Friendship and Fundraising

How, the woman asked, do I turn an acquaintance with a wealthy person into a fundraising relationship? It’s never a sure thing that you can, but what you can do—what I believe you must do—is be very upfront about your purpose.  “Can I talk to you with my nonprofit organization (or fundraising) hat on?”

But, the woman, opined, don’t they get tired of everyone wanting to be their friend only to raise money from them.

Precisely—that’s why you don’t want to impinge on your burgeoning friendship.  Keep your roles straight and very clear.

It’s not just rich people, of course, who get frustrated.  I’ve told the story before of a friend who phoned saying that she was calling so we could set up a dinner date.  We did that and then she said that she was in the conference of a nonprofit, “dialing for dollars,” and could I make a gift?

I could—but not then.  Then I was so angry and, quite frankly, felt that she had made the dinner date just so I would make a gift.  What she should have done was separate the two.  That night she was in fundraising mode and the only call to me should have made that clear.  The next night, or two days earlier, was when the dinner date should have been arranged.

Board member who fear asking their friends for gifts often find that starting the conversation with the clarifying remark, I am wearing my fundraising hat” or words to that effect, make fundraising much more palatable.  It also helps them to be clear the air about quid pro quo.  You know, that bit where I gave to you now it is your turn to give to me.

By being very clear about purpose, you also have the chance to say, “ I wanted to be sure that I told you about this opportunity to support an organization that I think is doing terrific work.  I hope that what we do matters to you and for that reason—and for that reason alone—you want to make a gift.”  Many board members that I’ve worked with do go on to say that their friendship will not be impacted in any way by either a yes or a no.  This, then, gives them the chance to donate to their friend’s organization only if they also feel that organization does terrific work.

Giving a gift truly does make the giver happy, but only if that gift is given freely. Don’t conflate your friendship with your fundraising.  Yes, you can on those you know because you can—but you want them to support your cause because they care.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase fundraising capacity.  Learn more at http://janetlevineconsulting.  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.