Dear Diary:  Should I be offended that I got a call from my cousin telling me I was pushy, mean and intimidating? 

Dear Readers:  Here’s my side of the story:

I received a fundraising email from my cousin and when I read the subject line, I felt proud:  “Support me in the 2010 Walk to Cure Diabetes.”  It was nice that another family member was fundraising, since I’ve played the lead role since 2002.  I was happy to make a donation and show her my support. 

But then I read her “plea” and realized I had my work cut out for me as she made a few mistakes that I coach participants to avoid when fundraising.

My cousin had gone home to visit with kids she used to babysit.  One of them, who also has juvenile diabetes, told my cousin she was doing the Walk to Cure Diabetes.  By the time my cousin left, she had joined the little girl’s team, was inspired to take action and even set a fundraising goal for herself.

The email I received asking for a donation said, “I want to be the best team member ever.  I only set my goal at $100.00, which I will donate myself, but even if any of you do $5.00 or $10.00, I might just end up being the best team member after all.”

I wrote back within an instant of receiving her email and told her that if she was inspired by this child, her job now was to inspire others to contribute to the cause. I encouraged her to embrace her personal goal of being the best team member and to change her fundraising goal to $1000. I also told her that only then would I donate.  When I received confirmation that she did change her goal, I made my donation, told her she was well on her way, and that I could give her some great tips to raise $1000 within a week.

I’m happy to report that she’s already raised $1,076 and has well over a month to keep fundraising until the event.    

Here are the tips I shared with her:

  1. Ask everyone:  email everyone in your address books, both work and personal.
  2. Make an individual ask to at least one donor with the potential to give big:   I actually emailed her brother on her behalf and told him I knew he could afford to donate at least $250.  And what do you know, less than an hour later, a $250 donation showed up in her account!
  3. Don’t ask for $5 or $10.  If you ask small, you get small. If you ask bigger, you may still get small. But, you may get big too! Asking small makes fundraising a torturous trek to a goal. I find that people give what they can, no matter how high of an ask you make.  So you can always leave it up to your donor to give an amount they’re comfortable donating.
  4. Don’t give yourself an out:  What’s the point in setting your goal to the same amount you plan on donating?  You’re not giving your potential donor base much of an incentive to help you reach your goal.
  5. Follow-up:  Yes, it had been less than a week since she sent out her initial fundraising letter.  But she set a goal to get $1000 in one week and she needed a call to action..  In the follow-up letter I helped craft (and by help I mean, completed) I suggested she let people know that her goal was to meet $1000 by the end of the week even though the event wouldn’t take place until the middle of September.  This sets a deadline and an immediate call for response.  When the event date is further out, your donors won’t necessarily have urgency to act. 

So, this worked for my cousin. But, not everyone has a passionate professional fundraiser in the family.  So how do we teach a typical, well-meaning constituent that they can absolutely raise money for their cause and set higher personal fundraising goals? 

Here are a few important fundraising tips to share with volunteers, board members, event participants, or anyone else thinking of raising money for your organization:

  1. Give it a try!  It really is so much easier than you think.  The worst people can do is say no- and you’ll be surprised by how many won’t!  Don’t be passive about your ask.  If you’re making a commitment to do a fundraising event, ask for donations!  Be proud of what you’re doing and be willing to ask everyone!
  2. Remember, you aren’t asking people to give you money! You’re asking for a cause that’s important to YOU.  Inspire someone close to you to give based on your passion and interest in the cause.  By participating in an event, you’re giving people a very easy way to show their support for you and a cause that’s meaningful and important to you.  Give them the chance by asking for a donation.
  3. Set a goal that shows people you’re serious about the cause and your participation in the event.  It’ll make it that much easier for people to want to match your own commitment.  If you meet your goal (and have plenty of time until your event), why not increase your goal?  There’s no harm in moving your goal up- no one is going to yell at you if you don’t meet your updated goal.  But again, it sends a message to prospective donors that you still need help in getting there.  And it returns even more money to the cause that means so much to you.
  4. Don’t make assumptions about how much people can donate or if they’ll donate at all.  Leave the choice up to them.
  5. Have fun with it. 

I know that in my family, I am jokingly called the fundraising zealot.  But the call I got at 11:30pm (2:30am for my cousin!) saying she had met her goal made the name-calling all worthwhile. 

21 minutes later I received the following email:


Subject:  Can’t stop

Message Content:  Won’t stop.


And then this morning I woke up to one final email:


Subject:  Fundraising is exhausting

Message Content:  !


I couldn’t agree more.  But it’s so worth it.  Give it a shot!

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