‘Just Ask’ the ACTION part of the For Impact message.
- Through The Suddes Group, we’ve raised a lot of money. A big reason for this was because WE ASKED.
So many times I’ve been on a visit with an executive director. We asked… the prospect (after some dialogue) said yes and the executive director then later said to me,
- Just ask when timing is perfect.
- Just ask when you know exactly what to ask for.
- Just ask after you’ve visiting with the prospect nine times.
- Just ask when you’re entire board is on board.
- Just ask when those butterflies in your stomach are finally gone.
- Just ask when you have the perfect message.
- Just ask when you have the perfect materials.
It says, “Just Ask!”
- Timing will never be perfect.
- The only what you’ll know what to ask for is by asking (and getting a response).
- You are in the business of saving, changing and impacting lives It’s not about nine visits. People cultivate because they can’t communicate!
- Re: the board… just move… take action.
- I still feel like I want to puke before a big ask….
- The only way to truly test a message is to ASK.
- Re: Materials, see my above point about message.
Just ASK is all about action.
It’s permission to move. Nothing happens until you ask!
Until you ask, (one-on-one), the message is not personal.
Until you ask, people don’t know how they can help.Until you ask, the prospect doesn’t guide you through what else is needed (from the message, from the org or plan) to make a commitment.
Until you ask, prospects can’t say YES!Just Ask!
This is 90% of everything you need to know about raising money.
We coach and train organizations and individuals to sell … to sell their vision, their projects, their impact.
- Sales is a 1:1 activity. It requires that we get out of the office and meet with people.
- Sales is also the only way to truly maximize relationships.
I will often ask an executive director, “How many visits and asks (1:1) does your organization make each month?” More than any other statistic, this is a key performance indicator for an organization. Many leaders respond with something like, “Well, right now, none. We’re waiting until we finish our strategic plan.” Or, “About once per month but we’re really going to commit to major gifts in the coming year.”
Get out. Visit. Ask.
As coaches, we know it takes about 15 asks (over a three-month time period) from one person to hit ‘selling stride’… where a sales person is likely to keep making visits … revenue will jump … systems will start to form. On paper, 15 visits doesn’t look like a lot (and it’s not) but it requires:
- That we stop messing with the message.
- That we get out of our comfort zone. Otherwise, human nature would have us wait forever to make the FIRST visit.
- That we get beyond the 2-3 ‘low-hanging fruit’ prospects … being proactive in a sales process.
If you’re new to this, your first few visits are going to feel awkward. You’ll find yourself saying really stupid things. Just know this and know that you have to do them to get them out of the way. Somewhere in the range of 6-10 visits you’ll start to ‘own the message’ and find yourself in familiar territory on each dialogue. And … by visit 15 you will find a groove. Each visit is no longer produces that ‘deer in a headlight’ feeling. Much like an experienced quarterback describes, the time seems to slow down and you get much better at processing on the fly.
For what it’s worth:
- I feel really awkward on my first ten visits on behalf of a cause. Even having done this hundreds of times it takes me a while to find my groove.
- It’s much easier to do three visits in one day than it is three visits in one-week.
- Remember, be authentic and you can’t screw up. It’s okay to say, “This is the second time I’ve shared the plan in this way.”
- If it helps, go ahead and make ‘practice visits’… these count toward the 15.
- I’m suggesting it takes 15 visits for a person to reach his or her stride which impacts the organization as a whole. If you have two sales people then they each should make 15 visits to hit a stride.
Here is a simple idea you can use to frame your thinking around your funding plan:RETURN ON ENERGY.
This seems to be especially big for organizations trapped in a transaction-based system of special events (life-sucking, volunteer-draining) with often and incredibly low RETURN ON ENERGY.
If that describes your organization, then think about this rhetorical question: What would happen if you did away with one event. Then, you focused all that energy (time, urgency, people, resources) on building a great relationships with one or two prospects that could invest $1 million in your vision?
- Special Events As Fundraisers Stink- they’re not special.
- Major Gifts: Raise the most money at the least cost.
- 97/3: 97% of the money/investments comes from 3% of your family … focus on
I was with a school in Albuquerque. The bulk of the funding strategy revolved around special events … in fact, they were running FIVE events. The board was drained. It made a commitment to CHANGE the way it FUNDED the VISION. In only one week, the board generated more than $80,000 to fund student scholarships by working only a few key phone relationships. To really see the ‘WOW’ you need to know that they these events were consuming hundreds of volunteer hours and netting an average of $30K – $50K each (with a funding cost as high as 70 cents to raise a dollar – yikes).
To me, this is a wonderful example of stopping to think about the RETURN ON ENERGY, making a commitment to change and enjoying IMMEDIATE RESULTS.
This applies to EVERYTHING you’re doing. Take a moment today to think about your RETURN ON ENERGY.
If you’ve seen Tom or I speak … or if you’ve been to a workshop then you’ve probably heard our rant about ‘No More Special Events.’
A bold few always want to challenge this position:
- “But that’s how we build relationships.”
- “But that’s how we generate awareness.”
No one ever says, “But that’s our CASH COW!”
The reasons most often heard in defending special events are really tied to MARKETING. Substitute the objections above with, “But that’s how we do our marketing!”
Interesting. And, OK. So that begs a question, what about your SALES?
Think about your development efforts in terms of MARKETING and SALES. Right now we don’t use those terms (Enough? At all?) Use MARKETING and SALES as a simple strategic framework. What IF we all agreed that the one big event was going to be the most incredible opportunity for us to tell our story? What if we didn’t pretend it made a ton of money?
If you’re going to keep your event – in the name of building relationships – then tell me what you’re going to be doing to MAXIMIZE RELATIONSHIPS.
If you decide to keep that event, then decide its purpose. If it’s to BUILD RELATIONSHIPS, then set out to make it the best at doing that … but don’t pretend it’s the centerpiece of your funding strategy.
MARKETING and SALES.
BUILDING RELATIONSHIPS and MAXIMIZING RELATIONSHIPS.
A reminder: The best way to MAXIMIZE RELATIONSHIPS is 1:1.
And a question: What if we took that time, energy and effort spent on the event(s) and put that into getting great visits and providing customized experiences with our top 10 or 20 prospects?
It’s the function of marketing to produce qualified leads for sales. I can’t remember where I got this definition, but I favor it as it relates to our development efforts. Once you determine what efforts are marketing and what are sales, then you can ask, “How are we using this marketing effort to find qualified leads for sales?”
I’ve been a part of dozens of board retreats (leader/observer participant), meetings and planning sessions in the last few years. A traditional strategic planning session lays out goals and actions but often fails to ask some really big driving questions.
WHAT IF… we asked these questions?
- What is our purpose or raison d’être? This is different from mission – which should be the same thing but usually ends up being more about ‘place in the world’ vs. purpose. Raison d’être literally means REASON FOR EXISTENCE. It’s the WHY question. If you can’t answer WHY, then WHAT and HOW are irrelevant.
- How can we (intentionally) go out of business? Is this for the short term (1000 days) or long term (50+ years). You exist to change lives, save lives or transform lives. How often do we re-examine our activities and ask, “Can we find a SOLUTION?” I started to qualify this question – to say that it might not apply to some organizations such as schools. Then, I withdrew my qualification. Ask it anyway; see where the conversation takes you. Education is changing.
- What would you do with $10M or $100M? Or pick a number that is a factor of 10x higher than anything you’re thinking about now. I recently attended a board retreat as a Board Member
for Road of Life Cancer Prevention For Kids. With $100M, one board Member said she would get laws changed to make health education mandatory at an earlier age and another said we should invest in longitudinal studies to understand how health prevention impacts kids.Those are two VERY DIFFERENT priorities and we aren’t doing either right now. Ultimately, the question helped to build consensus around focusing on EDUCATION. Until the question was asked, every debate was about incremental tactics, not Vision or even, I would argue, Strategy.
- What Strategic Partnerships can we pursue? You have finance committees, development committees, marketing committees, campaign committees. If anything, I would like to see a partnership committee. Better yet, just a commitment to partnerships as a core priority (DNA) of the organization. I haven’t seen the numbers in a while but there are somewhere in excess of 2 million nonprofits and many more socially focused businesses (all For Impact). Current structures and strategic planning questions focus on bloat, not partnerships. We’re all trying to make a difference, so let’s make a commitment (financial resources) to exploring this full time.
- How can we scale our Impact? Simple and open-ended… but not asked enough.
- What are we best in the world at? Jim Collins has made this conversation prevalent in the last few years (revisiting the Hedgehog Concept). It’s ultimately a question of priorities and focus. Consider finding the one thing you do very well and FOCUS on that. I can’t tell you how important this discussion is for your staff. It helps them make decisions about grants, programs, staffing, etc. Equally important is identifying those things that you’re not good at. Side note: I am a big Marcus Buckingam believer. He tells you to focus on your strengths. [Our strength at For Impact is live training, facilitating and coaching. We’re focusing on ways to do more of that.]
- Should we grow ‘wider’ or ‘deeper’? It’s a Scope of Services question. Ultimately a lot of ’strategic planning’ comes down to this question. Do we add more depth to our current programs (make them longer, more available, etc)? Or, do we expand our scope of services (diverse offerings, expanded continuum, etc.)? Refer back to question six to help you frame this debate.
- How much money do we need to achieve our vision? What usually happens: we spend time tweaking funding goals based on last year’s results. It would be of huge value [to everyone] if
we knew how much money we really needed to accomplish our Vision (annually or over time via a campaign initiative). Reflecting on this, I would say that this question is often asked in preparation for a campaign but it is not asked in relation to our operation (annual). Why not? Instead, we set a number and then allocate it (budget)… every year.
- What is our business model? What business are we in? I think this goes along with several other questions and relates to strengths, focus and priorities. It also adds clarity and could even become part of your message.
I think these questions would also SOLVE a lot of the problems I hear about every day:
- Board Engagement/Staff Communication: It works both ways.
- Board Meetings: If we’re on board about the big stuff it raises
the level of the conversation. I think a lot of the comments
I hear about Board Members being too detail focused or
staff members seeming unfocused is resolved when we can
communicate about and focus on the big picture.
- The Proverbial Rat Race: Incremental thinking gets
incremental results (some times).
(THE MESSAGE AND MEETINGS, NOT THE PEOPLE)
by Nick Fellers
Here’s a story about an organization that was having a hard time getting leadership engaged and ‘on board’ through a Campaign Committee / Chair Structure.
A youth-serving organization in the Midwest started a campaign two years ago – then put on the brakes. It couldn’t find a ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson’.
The description for this ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chair’ was four pages in length. It included things like (and we’re not making this up):[First line of the description:] Acceptance of the Capital Campaign’s financial goal by the General Chairperson represents his/her commitment to raise this goal for this Campaign.
This person should make a lead or the lead commitment for the Campaign.
The Chairperson is responsible for achieving the Campaign Funding Goal. [Yes, essentially this is stated twice.]
The Chairperson is responsible for identifying, recruiting and soliciting other members of the Campaign Committee.
The four pages did have other filler that wasn’t as harsh, but…The message? The Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson basically has to do the whole Campaign… devote the next two years to focusing
on Income, no Impact… he’s on his own… except he’s not because he’s going to sell others to come along for the ride.
OBVIOUSLY no one in his or her right mind would sign onto this. it’s no wonder this organization was having trouble finding a chair. The description above probably works (but not because of the description) when there is one clear and strong leader that STARTED the Campaign Effort… that’s LEADING the Campaign Effort… from day one…. As in, it was HIS or HER idea. For the other 98% of Campaigns, it’s completely unrealistic and completely off-putting.
Prior to putting on the brakes, the organization profiled had asked eight people to be the Chair – without success. All eight have expressed STRONG enthusiasm for the Vision, the Case and the Project.
So here’s what we did.
We scrapped the Capital Campaign Committee all together.
‘Capital Campaign’ tells a story about a building. The building is a means to an end. ‘Committee’ connotes committee. Ugh.
What we really need is LEADERSHIP – so that the community OWNS the project – not the nonprofit development team. We also need CHAMPIONS – people that will help us make the vision a reality.
Instead of a Campaign Committee, we’re identifying ‘Ambassadors for the Children of [CITY]’. We’re focusing on ten great ambassadors who can help us Advance the Vision by doing three things (that match our Champion/Invite/Invest strategy).
- Be a Voice – For the Children. [CHAMPION]
2 out of 4 children in this city’s metro area live below the poverty level. Many are on a path to gangs and unemployment. This is all in an affluent city where people would probably guess the
numbers to be much lower.We’re asking the Ambassadors first and foremost to lend their name and endorsement to the Vision, the Mission and Project.
- Help us Share the Story [Invite] When people come down to our existing neighborhood center it takes about ten minutes of walking THROUGH the story before they ask us, “How can I help?” We’re reinforcing to our Ambassadors that the story illustrates itself… but we need their help by bringing people TO the story.We even note that in doing this, it’s all about ‘Sharing the Story’ and not about asking their friends for money. We have a well equipped staff with a killer process if someone is moved by the Impact.
- Invest with a Commensurate Commitment
It’s also important to note that we are not dodgy or coy about needing help. Instead of building out meetings we’re focused on building and leading a movement in the community – with the help of these 10 voices. And, we pretty much explain this thinking to them in the same way.We’re not focusing on ‘the group’ but instead on individuals that comprise the group. We’re only holding 1-2 gatherings per year for formal group updates about the Impact and Income. Otherwise, accountability is specific for each individual most months as needed. Notably, we ARE putting in place a ‘Lead Ambassador’ – someone who can help rally the troops!
Though we’re just rolling this out at this organization, we’ve used the same strategy with great success on other ‘Campaigns’/Funding Initiatives.
Community leaders want to help. They want to be Champions for your Vision. They want to make the Impact happen. They will even invest in the Impact and help to get others investing in the Impact.
This enthusiasm is muted (maybe killed?) when it becomes all about signing in blood to be a ‘Capital Campaign Committee Chairperson’ (or member).
“Most philanthropists, even experienced ones, say that it’s harder to give money away effectively than it is to make it.”
A few thoughts on that point:
- You should be asking whether or not your organization is an effective use of funds.The answer is either yes or no.
- If NO – then you don’t deserve the money (pretty simple).
- If YES – then the issue is that you’re not able to communicate your effectiveness.
This goes back to one of our principle message points: Impact drives Income.
I think this is encouraging.
- Think much bigger about your Impact and Income.Tom always shares a great line from his sales mentor, who came from the life insurance business: “It’s easier to sell a million dollar policy to a qualified prospect than it is to sell a $10,000 policy to a family member.” Thing big about your qualified prospects.
The greater the capacity and philanthropic interest, the more difficult it is for that person to be effective (evidenced by the quote from Cohen).
This means there is an entire network of investors out there looking for you (if you are an effective investment).
This is also encouraging.
- Trust me, most organizations are not out communicating their impact.While we know there are plenty of people who have ‘short arms and deep pockets,’ I have a tough time accepting that judgment about somebody before going to see them.
- Most people don’t go visit with the prospect: they send a letter, don’t hear back, call it a rejection, and chalk it up to the idea that he prospect is “getting hit up by everybody.” Or, “It’s a competitive environment.”
- When they do visit, they ‘ask for money’ (instead of ‘presenting the opportunity’). They don’t communicate the impact. What the prospect hears is, “We want your money,” instead of, “This is how the investment will change lives, save lives or impact lives.”
- Or, worse yet, they visit, talk about the NEED for money, share no impact and make no real ask.
So don’t base your assumptions about prospects (people, foundations or corporations) on what you’ve heard on the street.
- Get a visit with a qualified prospect.
- Share the story around your impact (communicating your effectiveness).
- Present the opportunity to make an investment that will change lives, save lives or transform lives.
It makes all the difference in the world. You will be successful and the word on the street will be that you walk on water.
“Why do we cultivate people?” As Tom always reminds me, “Cultivation is that thing you do with plants and manure.”
I really, truly don’t understand ‘cultivation.’ We are in the business of saving, changing, and impacting lives. If you can help people understand your impact then it’s really not about cultivation; it’s about asking whether or not they want to help you with your cause.
I use a simple story to emphasize my point. Imagine that you and your prospect were walking around a lake and came upon a drowning child. What would that prospect do? It’s likely she would jump in, fully committed to save the life of the child (so would you). I can’t imagine a scenario where you would first try to spend years getting this person interested in saving children (read: cultivation).
So … if you’re saving or changing lives then you can’t really argue that we need more cultivation. I would propose that the issue at hand is really much more about communication. That is, how you communicate your impact in such a way that is clear, concise and compelling. So clear, in fact, the prospect jumps on board (read: into the lake) to make a major investment in your vision.
If you can communicate the impact, the income will follow. If you can communicate the impact, you can ask for any amount of money on the first (sometimes second) visit. The challenge, again, is that we struggle with our message. Or, we might even have the message, but we’re not out visiting with people, one-on-one, to share the message and present the opportunity for them to help (save the child – as it were).
Your job is to communicate the impact, not spread manure. I know that’s blunt but I want to motivate you to action with this idea. You’re doing great things … so present the opportunity for someone to help … now.
People come from all over the world to the For Impact Boot Camp because they need more money. In order to address that, we spend almost half of the Camp talking about HOW to COMMUNICATE the IMPACT. It’s all about communication, and it’s why attendees have success when leaving. They have the ability to communicate their impact in such a way that it is as clear as saving a drowning child.
P.S. If you think my example is too simplistic or unrealistic, please know that this same example is what set into motion the greatest philanthropist of our era – I’ve altered the lake example somewhat but borrowed it from noted philosopher and ethicist Peter Singer who wrote an amazing article in the New York Times, “What Should a Billionaire Give – and What Should You?” In that article he also explains Bill Gates’ moment of clarity around impact that moved him to action.
I’m tired of reading lengthy strategic plans that don’t derive-from or result-in real strategic clarity.
- In past year I have been with several foundations that have asked organizations for ‘strategic plans.’ Speaking to the foundations directly, I can say that what they’re really asking for is STRATEGIC CLARITY — not 40 pages of ‘stuff.’ It’s a vocab issue.
- IMPACT drives INCOME. In order to get funding results we [The Suddes Group] always have to back our way into helping an organization get REAL strategic clarity so that we have a clean strategy, message and case for support for funders. Funding, at the point, then simply becomes about execution. We can coach and train people to execute.
Strategic Plan vs. Strategic Clarity
Think about the difference in these two terms.
Every organization needs strategic clarity and a 1000-day action plan. They need to have everyone on the same page about:
- The purpose (the WHY) and the vision (the ultimate goal) (at 30,000’).
This should fit on a napkin.
- No more than THREE* simple strategic priorities (at 14,000’) that advance the organization toward the goal, aligning with purpose.
These should fit on the back of that napkin.
*Drucker was even simpler. He said every organization should have at most TWO priorities … WOW!
- A 100-day (near term) plan of action tied to each priority and a 1000-day plan of action with benchmarks that run more fluid for quarterly review.
This should fit on one sheet of paper (maybe two) if you stay at the strategic level.
Every day I talk with someone who needs or wants a ‘strategic plan.’ I can’t identify with that term anymore because it means so many different things. In each case though, they need clarity and simplicity. Only about half the time do they need to do a lot of consensus building (think: visits, dialogue and time) to bring everyone on the same page.
Over simplified? No.