Making the ask to the community
Developing a strategy for the ask
Now that you have your community asset map, chock-full of connections and ideas for resources, how are you going to ask for support - whether it's cash, time, services or in-kind goods? It's important to consider your approach carefully and do your research before you make the ask.
Identifying the correct person for the ask
Many times, a request for money, service or materials falls on deaf ears because the person being asked simply isn't in the position to authorize or react to such a request. You need to research each association, business or institution enough to know who the appropriate contact will be. Rely on your networks and connections to help you find the right person for the ask. If you are still not sure who to talk to when you make the call, give a very brief summary of what you're looking for and ask to be directed to the correct person.
How you approach a prospective supporter can ultimately influence the type and scope of their involvement or contribution. Your approach should be as personalized as possible and provide the prospective donor or volunteer a compelling case for support.
Your case for support should express:
- Why your project is important to the community and/or the prospective donor or volunteer
- The impact it will have on the prospective donor or volunteer and his or her community
- Your team's ability to successfully complete the project (mention your organized teams, other local support, existing resources and funds, etc.)
Emphasizing these points will help the prospective supporter see why they should participate.
Be sure to do your research before approaching an association, business, or institution. Know the organization's proposal process (formal or informal), giving timeline, history of community involvement and philanthropic interests.
For example, a local construction company in your town may not have much of a history of community involvement or philanthropy. On one hand, they may be thrilled to be asked to participate; on the other hand, it may take a bit more "selling" on your part. Before you ask them for a donation of a loaned Bobcat and experienced operator to drill holes, solicit their advice about digging in your area. Invite company employees to a community planning meeting first, and let them see how other local businesses, associations and individuals are involved. Let their representatives come and request donated equipment and services "from the inside." You'll likely have much better results!
Be sensitive to a person or group's own agenda. Be persistent, but respectful of their schedule and flexible in requesting a meeting. For example, if they tell you that they do not have time to talk right then, ask them for a specific time when they will be available and arrange to talk to them then.
Alternatives to asking for money
How can you get a person engaged in the project without asking for money? Be innovative, and go back to your asset map. The philanthropy market is competitive, and some individuals and groups receive numerous requests a week for money. What skills or resources could help make your project an outlandish success?
- Does the person have a particular expertise that would boost your project?
- Does the person have access to key resources, vendors or institutions that might help?
- Does the person have contacts to similar individuals or like-minded organizations that might be willing to get involved?
- Does the person have the means to help promote your efforts, through a newsletter, bulletin board or email list?
Don't forget that tapping resources is as much about building support and visibility as it is about acquiring the resources!
Note: If you have multiple asks for a person or organization related to different planning teams, make sure only one person is assigned to approach them.
There is no way around this one - you must go out on a limb and ASK. There are a few things you can do to make the process easier for yourself and for potential resources:
Make your request as specific as possible.
If you ask for "any amount possible" of time and money, people are likely to contribute a minimal amount. Be realistic and be prepared to suggest a reasonable dollar amount or time. Illustrate what the contribution could provide: $50 will go toward a certain amount of safety surfacing, $500 can purchase a beanstalk climber or $1,000 can purchase a slide, etc.
Make the appeal local.
Talk about your ABCD process and map - emphasize how the playspace project will positively impact the potential donor and local community rather than emphasizing need. Remember, you aren't asking for this person's time, money, or materials for nothing. You have a great product to "sell" - the playspace! If asking for a person's time, reiterate how volunteers get the opportunity to develop new skills, meet new people, and make a significant contribution to his or her own community.
If someone says "no," find out why.
Many grassroots organizers are uncomfortable with the task of asking for resources, and this is understandable. A good first step is to recognize that fear is normal and rejection is never easy! Rejection is also inevitable - not everyone will have the time, interest, or resources to devote to your project, no matter how great it is.
It's important to sensitively follow up with people who said "no." Without being pushy, send a note or make a phone call explaining that in order to learn from the experience, it would be helpful to find out what the obstacles/problems were. Try to arrange a 10-minute follow-up call. If handled appropriately, your prospect will appreciate this extra step and might even reconsider! Don't forget to ask if that person knows someone else who might be interested in getting involved in your project. Remember, you never know who people know!