Case Study: Cultivating a Donor with Sister District Eugene

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By Bonnie Henderson
Sister District Eugene 
Fall 2021
Raising For: Virginia House of Delegates Candidates, Lashrecse Aird and Joshua Cole

CULTIVATING DONORS: THE COLD CALL

After our group’s in-person trivia nights got shut down by covid, after no one in our group stepped forward to organize an online auction, we at SDP Eugene decided our best bet for fundraising in 2021 was to simply ask potential donors for money. We all know the reasons why fundraising for SDP is challenging: it’s for an unknown candidate running for state office in a state other than your own. So look to progressives who don’t require a lot of convincing and for whom a modest (to them) donation is a big (to you) help. So we made a plan. First we asked each of our District Captains to contribute a higher-than-casual sum, since they are the people who understand our cause the best; everyone stepped up. We then asked a couple of our more active and generous volunteers to do some soliciting among their own friends. Ultimately we found ourselves just $250 short of our goal, with a deadline approaching. It was time for a cold call.

A few months earlier one of our newer DCs had met someone—I’ll call him Mark—at a beer-tasting event who mentioned he was very involved in progressive politics. She started chatting him up about Sister District (thank you, Rosemary!) and he seemed very interested. I had been meaning to reach out to Mark but hadn’t yet. He was an ER doctor, so I knew he had what fundraisers call “capacity.” I reached out via email, told him I’d love to meet him and hear about his political activity and tell him what we’re doing at Sister District, and he agreed to meet me for coffee. POINT ONE: Given his circumstances, I could assume Mark knew I would be asking him for money. If he didn’t want to at least consider giving, he wouldn’t have agreed to meet.

We ordered our coffees and settled at a sunny outdoor table. I began by asking him about himself, and I learned a lot, including that his main interest was in promoting universal health care access and that he was looking for outlets to share his writing on this topic. I figured SDP might welcome a blog post from him and I said so. POINT TWO: I wanted money, he wanted a place to share his writing; this might be a win-win. I followed up later and connected him with an SDP staff member.

Along the way he volunteered that he typically gets a call every day from one progressive group or another asking for money. And he said that he often does give them money, typically between $100 and $250, if he likes what they have to say. POINT THREE: This was his way of sharing with me that he was open to an ask and what his parameters were. This was not his first rodeo.

He then asked about Sister District, and I told him about SDP’s mission generally and our group’s specific project at the moment: we were attempting to raise $1500 split between two candidates in Virginia and a voter empowerment group in North Carolina. We were just shy of our goal; one of our volunteers, who I had hoped would help us by raising $500, wasn’t able to do any fundraising at this time, but she had donated $250 herself.

Mark then smiled broadly and said, “I’ll give you that last $250.” I didn’t even have to ask.

POINT FOUR: Donors typically don’t like to be pioneers, making the first gift; they prefer to be capstones, completing the project. Start by building a base of contributions from among your closest supporters.

The whole conversation was like a dance we both knew and even enjoyed, though we had never danced together before. Because I knew I couldn’t control the outcome, I wasn’t nervous; I believe in what we’re doing, and I knew he would only give if he wanted to. He seemed to enjoy himself too; he had the pleasure of completing a project for us, one that closely aligned with his values and that was a big help to us without being overly burdensome to him.

Final Notes and Reflections: 

  • You may think you don’t know any potential donors, but you do. We all know people who can and might contribute to our cause. Or we know people who know people. Brainstorm with your people.
  • But you have to ask! People won’t give unless asked. They may give a few dollars to a mass email solicitation, but for a larger contribution, you need to ask person to person. You won’t always get a yes, but it’s unlikely anyone will be mad at you for asking.
  • Asking for money is often the most efficient way to raise money. Fundraising events and auctions and soup subscriptions are fun and can help you make friends and become known, but they are very time-consuming and depend entirely on skilled volunteers passionate about that particular thing. Just asking people for money may be the simplest and—once you try it—even the easiest way to reach your fundraising goals.
  • Small groups, don’t be intimidated by the amounts the big SDP groups raise! Modest contributions add up. Make a plan, set reasonable goals according to your group’s circumstances, do your best, and don’t compare yourself to others.
Previous Case Study: Rachel Madan Making the Ask at the 2021 SDP Summit