NTSC: Fundraising.

August Brunsman is speaking about fundraising right now.  Here’s the talk, given elsewhere.  If you do fundraising for a cause, I really do recommend it.  August is one of the best in the biz at fundraising.

When I was with the SSA, I struggled at fundraising for a long time.  I kept getting pointers from August, from Ashley Paramore, and none of it seemed to help.  What finally fixed me is when I tried ignoring literally almost all of their advice.  Me trying to be the consummate professional in a suit and saying all the right lines made me stiff and fake in appearance.  When I dropped the pretense, threw on my jeans, and spoke as myself (which worried Aug because, well, I’m not the typical professional…sometimes I use profanity), I became very good at fundraising.  It’s unfortunate this revelation came toward the end of my tenure with the SSA.

Moral of the story: people like sincerity.  If you come at someone with a script, that’s immediately going to impact how sincere they consider you to be and that will automatically impact their trust.  When I’m asking for money, I want them to be in the same room with another human being who they could just have a beer with, not a salesman using all the closing techniques they teach in workshops.  People get asked for money all the time in the stock fashion, and one of the big reasons people are afraid of asking for money is because we know, from our own experience, that even for causes we like getting asked for money is often annoying.  Solution: don’t be like all the other people making their fundraising pitch.  Salesmen don’t usually say “fuck” because they’re very concerned with maintaining the professional, upstanding image. That is precisely why dropping an amusing f-bomb into the conversation is a great way to convince them that you’re a friend working for the same cause, and not a salesman.

My style worked for me, but would never, ever work for August.  Being the complete professional with a pitch works for August, but when I tried to emulate him people looked at me with an expression that said “You’re not the JT I know, are you trying to rip me off?”.  It’s entirely probable that my style wouldn’t work for a whole lot of other people.  In fact, it’s very possible that August would tell you to avoid my suggestions here (though he didn’t object when I became a fundraising juggernaut toward the end of my career with the  SSA).  But that’s precisely the point: you need to find a style that makes you comfortable, and that may very well mean thumbing your nose at the general rules for how to raise money and seeing what happens.  Sincerity is something you’ll lose if you try too hard to model yourself after someone else, yet sincerity is the most important thing when convincing someone that you’ll make good use of their money.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Amyc

    I felt uncomfortable with the talk for the simple reason that I’m not a salesperson, and I don’t like the underlying feeling that I’m being manipulative. I was bad at all the “sales competitions” when I was a server because I know how annoying it is when I go out to eat and the server keeps trying to suggest things to me without a prompt from me first (the flip-side is that I’m also annoyed when I specifically ask questions about what they like/recommend and they don’t give any answer other than stock responses).

    When I did fundraising last semester for the Festivus Dinner, I just went to local meet-ups and told people what we were doing, how much we needed and how much tickets were if they wanted to go. I didn’t put any pressure on them. If they said no I just said “ok thanks for listening” and moved on. In the end we got a very generous donation (as well as many small ones and more people bought tickets) and I didn’t feel like I had to manipulate anyone in the process. Maybe his way makes more money, and maybe somebody in my group in the future would be comfortable doing it, but I’m definitely not comfortable with it.