If we have said it once, we have said it a thousand times: all fundraising activities should begin with your friends and family. Why? Because, for the first-time campaigner/fundraiser, friends and family are the quickest and easiest source of funds that you will need to get off the ground. (You can learn more about who to ask for donations here)
Asking for donations from friends and family first also helps you test and modify your fundraising message in a safe environment without risking too much if you flub a line here or there. By working in this safe space you can refine your message and discover what messages work best for you. Heck, you can even ask friends and family questions about your pitch to see where you might be able to improve for future calls.
Of course, many people are uncomfortable asking the people they are closest to for a donation. The key to being successful when making these calls (or any fundraising call, for that matter), ultimately comes down to mastering your fears and insecurities and realizing that it really is okay to ask someone for a donation.
Putting the Shoe on the Other Foot
Perhaps the most important thing to tell yourself when you pick up that phone for the first time is “If the shoe were on the other foot, and this person was calling me for a donation, would I be upset or offended?”
Odds are very good that you wouldn’t be upset at all but, instead, be more than happy to help someone close to you achieve their goal. Even if you couldn’t or wouldn’t want to help this persons’ political campaign, it is doubtful that you would be upset or offended by the ask.
By switching the thinking in your own head, you can go a long way towards overcoming your fears.
Practice and Refine Your Message
One of the biggest mistakes people make when contacting friends and family about making a campaign contribution is beating around the bush and not actually getting to the reason for the conversation. This stall tactic comes from being uncomfortable, but, ironically, all it manages to do is stretch out the conversation, making you feel more and more uncomfortable along the way.
Try not to spend more than a few minutes exchanging pleasantries before making your ask. Because you are talking to someone close to you, you have the opportunity to really work on what your overall pitch will sound like when it comes time to start talking to those who may not know you. Explain to the person why you are running, what you hope to achieve, and why your donation would be helpful.
Pay attention to what does and doesn’t sound natural for you to say as well as what phrases seem to resonate with people. Ultimately (aside from asking for a donation, of course) you are trying to find your style in asking donations. Once you have had a chance to practice your lead-up to a donation, it comes time to make the formal ask.
A common mistake people make when asking for donations is that they aim too low. It is always easier to negotiate down than it is to try and build up in hopes of getting more - and, let’s face it, it is always better to try and get the highest donation possible out of someone.
If you believe someone is only able to contribute $50 to your campaign, ask them for $100 - you will either be pleasantly surprised when they say yes or you will get the contribution you expected. Imagine if the situation was reversed, and you only asked for $50 when the person was willing to give $100? You just made your fundraising just a little bit more difficult as you try to track down another donation.
Though avoiding a donation request in the first place is the most common problem, a close second is a fear of aiming too high. The vast majority of the time people are flattered to have people think that they are capable of making a higher donation than they are able because it is a sign of perceived wealth. If someone truly can’t donate, they will simply say that they couldn’t give as much as requested.
When this happens, this is your chance to practice talking down an ask. If someone can’t donate $100, ask for $50; if they can’t do $50, ask for $25; if they can’t do $25, ask if they are able to help in other ways.
In Kind Donations and Volunteer Recruitment
One often-overlooked type of donation to a campaign is the in-kind donation or a donation of time. In many areas, in-kind donations are considered formal donations to your campaign and consist primarily of expert assistance. Is one of your friends an accountant? Ask if they would volunteer to handle your books; know someone who is a whiz at website development? Ask if they would be willing to set you up with a professional looking page; Have a brother that does marketing? Ask if they could put a flyer together for you - this professional volunteering has a market value that you can report, adding greater legitimacy to your campaign when people see if you are viable.
Finally, if worst comes to worst and you are talking to someone who just can’t contribute and doesn’t have a set specific of skills they could provide to your campaign, simply ask if they would be willing to be a general volunteer for your campaign. You will be surprised to see how many people are willing to help you send letters, knock on doors, or speak on your behalf at events.
In the end, the key is to not be afraid to ask your friends and family for donations when your campaign is getting off the ground. Not only do these people want to see you succeed, but the donations they provide do wonders in those early months when you are trying to get your campaign off the ground. Asking for donations may never come naturally to you, but, with time, it does become much easier to do.
Are you looking to send out a letter to your closest contacts to inform them of your campaign? Check out this article for tips on writing your friends and family fundraising letter and for a downloadable template!