Updated: Feb 18, 2020
Eight years ago, I found myself raising money professionally for a top 100 research university. I had raised money for previous ventures before, but never imagined I would be raising money as a career. I had no idea where to start or how to approach such an endeavor. Luckily, I had a colleague in my office who had been raising money for almost 30 years and we liked each other. She became my mentor.
For the first 6 months, I listened and asked lots of questions. Why were you successful with this project or person and not this one? Why did you ask for this much money, and not more, or less? Why this time, but not later or earlier?
As most things in life, the ‘answers’ were not obvious, and usually were a complex mix of factors, all of which pertained to specific details in each use case. There were a few key insights that began to emerge, however. The first, and maybe the most important, do not be transactional.
When money is involved, it is often times easy to think of the situation as a trading of value. You give me this, and I give you that. When you’re fundraising, there is an emotional component which cannot and should not be quantified. You’re not actually selling a thing, even if in the end, the donor or investor is helping build a laboratory, funding a scholarship or receiving equity in a company. What they are actually receiving is an emotional stake in your story and an important place in your ongoing narrative.
The physical manifestations of these stories and narratives are very important and meaningful, but remember, if they were only interested in the thing, the donor and/or investor could buy a stock option or a product from a retailer or broker. Raising money is really about creating compelling narratives around important real world initiatives.
The second insight, don’t be in a rush. You often have to meet people where they are and not where you want them to be. Everyone has a complicated full life and everyone is carrying different burdens of varying degrees at different times.
Just because you’re ready for an investment, or a donation, does not mean the person you are meeting with is ready as well. If you are patient, and never close the door on any prospect, keep engaging them without giving ultimatums and remaining polite yet direct, the investor/donor will often join your story when they are ready. In retrospect, their timing will often seem inevitable.
With this in mind, a big part of fundraising is a numbers game. You need to have enough prospects in your pipeline so even if some are not ready now, others will be and vice versa.
The third key insight, the ‘yes’ starts with the first no. Seems counterintuitive, but unless someone tells you to ‘go to hell’ and ‘never call them again’, what they are often saying is ‘not right now’. Again, timing is key. Obviously, however, it would be good to qualify the person before starting the discussion i.e.- do they have the money and inclination for whatever it is your raising money for.
Do the research, create a compelling narrative around your project, make sure the narrative is truthful and powerful - does it have real measurable impact, be patient in your quest, and do not be deterred by people saying no. If you believe in your story and you have perseverance you’ll find others to join you as well.
If you still think you need more, take our Optimize your Fundraising session for additional techniques and tools.