Marc A. Pitman writes the Fundraising Coach blog, in addition to writing books, giving seminars, engaging in social media and consulting with clients. His own fundraising career began at a small New England liberal arts college, but by 1999 he found the consulting life fulfilled his desire to teach and help people. Marc was interviewed from his home in rural Maine by Don Akchin, a principal of and a frequent contributor to the .
MKC: Your latest book is called Asking Without Fear. Is fear that real for that many fundraisers?
Marc: Yes! My first job in development – it was called “development associate” – had been a revolving door. People would get hired at this entry-level fundraising job and be shocked when they were called upon to ask for money. I think some fundraisers do experience that. But I really wrote the book for board members and volunteers. I wanted this to be a small push for them to get out there with a staff member, who’s probably too busy to do the training they would love to do, get them out there asking for money.
MKC: What’s the fear about?
Marc: I think part of it is that whole fear of rejection. We discuss this in the book and in the seminars – are they rejecting you or are they rejecting your cause? Or is it really rejection? Maybe a no is just a “no for now,” which it usually is. You usually can go back to a no and have a different response. We’re always changing.
I think for some nonprofit people, there’s a fear of accountability. With fundraising there’s nowhere to hide. Even though your dollar amount shouldn’t be your only goal, it’s a big goal, and if you don’t raise it, you can’t hide it, it’s right there in the open.
And then the third fear would probably be, ‘I don’t want my friends to think that the only time I’m going to talk to them is when I’m asking for money.’ It’s not quite rejection, but maybe it’s fear of being ostracized, or social exclusion. But that’s not really our problem, they have 12 months of the year, 52 weeks that they can talk to their friends about whatever they want to talk about.
We still live in a society in which we aren’t good with people. We still try to talk to people transactionally. And I think that’s part of the reason some people don’t like fundraising, because in some ways they think, ‘I’m not offering them something back.’ We don’t necessarily believe that the mission of what we’re doing, the emotional investment, is an emotional return for them, that it’s not a business relationship. Once we get okay with that, then we can start asking for true funding for our organization, not just transactional funding.
You get bigger dollars if you’re not just transactional. You can sell a raffle ticket for only so much. You can sell an auction item for only so much. But it’s amazing what people will invest over a number of years if it’s something that really matters to them.
MKC: You mentioned the term “donor evangelism.” What do you mean by that?
Marc: Rather than someone who’ll just write the checks for you – which is huge – we want those people who will talk about us and be able to articulate our mission and our cause on our behalf. When your charity is criticized, they may be the ones that stand up for you before you even get there. They’re amazingly important on so many levels. Because they’re not getting a paycheck from the organization, when they say something to their friends, it’s got more authenticity. Also, when it comes to finding donors and supporters, the referrals that they bring to you are much further down the donation funnel because they already know your cause and they know the people they are talking to.
MKC: In the dozen or so years you’ve been training, have the concerns changed?
Marc: The tools have changed, but the topics haven’t. The concerns are how do I reach people, how do I fund my cause, how do I connect with people, get my message out there, cut through the static and clutter.
I’m a geek. I took computer classes as early as grade school, I love technology and I’m an extrovert, so social media makes sense to me. Today it’s interesting to me how people invite me to talk about social media and fundraising. You know how when you feed a dog a bitter pill they won’t want, you put the medicine into the hamburger or something they will want? The bitter pill is that they’re going to have to ask for money. So it’s fun to have the social media tools to be the hamburger that I can wrap around the pill of you’re-going-to-have-to-ask.
Even after a couple months of coaching, some clients still want an out from asking, as though there’s a magic donor I know, or a magic Rolodex I have that will fund their cause without them having to ask any questions or doing any extra work.
MKC: Are there social media that you think are good for fundraising? Are some working better than others?
Marc: As you can tell, I’m committed to the face-to-face ask. You can probably get the most money with the least amount of effort overall. But there’s so much of the fundraising cycle that social media can be helpful for: researching your prospects, engaging your prospects, asking them – especially if you consider email a form of social media – and loving them, showing that you value them more than their bank account or their checkbook.
I’m a big Twitter fan. I’ve been part of Twestival, which has raised over a million dollars now primarily through Twitter. Epic Change is another group that’s done some great stuff. They raised over $30,000 last Mother’s Day through social media. But those are abnormal. Most of us are finding that large gifts don’t necessarily come through social media. I like Facebook. And I’m really enjoying . The bummer about Google + is that the critical mass of people aren’t there yet. [Ed. As of today, Google+ has finally opened its doors to the public at large.]
I advise nonprofits if you want to do something in social media beyond your blog – I think they all should have a blog first because all social media should be driving people back to your website, which studies consistently show is where the bigger gifts come –– but after that, definitely get on Facebook.
MKC: For the past three years, nonprofits have been struggling in a down economy. There seems to be a sense the money is not coming from government or foundations anymore. Does that seem to be a fair take? And what can they do?
Marc: I think that is a fair take. But I don’t think that’s new. Year after year, theshows 75-ish percent of all gifts in the United States are given by people like you and me. Maybe people with deeper pockets than us, but people like us. Then another 8 percent are bequests. So 82 to 85 percent every year is given by individuals and the rest is foundations and corporations. I’m excited, because I think this economy is forcing nonprofits to get two things straight: one, where do the funds really come from. They come from people. The other thing it’s forcing them to realize is, they haven’t done a great job keeping relationships with these people. It’s a hard lesson, but I think it’s been very good because nonprofits are realizing we need to listen to our donors, we need to communicate differently. Just because something’s convenient for us doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right way to communicate to them. So this economy is forcing nonprofits to go to where the real money is anyway, which is individuals. That’s pretty exciting to me.
Guest blogger Don Akchin writes frequently about marketing and philanthropy at donakchin.com.
This interview series is produced with the generous support of the Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Zone.