Does your staff know what to say to strangers, should the occasion arise?
Take this to heart: Anyone in your organization, janitorial night staff to esteemed chairperson, can tap fresh donor support, if they have the right messages rattling around in their heads at the right moment.
What kinds of “right” messages?
- “Yes, this organization absolutely needs donors.”
- “We simply could not do this great work without lots of donors.”
- “The credit should really go to the donors who so generously support this incredibly important work.”
Case in point?
Recently, a $1,000 donation arrived by mail at Health Care for the Homeless in Baltimore, MD. The gift was a complete surprise, from a donor no one knew.
You’d probably agree: this was a classic “what the heck just happened” moment.
So, what did launch the big check from the total stranger? Keiren Havens, director of development, traced it back to a fairly new social worker at the agency named Lisa Muscato. Lisa had gone out for a night at the theater and got talking to the couple next to her.
Lisa describes herself as “a chatty Kathy.” She gets into conversations easily. And she loves her job at Health Care for the Homeless. When it turned out that the couple had a daughter who is also a social worker, one thing led to another.
The Ah-Ha! moment apparently happened when Lisa mentioned the Chocolate Affair, a well-known annual event that benefits Health Care for the Homeless.
The couple absolutely knew of the Chocolate Affair, a mainstay winter event in Baltimore that in 2011 celebrated its 20th anniversary.
But — and here’s the pivotal point — the couple thought of it as merely an event. They did not think of it as a fundraiser (although it did raise $180,000 last year). They thought of it as just another fun night, a pleasurable evening out; “Baltimore’s Best February Event,” as the Chocolate Affair bills itself. The event’s blog reported the sweet and sensory character of the event without reservation: “Over 50 of Baltimore’s best restaurants, caterers and chocolatiers featured delicious sweet and savory samplings; there were auctions, dancing, live music, spa treatments and more!”
Lisa Muscato caught the ball, though. She pointed out that philanthropy is vital to the mission and the vision. She made sure that her new friends at the theater understood that “donations are a big thing for us.” And that people’s lives were changed, thanks in part to those donations. She talked discreetly about “my guy,” a patient of hers who had been psychotic but was slowly getting better thanks to weekly counseling and effective medication.
At intermission, the husband asked for Lisa’s business card.
Soon after, the $1,000 check arrived at Health Care for the Homeless.
Which triggered a thank you phone call from top brass. And now the couple from the theater is scheduled to tour the agency’s new award-winning “green” building, which serves 7,000 homeless clients with, among other things, an onsite pharmacy, a pediatric clinic, and Maryland’s first dental program exclusively for homeless children and adults.
Anyone — staff, volunteers, board, the people you serve — can be a fundraising (and brand) ambassador for you, if they know what to say.
Arm all your team (i.e., extended family) with talking points. The basic message is this: “Yes, this agency does amazing work … but it cannot do that work without lots and lots of generous donors. We sure could use your help.”
Never, ever assume that people know you need donations. Emphasize that fact loud and clear in every kind of communication … including a pleasant, casual chat with strangers you’ve just met at a performance.