Did you ever wonder why it is so hard to ask those you know best to help a nonprofit you are involved with? Why do we balk when thinking about asking them to make a donation? I know it’s near the end of my list of things I look forward to doing. I’m not sure why, these folks know us, like us, and most probably respect our judgement. I am not ashamed of what I am doing, in fact it’s one of the things I am most proud of. Why should it be hard to ask? But I promised myself when I decided to help promote Tennies for Tots I’d find a way to do it. After a lot of thought I decided to send a personal snail-mailed letter to each of our friends I hoped would help. A letter did two things it allowed us to explain why we wanted help without interruption, and it allowed our friends to make a decision whether or not to contribute without the pressure of our presence. An unanswered letter is soon forgotten.
Like any “ask” it needed to tell my friends why I thought what Tennies for Tots (T4T) was important, and why I thought it was a unique enough effort to make it stand out from all the other worthy causes out there. I thought that the fact that a single working mother made the time and effort to form a nonprofit and figure out how to provide new shoes for kids who may not have ever had a pair before was a pretty good hook. And the fact that she takes the
time and effort and shopping savvy to figure out how to do it for less than seven dollars a child was pretty remarkable. By the time I had explained all that the final ask was not so awkward. And although the response was not overwhelming, a couple of the responses included notes thanking us for asking. Which was very heartwarming, and a trick I plan to copy when any future requests from my friends come. Writing the letter also helped our friends better understand why Barbara and I have spent the last two decades helping those who struggle to live even the most modest American Dream. The good news is their responses combined with our other efforts have us ahead of schedule to reach our goal of doubling T4T’s budget in 2022.
We also started to reach out to newspapers and other media outlets last month. Although it’s a ton of work, the fact that Paula helps 38 different Head Start Programs in a more than a dozen communities covering four counties allows us to search for exposure through a lot of media outlets. But first we collected thank yous and endorsements from the 38 different Head Starts she has helped. That part was easy; everyone was more than gracious in the praise of the program. Their answers would become the framework of all the outreach we would do.
It’s no secret that newspapers are struggling and sending them print ready stories and photos makes it easier and less expensive for them, and the added bonus is you control how the story unfolds. We also approached online bloggers and local radio stations for their talk shows. This all works best as a cumulative effort so the more the better. And don’t be shy, your story is important and deserves to be shared. Finally Paula’s employer publishes a quarterly newsletter and was thrilled with the opportunity to share what their inspiration had evolved into.
This is one of those times when many nonprofits forget to think about including their volunteers in this effort. What better spokesperson for your cause is there then someone who volunteers their time, treasures, and talents to your mission? And how better can you thank those volunteers than by having them featured as heroes in your local newspaper or radio station? And it never hurts to ask if your volunteers have any connections at any local media outlets or have experience writing or appearing on them. Too often nonprofits only visualize volunteers doing menial tasks, instead of trying to tap their true potential.
We at the same time have started reaching out to civic groups like the Elk’s, Lions, and American Legion explaining what we are doing offering to speak to their group or just asking for their help. This is another area where enlisting your volunteers can open doors that otherwise may remain shut. They might not belong to one of these groups but they may know a neighbor or relative who does. And at the same time asking for their input gives you’re a chance to interact with your volunteers in a very positive way. Reminding them that you appreciate their help, but if they can help tell your story they are helping even more.
Finally, as we’ve preached for two decades it all boils down to telling your story in a way that will motivate your community to help you. And this is not one and done, you have to revisit all these avenues on a regular basis, with a fresh approach and new stories of success. And the more chances you get to do that the better you’ll get at telling that story and the response will reflect that improvement.