From Those You Know

Fundraising.  To many people it is the simple act of asking someone else for money.  Well, maybe not so simple to do, but simple in concept.  And yet, just asking, while important, can—if not done right—be exactly the wrong thing to do. This is true whether we are talking about annual gifts solicited through a mass appeal, more personal approaches to individual givers, when you are looking for corporate support and when you are hoping to receive that grant.

You have to ask—otherwise you are guaranteed of the equivalent of a no answer.  But you have ask in the right way for the right amount and for the right purpose.  It helps if you have the right person or people on the asking team.

That is a lot of things you have to get right.  The good news is that they all rely on one big thing:  Knowing your prospect or funder.

Non-profits, as I’ve said before, are frequently guilty of navel-gazing.  We think of it all from one perspective—ours.  We tell people what we do in a way that speaks to us.  We tell them what we need and why we think that it is important.

By turning that point of view around, you can accomplish a lot.  Look first at your clients.  How does what you do change them and/or their circumstances?  Instead of telling others about the tasks you perform, the activities you offer, talk about the outcomes, what happens because of the work you do.

Feeding the hungry sounds impressive; filling the belly of a hungry child so she can concentrate in school is important.  In other words, focus on how what you do changes the world and tell others how they can be part of that change.

What you do, however noble, won’t matter to everyone.  That’s not a value judgment; just a fact.  So as you talk to potential supporters, spend most of your time finding out what matters to them.  Watch body language; listen for follow up questions.

The CEO of an organization I used to work with has a bad habit of assuming that everyone is enthralled with what they do. “They love us,” he tends to say after every meeting.

“How do you know?” I always ask.

“They say so,” he tells me.  “They come for a tour and they tell me how impressive we are.” “And then?”  But as of yet, there hasn’t been a then.  Nor, I might add, have there been many major gifts.

This holds true for grants as well.  Simply telling your story from your perspective will not excite the funder.  Nor do you show that you “meet their current interests,” by stating that you do.  Show them with facts about your progress; concrete information about your results.  Focus on the outcomes and how they do or will affect the problem or need you pose.

That means you need to consider not how much a funder or prospect has, but how inclined they are to support an organization like yours.  And how close you can get to them.

Knowing your prospective and current supporters, connecting them through their passions and interests, will equate to a stronger funding base.  Take time to find out about them before you bombard them with information about you.  Listen to what they are saying—and see what they are not saying.  Believe me, it’s the right thing to do.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and talk with (rather than to) their supporters.  Find out more at  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.