Advice for Hustling Donors

Ideas and Issues Organizing
Reynold Levy
Reynold Levy

New Orleans    Advice on raising money to support the work is welcome from any quarter and of course the New York Times would never run tips for how to raise money to support the fight for social justice and social change, but they did offer some tips from Reynold Levy, a former president of the fancy pants New York City cultural icon, the Lincoln Center, on how to raise money from the rich, so let’s see what we can learn from the big whoops who are raising billions.

First, Levy recommends that we “enlist an ally,” meaning someone who is a friend or peer of the potential donor who would be willing to ask his buddy to match his gift. OK, that’s not much help to most of us who don’t already have someone on first base to start with, but you might amend this say that even having someone that the potential donor knows help you make the appointment or vouch for you would be at least a leg up once you have your foot in the door. We worked this “ally” approach, but it was rare that we got the opportunity.

Second, “do your homework,” which makes sense. Levy says “philanthropy is biography,” which is an interesting perspective, rich with an understanding of class and wealth that most of us could only pretend to grasp.

Third, “keep at it,” which is good advice for everything in life, but in this case Levy is channeling every organizer in the world who knows that organizing is about asking and if you’re going to ask, then ask lots and lots of people.

Fourth, “do the schlepping,” which most of our mothers would have defined as simply remembering our manners. Levy is talking about going to a potential donor’s office to make the pitch. That’s obvious. Who wants to see a trashed out organizing boiler room? More helpful is his advice that you go wherever and whenever they invite you to see them. Seems weird, but what the heck?

Fifth, “invite them in,” which translated to our work means trying to get them out in the field where they can see the work and the members in action. Amen!

Sixth, “thicken your skin,” and don’t be afraid of “no.” Levy goes on helpfully, “Those prospects who say ‘no” might not mean it.” This is what we call “testing” in organizing. “They might mean ‘later,” they might mean ‘not now,” they might mean ‘have someone else ask me,’ they might mean you ‘asked for too little.’ Try your best to learn from those rejections.”

Seventh, “ask for big money in person.” Duh! But, Levy adds “more often than not, you find out someone is not giving you money because you can’t get an appointment. If you get an appointment, you’re 90 percent of the way there, because the prospect anticipates why you’re coming.”

Finally, “make your move – it’s more important to make a compelling case early than a perfect case too late.” Or, as we like to say, “don’t swallow the ask.” You’re not trying to make a friend or get adopted, so don’t pretend you’re not trying to raise money.

Hey, fwiw, for what it’s worth. If the advice doesn’t help in trying to fund your work and campaign, you can always go built a museum or an opera house with these skills, I guess.