Putting the fun in fundraising

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A little girl asked to see the president of a large company.  She explained that her club was raising money and asked if he would contribute.

Smiling, he laid a quarter and a dollar bill on his desk and said, "Take whichever one you want."

The little girl said, "My mother taught me to take the smallest piece, but I'll take this piece of paper to wrap it in so I won't lose it."  Smart kid.

Fundraising is one of those necessary tasks that enable great causes and scare people silly, all at the same time.  

Even when needs are great, asking for money is a daunting task.  I've been involved in a variety of deserving organizations.  The story is the same, time after time.  Volunteers eagerly fill the other committees, but the work can't even get started until someone brings in the support.  

That is why I see fundraising as a terrific opportunity.  

First and foremost, the organization benefits because you have a chance to put your cause out in front of people who might be able to help, or know someone you can contact.  It may take more than one appeal, so laying the groundwork is an important first step.

Second, you benefit because you can practice your sales skills in an environment that will open doors to people you might not otherwise have contact with.  You learn to handle rejection gracefully, an essential skill that every successful salesperson must master.  And as with any selling proposition, you get better as you practice your presentation.  While there's no magic formula for attracting support, there are some guidelines that you should follow.  

Your enthusiasm must be palpable and contagious.  After you've made the same pitch dozens of times, you have to be careful not to get stale. 

Make an appointment to personalize your request and present the project to its best advantage while respecting other people's time and interests.  Doing your homework about the people you meet with is essential.  Have printed material available, even if it's a simple fact sheet.  

Remember your manners.  First, you say please.  Then, regardless of the reply, you say thank you.  Publicly acknowledge those who supported the project, whether in an annual report, plaque or naming opportunity.

Whether you are raising a thousand dollars for a local school or millions for a new hospital wing, these rules apply.  Believe me, I've asked many people for large sums of money, and they are still my friends because I am respectful of their time and circumstances.

One of the most successful fundraising efforts I have been involved with is Celebrity Fight Night Foundation, which was established to promote ongoing efforts to eliminate sickness and poverty, supporting such institutions as the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center.  

My friend Jimmy Walker founded this phenomenal organization more than 20 years ago, and with Executive Director Sean Currie has grown CFN from a one-night star-studded event in Phoenix, to now include a separate five-night gala in Italy.  

I was privileged to join in the spectacular Italian event earlier this fall.  After performing at a Celebrity Fight Night in Phoenix, tenor Andrea Bocelli was inspired to gather a who's who of international celebrities.  One of the highlights for me was a limited seating concert in the Roman Colosseum featuring Bocelli, Elton John and Steven Tyler.  Other megastars that performed during the week included Reba McEntire, Brooks and Dunn, David Foster, Smokey Robinson, Kristin Chenoweth, and the list goes on, all benefiting the Andrea Bocelli Foundation and Barrow Neurological Institute.

Together, these events have raised more than $142 million. 

Did Jimmy Walker dream that Celebrity Fight Night would grow to these proportions?  Of course!  He got these amazing results because he is a spectacular leader.  He is the epitome of palpable and contagious enthusiasm. 

Granted, this is not your everyday fundraiser.  Not every cause will generate this kind of attention, but all successful campaigns have one feature in common:  excellent leadership. 

Ted J. Kort, author of "Outside the Box Fundraising:  The Way to Nonprofit Board Success," says "Fundraising begins with good relationships.  Good relationships are essential for success:  between board members and staff, staff and donors."  

So before you attach your name to an organization, check out the leadership and the board.  If you find that you aren't able to get behind the cause or the group, have no fear.  There's always another group looking for your help!  

Mackay's Moral:  Think of fund-raising as friend-raising, and the appeal will be much easier. 

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