Fundraising: The Music and The Notes
I’ve been trying to teach myself how to play guitar on and off for the past three years. I don’t read music. I didn’t grow up in a musical family. I don’t sing (except for off-key but energetic Bob Seger karaoke riffs on rare occasions). But something happens when I practice the guitar.
The analytical side of my brain is frantically trying to remember how to position the fingers of my left hand to make a ‘G’ chord. Developing the muscle memory for the seemingly infinite combination of six strings and however many different fret combinations is daunting. To me, this part of the practice feels like work. It’s memorization and repetition for both mind and muscle.
On rare occasions, though, I can hear what sounds a little like actual music. It gives me a rush and makes me want to play more. I might even find myself nodding my head, moving my shoulders into the picking, or smiling. This is when the practice feels more like art.
Often, I’m asked to provide proven fundraising principles to a group of board members or a nonprofit staff team. Even though I try to weave in stories with the fundraising best practices, I suspect that many people are in their heads, trying to figure out how to hit the notes. This might be like me having a visit with my guitar instructor. It’s helpful, but I really don’t improve until I practice.
The Most Effective Way to Improve Your Fundraising Efforts
The only way to really improve your playing or your fundraising is to, well, play. What if over the next 30 days you had a practice session with ten of your supporters – perhaps a mix of those you know, and some you don’t? This may not be the time to ask for a gift, but you could certainly ask for a lot more. Strive to deepen the personal connection between you, your organization, and the donor. Ask questions and really listen to their responses as a way to get comfortable with the give and take of a donor conversation. Questions like:
- What’s happening in our community right now that you feel needs to stop?
- What organizations are doing some of the best work in our community right now?
- What’s the most memorable way you’ve been thanked by an organization?
When we are lucky enough to have a conversation with a donor or prospective donor, our practice is put into action. The notes of our preparation come together in a harmonious melody. Each interaction is unique, customized to the person across from you and their likes, dislikes, passions, and puzzlements. When done well, we’re not just playing notes – we play music.
Keep tuning and keep playing. You might not be able to play “Free Bird” yet, but you might just catch a little harmony that gives you enough spark of joy that it keeps you practicing and improving for years to come.
This Month's Focus
We can all agree that it's important to stay sharp. This means committing to lifelong learning as nonprofit leaders and staff. As the world changes there are new needs and new solutions to be discovered. This month we will share lessons and resources to keep us all on track as a part of our Never Stop Learning theme.