As some of you may already know, in my consulting practice I specialize in working with nonprofit organizations and other service-based entrepreneurs that are in a start-up or transitional stage of growth. I’m happy to say that there is now a book that can help each and every one of them, and I always recommend it.
50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop by Amy Eisenstein, Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) is a breath of fresh air when it comes to books on fundraising. A quick and easy read for those who are already overwhelmed with how much they need to learn in order to operate and grow a business, it lays out a simple plan for incorporating “Asks” into the everyday, and by doing so, both strengthening relationships and increasing support dollars flowing into the organization.
The Language of Fundraising
Amy clearly lays out the language of fundraising and addresses common challenges in its implementation – from helping board members understand their role in the process to clarifying the process itself. For example, did you know that the solicitation (or “ask” part of the process – the one most people are hesitant to engage in) represents only 5% of the process? The most time-intensive part of the process (and, not coincidentally, the more fun part) lies in cultivation (50%) and stewardship (35%) … or, in other words, in developing and maintaining good relationships with people who are passionate about our cause. The remaining 10% of the process, which is often the most research-intensive part of the process, is identification.
Amy also address some common misperceptions about fundraising that new organizations have. For example, she says,
- “The old saying ‘quality not quantity’ rings true in the fundraising context. It is more important to make smart, informed asks than to make a certain numbers of asks each year. So although increasing the overall number of asks your organization is making is crucial, it is not enough. Prospective donors, whether foundations, corporations or individuals, must be carefully researched, cultivated, solicited, and stewarded. If you ask one hundred times per year, but do not receive any gifts, then frequency becomes irrelevant.”
An Easy-to-Implement Development Plan
In 50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop, Ms. Eisenstein addresses the following major areas of fundraising as part of a total development plan: board giving, bulk solicitation via direct mail, email and social media, individual giving, grant writing, and events. She provides easy-to-implement tips on getting started with each type of development program, and at the end, helps you understand how they all build up to 50 asks in one year (about 1 ask per week). Very doable!
Leadership for Organizational Growth
Near the end of 50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop, Ms. Eisenstein provides Executive Directors with guidance on key management topics such as when and how to hire your first development director (and understanding how the E.D.’s role in fundraising will change after you do), creating a fundraising culture within the organization (and the board), and setting reasonable team goals for development.
I absolutely love Amy’s Board Expectation Form and think everyone should use it. Completed annually and used as a tool for measuring board performance, it sets forth each board member’s 1) financial commitment (via a direct pledge or pledge of participation by his company) and 2) leadership commitment as part of at least one committee. It also requires an acknowledgement by the board member that meeting attendance is a requirement for Board membership. The Board Expectation form, along with a comprehensive Board Orientation Packet, provides clear indicators for performance.
Setting the Right Expectations
If you’re new to fundraising keep this in mind … according to Amy, executive directors often have “unrealistic expectations for what development staff can accomplish, especially with the tools and resources that they are given. A new development staff member will raise money in the first year, but it is not likely to (cover the individual’s salary via) unrestricted dollars.” Often money raised in the first year through grants is more than the individual’s salary, but as restricted program dollars, it cannot be spent on staff salary. So be prepared to cover the development staff’s salary with unrestricted dollars from other sources, and set other more realistic expectations, like …
- Put a plan in place to achieve 100% board participation in fundraising.
- Research and apply for eight to ten new grants. Establish relationships with foundation staff members.
- Plan two parties for prospective donors at the homes of board members.
- Identify ten individual prospects and create cultivation plans for each. Schedule meetings with them to meet board members and the E.D.
Then measure success and build upon the progress you’ve made.
50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop is sure to stay in my permanent business library, and it should be a part of yours, too. Simple changes can lead to big results. I give this book – and its author – my highest recommendation.
If you ever get a chance to hear Amy speak at a Grant Professionals Association (GPA) or Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP) event, be sure to do so. She is both down-to-earth and engaging. I consider it a privilege to have met her at local GPA events here in New Jersey.
References: 50 Asks in 50 Weeks: A Guide to Better Fundraising for Your Small Development Shop by Amy Eisenstein is available through Amazon. She can also be contacted via Tripoint Fundraising.