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Asking Your Insiders to Give

by Andrea Kihlstedt

Excerpted from Andrea Kihlstedt's new book,
How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps
© Emerson & Church, Publishers -

Some time ago, I worked on a campaign for a public library. With some fits and starts, Renee, the campaign chair, and Mary, the library director, had successfully tied down most of the large gifts.

Now they were ready to solicit those who weren’t large donors but who were close to the library. These included staff members, volunteers, and a host of people who used the library almost daily.

But as Renee and Mary pored over the list of staff members, they grew increasingly anxious. The library’s public funding, like that of libraries throughout the state, had been cut and cut again; and staff members hadn’t received a raise for some time. Earlier that year, Mary even had to eliminate a position.

“Should we really ask staff members for money?” asked Renee. “I’m afraid they’ll throw eggs at me.”

Mary was uncomfortable, too. She knew some of the staff loved the place but others were so frustrated by the lack of resources and flat salaries that they were on the verge of leaving.

Mary and Renee had all but decided to forego asking staff to support … until Jerry intervened.

Jerry, who had worked at the library for probably a decade and never missed a day, was a developmentally delayed adult who lived with his parents. He cleaned the restrooms, mopped the floors, emptied the trash, and performed a host of other custodial functions. Many who frequented the library knew and loved Jerry; he was always friendly and helpful. But because his salary was so low, he was one of the people Mary and Renee couldn’t imagine asking for a gift.

So when Jerry walked into the office carrying a check for one thousand dollars made out to the library, Mary nearly teetered from her chair.

“What’s this, Jerry?” she asked.

“I’ve been hearing people talk about plans to make this building better,” he replied, “and I’d like to help. I’m tired of trying to clean these old floors that simply won’t look clean no matter what I do. This job is my life and I’d like to help get some floors that’ll shine like new. ”

That moment was a turning point for Mary and her campaign chair. Jerry taught them not to make assumptions about who would give and who wouldn’t. His gift also taught them that people often give for very personal reasons.

When, a few weeks later, Jerry presented his gift to the library board – something he asked to do – tissues dabbed at every eye. And when the library renovation was completed, there was no mistaking Jerry’s pride as he made his new floors gleam every day.

It’s hard not to be generous when we see people who don’t have great resources give extraordinary gifts. I’m sure Jerry’s inspired generous gifts from many board and staff members who might have otherwise held back. And it gave Mary and Renee the courage to ask everyone.

Who are your insiders?

Every organization has a band of insiders. Among these are staff, board members, advisory council, volunteers, people who rely on your services, founders, and former board members. These people, while they may have limited means, are likely to be fond of and perhaps even committed to your cause.

It’s time to turn your focus to these insiders once you’ve established the inevitability of your project by raising most of the large gifts.

Their numbers may be relatively small – perhaps 100. Even so, you’ll need approximately 20 volunteers if you hope to solicit all of them. And enlisting this broader group of solicitors may be among your most challenging tasks.

I suspect you may be thinking, “Hey, these folks are already insiders. They know how important this project is. All they need is a letter from us.” That’s a fine strategy – but only if you want a handful of token gifts. If you desire thoughtful, larger gifts, you’ll still need people talking directly to people!

There are many ways to contribute

When Bonnie set out to solicit her hospice staff, she invited a few of the best-liked workers to be part of the process. She and several committee members met with them a number of times to brainstorm the best way to invite every staff member to contribute.

One easy way, Bonnie and her team decided, was through payroll deductions. But, more creatively, they encouraged staff members to come up with their own ways of raising money. And some hatched surprising ideas.

Sandy was a nurse at the hospice. The single mother of two kids who were headed for college, she was a short, stocky woman with a friendly smile and a great sense of humor.

When Bonnie asked her to help solicit her fellow staff members, Sandy wasn’t sure what to do. How can I ask others if I can’t afford even a small gift? she wondered.

It took her several days, but Sandy finally hit upon a solution. Over the next couple of weeks, she approached her colleagues and asked if they would sponsor her in doing sit-ups. She set a goal – six weeks away – of doing as many sit-ups as she could, on the floor of the staff kitchen at lunchtime.

Now, Sandy doesn’t look like someone who can do many sit-ups, so when she asked fellow staff members for 25 cents per, people figured their liability was limited.

But Sandy had wanted to trim down, and every day when she got home from work, she did sit-ups. And when she was watching her favorite TV show, she did sit-ups. And every morning before breakfast, she did sit-ups.

You know where this is headed. When the time came for Sandy’s demonstration, she shocked everyone in the staff kitchen. She did ten sit-ups. Twenty. Thirty. Fifty. One hundred. One hundred and fifty. And with the crowd yelling encouragement, TWO HUNDRED sit-ups.

At 25 cents each, with 42 sponsors from the staff, Sandy that morning raised $2,100 for the hospice campaign!

And just as importantly, her creative approach opened other people’s minds to ways they might help. Jennifer decided to organize a Friday bake-sale in the staff room, with proceeds directed to the campaign. Jeremy put together a small group to organize a staff-wide car wash. And Candace, who knew several masseuses, persuaded them to donate several one-hour sessions for which Candace held a silent auction.

In the end, Sandy did much more than firm up her abs and raise money for the hospice. She served as a model and an inspiration for others to participate as well.

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About the Author:

Andrea Kihlstedt is fascinated by what makes people tick. She has spent the last 27 years as a capital campaign consultant, working with organizations large and small, giving her ample opportunities to observe remarkable people who through their courage, commitment, and energies make our world a better place through fundraising.

Andrea has recently launched, a website designed to provide tools that inform, support and motivate people to go out and ask for gifts.

About the Book:

“Step by step one goes very far,” says the proverb.

That aptly sums up Andrea Kihlstedt’s goal in her new book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps.

If you’ve shied away from a major gifts campaign, feeling unprepared or unsure what to do, Kihlstedt’s book delivers a double-shot of confidence.

And, true to its title, the book does make it seem surprisingly easy to raise a $1 million or more if you heed the author’s counsel.

Available through Emerson & Church, Publishers:

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