Rethinking “Inside-Out” from Top to Bottom

We’ve all heard the old fundraising advice, “solicit inside-out and top-down.” But few campaigns really make full use of this wisdom. There’s more to soliciting inside-out than just putting your regular donors at the top of your mailing list. And there’s more to soliciting from the top down than just putting the biggest givers first. You need to fully utilize your organization’s entire network of relationships.

Every good development officer knows that an organization should look to its board when asking for donations. But are you making full use of your board?

For starters, make sure that if you ask your board members for money, you do it in person. Even if the board member is another country, you can look to see if there is a supporter of your organization who will be making the trip there or might even be located there already, who could make the request for you. Failing that, make a telephone call and follow it up with a truly personalized letter. Don’t just mail merge your fundraising letter; mention the specifics of the board member’s relationship to your organization.

You may well not get a significantly higher yield by personalizing your request, but that’s not the main point. In the future, someone whose relationship with your organization has been strengthened by personal contact is much more likely to make a donation.

Don’t stop at asking for a donation. Ask your board member to do some fundraising on your organization’s behalf; you might even want to make this request first. Again, make the request as personal as possible, just as if you were asking for a donation. At the bare minimum, he or she should be able to recommend some good fundraising leads. But with a little creativity, the possibilities are endless.

Once you’ve honed your personal touch on your board members, repeat the same process with everyone else in your network, working from top to bottom. Fundraising goes to the heart of your organization’s mission, particularly if you cannot afford to tap into your endowment. If you make your goals clear, everyone in your organization should be willing to help.

As you build your network of support from top to bottom, don’t stop too soon. Your interns and high-school or college-age volunteers might turn out to be especially fertile ground. After all, their families will have a particularly strong link to your organization. They may be especially impressed to get a Christmas card from you praising their son or daughter’s good work.

In the business world, this kind of network-building is called “affinity marketing.” It is particularly useful in fields where large amounts of money are at stake, such as investments.

In fact, affinity marketing is so fruitful that it has even become an easy target of abuse. “Affinity fraud,” the practice of building on shared relationships to trick victims out of their money, appears to be growing. A recent highly publicized case involved a fraudulent investment manager who was the parent of a Harvard undergraduate targeting other parents of Harvard undergraduates.

The fact that so many people are willing to part with large amounts of money in questionable ways just because of a perceived connection to the criminal is a strong demonstration of the power of relationships in getting results. In the current climate of distrust, the organization that can make a personal connection with donors stands the best chance of success.


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