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Fund Raising Realities that Every Board Member Must Face

David Lansdowne


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Fund Raising Realities that Every Board Member Must Face

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David Lansdowne, author of Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face, answers four key fundraising questions. His answers are adapted from his bestselling book published by Emerson & Church.

What’s the most important thing a solicitor can do before calling upon a prospective donor?

Imagine an investment-savvy friend drops by, all excited about an upcoming IPO. “This is the surest thing since Google,” he says. “You gotta buy it.” Tantalized by the prospect of easy money, you log onto Stocks r Us and ask how many shares your pal has bought. “None yet,” he says, “but if I were you I’d load up!” With that ringing endorsement, you log off.

It’s the same with fundraising. Before you can hope to persuade a friend or colleague to support your cause, you have to believe in it yourself. And nothing says conviction better than a generous gift. Personal giving accomplishes two things (three if you count your organization’s ledger): It makes you a more enthusiastic advocate, and gives you added leverage during your visit.

It’s quite effective when you can say, “John, I’ve contributed $5,000 to this project myself. I believe it’s that important. I’m asking you to join me.” Think of the credibility gap if you’re asked about your own level of support and you personally haven’t given.
“Well, um, you see….” That would be when your prospect logs off.

When soliciting a prospective donor, what’s usually more effective – to tout your specific project (such as a new science center) or your organization’s overall mission?

It’s appealing that the Ford Taurus you’re eyeing has tinted glass, a rearview camera, and a trunk big enough for a Viking stove. But for you, the car’s central purpose - getting you to and from work safely and on time – is what really matters. Similarly, what’s under your organization’s hood – namely, the variety of programs and projects you offer – isn’t nearly as important to your prospect as your core mission.

As Henry Rosso, founder of The Fund Raising School, put it, “your overarching mission is the magnet that attracts and holds the interest of major donors. It is more important than any single project or program, more important in fact than the history of your organization, the solicitor, your distinct offerings, or your project’s aims.”

Philanthropy master Jerold Panas confirms this in his book, Mega Gifts. Panas interviewed a host of million dollar donors and to a person they echoed the words of Marianne McDonald, for whom the McDonald Center at Sharp Healthcare is named: “There is nothing that could move me to making a large gift if I don’t believe in the mission of the organization and its significance.”

of related interest

OF RELATED INTEREST: In Asking, Jerold Panas convincingly shows that it doesn’t take stellar sales skills to be an effective fundraiser. Nearly everyone can secure sizable gifts if they follow a few step-by-step guidelines.

To be at his or her best, how many solicitations can the typical volunteer or board member make?

AND NOW FOR SOME BREAKING NEWS: The average weight of a woman’s handbag has plummeted, reports Debenhams, the largest department store chain in Great Britain.
Just a few years ago, ladies were lugging eight pounds in their Miu Miu’s. Now, thanks to lighter, multi-functional gadgets like the iPhone, the weight has dropped 57 percent - to a petite three-and-a-half pounds. Everyone is happy, except for physical therapists.

Your solicitors will be pleased, too – and a lot more effective - if you don’t overload them with prospects. Considering the time spent making the appointment, visiting the prospect, and following up with a letter or phone call, even a small number of solicitations is time-consuming. So what’s the magic number? Experience shows that five is reasonable. Any more and your campaigners may resort to phone calls rather than visits.

Expect some enthusiastic workers to request more (“I’m good at this – give me 15 people”). The Italians have some advice worth recalling here: “Big mouthfuls often choke.” There will be plenty more for eager solicitors when they’ve completed their initial set of calls.

Is team soliciting really better than asking one-on-one?

Imagine basketball star LeBron James going up against the San Antonio Spurs – by himself. There’s no question “King James” would score some points. But boy would it be easier with a few teammates.  It’s the same when matching up with your own Tim Duncan’s. Go in pairs or threesomes. You’ll fortify each other’s resolve. And two heads are better than one for fielding any tricky questions.

Generally speaking, the following teams (listed in order of effectiveness) work best: volunteer and organization’s CEO; volunteer and staff member; CEO and staff member. But if you feel more people are needed, bring them along. “Heck, bring a marching band if you need to,” says Jerold Panas, who was once part of a team that asked for a hundred million dollar gift.

Not only will the team approach increase your effectiveness, it’ll also serve your organization in other ways. First, newer volunteers will become more familiar and comfortable with the asking process. Second, more than one person will come to know important prospects - helpful if the solicitor you’ve relied upon is unavailable in the future. Finally, your volunteers will simply have more fun when they share in the asking. And, as no less an authority than Dr. Seuss said, “Fun is good.”

About the Author

David Lansdowne has spent his professional life in the nonprofit sector, serving in a wide variety of development and administrative positions for educational, cultural, and health organizations throughout the United States.


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Table of Contents

Foreword by Jerold Panas

  1. In Close Company
  2. The Mission Must Be Defined                   
  3. The Buck Starts Here                                
  4. Most Everyone Dislikes Asking               
  5. Be Ready or Regroup                                 
  6. Money Costs Money                                 
  7. Make Your Case                                            
  8. Individuals are the Target                         
  9. A Few Contribute the Most                      
  10. Think in Thirds                                       
  11. Interviews are Revealing                          
  12. Consultants Will and Won’t                     
  13. No Goal, No Objective                            
  14. Calling All Recruits                                        
  15. Those Who Set the Goal, Set Their Sights                           
  16. Publicity is No Substitute                         
  17. Special Events are Double-Edged            
  18. Forego the Fancy                                       
  19. Wealth Alone Doesn’t Determine            
  20. That You Need, Won’t Inspire                
  21. Come a Little Closer
  22. What You Don’t Know Will Hurt You                           
  23. Who Leads, Influences Who Gives          
  24. Time Commands                                      
  25. Stay on Top or Go Under                        
  26. Training Begets Bigger Gifts                   
  27. The Secret to Success                        
  28. Those Who Ask Must First Give              
  29. Not All Donors are Equal                          
  30. Each According to His Means                  
  31. Big Before Little                                      
  32. Teams Work                                            
  33. Overloaded Solicitors Underproduce                
  34. Make a Match                            
  35. More Alike than Not                                 
  36. No Apology Needed                                 
  37. Work Your Core                 
  38. Get Personal                                             
  39. Go Figure                                                  
  40. Ask or All is Lost                                     
  41. I Shall Return, Maybe
  42. Gratitude to One and All                         
  43. Your Donor is Waiting              
  44. An Evaluation Enlightens                              
    One Last Thought


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