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Case Study: Rachel Madan Making the Ask at the 2021 SDP Summit

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Introduction

On the second day of our 2021 Sister District Summit, Rachel Madan, a leader with the Sister District DC/VA/MD team, made the financial ask and completely nailed it! She wowed all attendees. Her ask raised over $10,347.60! ($3,000 match + $5,995.50 in one-time gifts + $1,350.21 in recurring gifts). Thanks to Rachel’s incredible ask, the 2021 Summit raised $8,000 more than any past Summit!

Rachel is not a fundraising professional — please do try this at home! We recommend Sister District fundraising leaders and anyone wanting to make a more effective financial ask at events, over email, or in conversation, please watch the video of Rachel’s 2021 Summit Financial Ask. Consider why and how it worked so well. Borrow and adapt specific approaches, phrases, rhetorical devices, and sequencing. Read below for her tips and suggestions and her script to help you make your next winning ask.

Rachel’s Top Tips

  • Preparation: Rachel writes her script written ahead of time with special focus on drawing the connection between the donation and what candidates can accomplish with those funds. If you have questions ready for the candidate or the speaker of the event, you can weave multiple asks in amongst those questions and their answers.
  • Authenticity: Stay true to your own personality and public speaking style. Don’t try to twist yourself into someone that you aren’t because potential donors will feel that and not donate. Whoever you are, be more of that.
  • Set A Target: Create a fundraising goal for the event and get continual updates during your ask to show progress to that goal. If it appears that you will beat the original goal, have a secondary higher target to inspire folks to donate even more. People will often donate if they know that others are doing the same.
  • Make It Real: Draw the connection between the donation and what the campaign will do with the funds. The return on investment for state races are much higher than federal races so these candidates can accomplish a lot with what they receive. Compare the donation to everyday items that you can do without just once. Can you spare a haircut? Taco Tuesday? Pizza night? This helps volunteers see that donating, even a little, is easy.
  • Timing: Within the written script, Rachel has timed bullet-by-bullet points where she plans to ask specific questions, when to pause, and the moment to give fundraising updates. Knowing when you’re going to make the asks and how allows you to make the ask multiple times without waiting until the last minute.
  • You’re Talking To Real People: It’s important to address that people have different constraints and resources. You can address this in a way that prevents people who can’t afford to donate feeling lesser-than, increases the amounts that those with resources will donate, and use it as an opportunity to underline that we’re all in this together (e.g. “thanks to those who can give more to cover those who can’t!”). Rachel took this approach at the Summit: “First of all – I want to acknowledge that some people are maxed out and might have had and are continuing to have a tough year financially. But there are many of us who financially are doing just fine.”

Rachel’s 2021 SDP Summit Fundraising Ask Script

Thank you Lyzz! I’m so honored to be able to speak to all of you — volunteer to volunteer. It’s so great to be able to take a few hours on a weekend and step back and just think about the bigger picture. How far we’ve come, how far we’ve got left to go.

Whether you’ve been with Sister District from the start or have just joined recently, you know that this is an amazing organization, run by a passionate, capable, amazing staff, powered by 50,000 volunteers that is making real change in the world.

That’s the good news. But as I’m sure you know – nothing comes for free in this life. And it takes money to do all of the amazing programming that you’ve experienced and learned about today. So I’m here to ask you to dig just a bit deeper today. You may have already heard that we have a donor match for the summit fundraiser. The Green Advocacy Project, which recognizes the critical importance of building power at the state level to advance climate goals, has generously offered to match up to $3,000 in donations this weekend to help us fund our work at Sister District.

What does that mean? It means as soon as we raise $3,000; we’ve raised $6,000! Now that might sound like a lot, but consider this — yesterday we heard from a panel of Sister District alumni – candidates who we supported who won. And Ricky Hurtado from North Carolina shared that the annual salary for a North Carolina legislator is $13,951. I think we should aim… more for that number.

Why is it important that we support Sister District? What are these funds used for?

First of all, PROGRAMS. everything you’ve seen in the strategy, we can’t do any of it without financial support. For example:

  • Entire electoral program — that’s grassroots field and fundraising support, direct support to candidates – that’s personalized assistance and resources to candidates throughout the campaign cycle; youth organizing, and data-driven electoral race targeting. That all takes money to deliver.
  • Future Winners – identify exceptional candidates who lost but who should run again
  • State Bridges – grassroots fundraising to organizations doing year round power building work.

What’s it worth to you? First of all – I want to acknowledge that some people are maxed out and might have had and are continuing to have a tough year financially. But there are many of us who financially are doing just fine. Let’s think about all of the things we’re not spending money on.

  • I haven’t had a haircut since February of LAST year. It costs about $85 dollars here in DC. I don’t get my hair colored, but if you do, you can add that in, and of course there are tips. So let’s just round that up to an even $100.
  • Is the price of a good haircut worth it to you to help support the fabulous work we are doing here today?
  • —>announce $$$$ update
  • I haven’t eaten out in a restaurant in months, not even a regular restaurant, much less a high-end tasting menu Michelin starred-shebang. It could run you upwards of $200 per head. Now instead of the savory taste of the main entree, the bubbles of champagne, the sweetness of dessert – imagine those funds going to savor our wins, the bubbles of success, and the sweet victories to come.

Sister District is also using funds on tech. That means keeping all the data in order so we can analyze and research, and improve systems and rolling out new tools, like Mobilize. All these things benefit us as volunteers – they make our lives easier, our chapters stronger, our events easier to recruit for. And it all costs money, honey.

  • How about trips? I’m certainly dreaming of some, but I’ve not gotten on an airplane. Airfares have dropped dramatically – and the average price of a domestic flight is now $196. Well I’m not taking that flight. But invest it in Sister District? Hell to the yeah.

Yesterday we heard a lot about the “Awareness Gap”. It is real. People still don’t understand the importance of state-level races. There’s still so much we need to do to educate people about state legislatures, and your support helps Sister District publish information about these races and how important they are.

So we’re coming to end of my time, here’s a check-in on where we are at… —>announce $$$$ update

I want you all to think about the world we are trying to build together – the changes we want to see and the challenges ahead. We all know that although the last four years felt like an eternity, the work doesn’t end. If we want to achieve the positive, progressive policies we know will be better for everyone in the country – everything from universal access to healthcare to a minimum wage you can actually live on to policies that support green clean renewable energy to high quality education for everyone…. Well you know that those won’t happen on a Republican watch.

Building an inclusive progressive political system isn’t easy – it takes hard work. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. But we all recognize that we’re in it for the long haul – and what does the long haul mean? You’ve got to be prepared. You need the right tools. You need the right resources. You don’t want to run out of fuel halfway on the trip in the middle of the desert with no cell phone coverage. Now is when we have to prepare. To get ready for the challenges ahead – and to take advantage of the opportunities.

So let’s check in one more time… can we get to XXXXX even if you already gave, like 5 minutes ago? What more could you do? Let’s see where we can get to!

What else could you give? A Starbucks latte? A pack of Bic pens? Pizza night for the kids? Taco Tuesday?

Lala – a lot of people are really interested in the State Bridges program – can you talk a bit about how our funds are used to support that program?

We just heard from campaign managers and how grateful they are for Sister District’s support – if we get in more funds to District operations – what does that let us do?

Extended Notes

Taken from “Making The Ask” Q&A with Rachel and Organizing Manager Leif Warren

  • General guidance: go with your own personality — people get anxious about fundraising because they try to be flamboyant or too outgoing when they ask for money. What gets people to give is authenticity. However you are, be more of that. Don’t try to twist yourself into a different personality because it feels fake and people don’t give.
  • Preparation: beforehand, get clear on the conditions in which I myself would want to give money — I understand what the money is going to, I feel good about what the money is going to, I understand what the money will do. Since we’re doing small money for small candidates, drawing the connection between the money and what candidates will do with it is powerful. On the national level, my $25 donation is doing nothing. Fundraising for these candidates, however, small donations are a large portion of their fundraising.
  • Preparation: I prepare for every fundraiser that I do. I have a timed bullet by bullet script including where I’m going to pause and ask for more money. You, as the MC, have to feel good about the person or the organization that you’re fundraising for. One of the ways to prepare is to speak to those people in advance. I might interview the people. I did a pet fundraiser once, and we listed who all the pets were and the order of the pets. I went online and looked up facts about all those kinds of animals so I would have something to say. It’s important to understand the who or what you’re fundraising for that way it’s easy to put yourself in the shoes of who you’re asking for money.
  • Comparisons: connect people to donation levels and what they pay for in their lives. How much does Netflix cost, a gym membership, the haircut that we can’t do right now, or the latte you’re not drinking right now.  “For $300, you can get XYZ!” Well, would you be willing to give 10% of that amount? That makes it sound like a lot less money when you put them in the context of common everyday expenses that are around that same amount.
  • Make jokes if that’s authentic to you: How about “A dollar/GOP tear — how many Republican tears are you willing to sponsor?” Having fun trivia questions can work really well. Example: Did you know that the average American spends X amount on avocados? How many avocados are you willing to buy if it meant we’d keep the Blue Trifecta in Virginia?
  • Having matching funds: $1000 is great, but even $100-200 encourages people to give more. This provides the “social proof.” In other words, people want to know that someone else says this is a good idea. People tend to follow a crowd. It’s like the saying: don’t go into an empty restaurant.
  • Report totals during the ask: During the event itself, someone is refreshing ActBlue on the back end for me and seeing the numbers that as they are coming in. That person will text me a couple of times during the call. I like to report an odd number and bump up the event goal number. We’re at $1,473 but our goal is $1,500. If we hit that number, can we get to $1,800?
  • Humility: If for some reason a fundraiser doesn’t raise as much money as you had hoped, don’t take it personally!
  • Timing: is important. Think about it like a novel — there’s a beginning, middle, and end. Make sure your sequence is going to work for you. Think about the arc, all the movements. You want to get to the peak and let things happen.
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