Learning to Ask
Unless you or your friends are naturally wealthy – and generous – fundraising is definitely one of the biggest and hardest parts of private sponsorship. Here are some tools to help you succeed.
It's a question we get asked a lot. Because - aside from speaking in public or accidentally coming to school naked (we’ve all had that dream) - one of the biggest fears that people have in life is asking other people for money. Yes, today’s topic is fundraising!
Most people learn how to fundraise by doing it. Which means the answer to the question “how do you raise money for the sake of private sponsorship?” will vary widely from person to person.
Here’s how we've learned to do it, through trial and error. It’s not necessarily the best way, but it has worked in the past.
Setting the stage: tools of storytelling
It all starts with storytelling, and having a number of tools to tell the person’s story. That means setting up a kind of infrastructure of storytelling before you begin.
The narrative: First try to get the life story of the person or family you’re sponsoring in as much factual detail as possible. This narrative, as we call it, can extend to two or three pages, usually in the form of a Word doc. It’s got all the facts of when the person had to leave home (and why), the route they took and where they are now – with all places and dates nailed down.
The Wordpress bio: Once you’ve got the facts down, write a more compelling version of their life story and post it on Wordpress or other publishing website. This is a nice way to share the refugee’s story – to win hearts and minds – without invoking your friends’ fear of being asked to give money. If you scroll through other posts in this website, you'll see many examples of such profiles.
The GoFundMe page has an even shorter and more compelling version of the person’s story, along with details about how the money will be used once collected. Here’s an example. You need to include details of who you are and how the money will be used, both to be transparent with your donors, and because GoFundMe requires it.
The one pager that has an even shorter summary of what’s on the GoFundMe page. You can print this up and bring it with you on coffee dates and to parties. You never know when it will come in handy!
Sections of a Fundraiser
Section 1 - describe the person's situation in a brief and emotional way
Section 2 - Tell the story of how they got there, the past
Section 3 - Talk about the private sponsorship, including how much $ is needed and how the $ will be spent
Section 4 - Say who is in the sponsor group and who the official sponsor is
Section 5 - Ask for a donation - and for the post to be shared
Note: Include headers and bold and links, and ideally a sympathetic picture of the refugee(s)
How each storytelling tool is used
The reason it's good to get all that stuff done before you begin is because it gives you tools to reach people in different ways
Writing the narrative is useful because it allows you to get to know your ‘refugee’ really well, and later to tell their story convincingly to other people. (Including those people who will ask, "But do you know this person?!?") And while few are likely to see the narrative in its original form, it becomes the basis of the GoFundMe page and even the application, once you’re ready to write it.
The profile isn’t strictly necessary, but it can be a good way to grab people’s attention before jumping into fundraising. The Wordpress story is usually shorter and more compelling than the ‘strictly the facts’ narrative – but longer than the GoFundMe page, which needs to grab people’s hearts (and wallets) quickly.
The GoFundMe page is good for crowdfunding - and also for keeping a record of every gift as it comes in – including offline gifts – giving you a single view of financial progress. It’s also useful in terms of record keeping when it comes time to submit the application, since it allows you to account for where all the money came from.
The one pager is something you want to print up in multiple copies and keep with you at all times. Some of the best gifts come from talking one-on-one to someone about how much you care for this person or family – and having a piece of literature to refer to as you’re doing so - or to give away as a reminder. We’ve got examples of one pagers to share if you’re interested!
Tools in place: what next?
Once you’ve built your storytelling tools, use them to recruit a team of other people who care. Share the links, tell the stories, and ask people to join you on this sponsorship journey.
The good news is, there’s a need for any kind of help they can provide. If they can’t give money, then they can help spread the word about the people being sponsored. If your friends don’t want to spread the word about the family, they can give a donation instead – “large or small, every gift counts.”
Or if they’re planners or organizers, invite them to generate new ideas for fundraising. Or if they just happen to live in the city where the family is going to settle, they can be an actual co-sponsor.
The key is to win people’s hearts with the refugees' story – their charms and their challenges. Once you’ve got people caring – a critical mass of people who care – the money and other sorts of support tend to flow more easily.
Also, once you have a critical mass of caring people, you may consider creating your fifth tool…
An online group: This can be a Whatsapp group, for those who prefer chatting that way. Or an email list if you’re kicking it old school. The point is to keep everyone – your sponsors, your fundraisers, and even the people being sponsored – motivated, up to date and on the same page.
My own preference is a Facebook group (I usually call them 'Friends of X Person'), which has the advantage of allowing you to share pictures and other fun content from your sponsors or fundraising team, and your family. This is where you invite everyone to meet the ‘refugee’ – and each other.
You can do a lot with a great team. Ideally it should include both organized people and people who wear their hearts on their sleeve. People with lots of time to spare and people with a huge network of friends. You’ll need them all!
And the great thing about putting together a team for fundraising and sponsorship is it's the best way to see more of your friends - and to make new ones. (Recruiting new blood to the effort is key, especially if your current friends are already tapped out by your previous fundraising efforts).
Next steps: fundraising
Once you’ve built a solid team, you can call your first in-the-flesh meeting where you share more about the family you’re sponsoring – and start planning the next steps in your fundraising mission.
The sky is the limit here: you can try everything from personalized emails to event fundraisers to church collection plates to bake sales. You can go after big money donors or delegate each person in the group to collect a certain amount by a certain date.
Just remember to celebrate every bit of progress – and to keep the people you’re sponsoring front and centre, to keep your team motivated and inspired.
These can be one of the most effective ways to direct attention and gifts to your fundraising page.
Some tips on writing a great email, courtesy of Laura Callaghan:
Cut to the chase: Put your "ask" and a link to the gofundme page in the first paragraph. People generally aren't good at reading emails thoroughly 🙃 so it's important to make it very clear that you're asking for their support.
Keep it short: Tell a compelling story but keep it concise. Break up larger paragraphs into smaller blocks of text—so people actually read it!
Grab their attention: People tend to pay the closest attention to the first paragraph, bulleted lists, headlines, bold text, photos, and the P.S. line.
Repetition can work to drive the point home, and you can use the subject line to highlight your ask.
Stress the connection: Explain why this is important to you as well as to the person you're sponsoring. Friends and loved ones tend to be motivated by their desire to support YOU as well as the cause.
Personalize: If you can, take the time to personalize the greeting. People often feel a greater sense of connection and responsibility when it's addressed to them personally.
And now here's a testimonial from another great fundraiser on the impact of personal emails:
"By far the most effective thing we did was send personal emails to friends, family and colleagues asking for a particular amount of money. We asked more of people who had more, less of people who had less. It's the direct ask that did it, rather than sending out a mass email, which people feel like they can ignore. I know nobody likes asking for money, but remember you're not asking for yourself - but for someone in dire straits."
"Most people who gave were looking for an opportunity to contribute to this cause and were really happy they were able to give $$ to someone they knew. This 'ask' also generated offers of help, like free dentistry for a year and apartments! It's hard to ask but a true privilege to get to see how generous people can be."
That's the storytelling approach to fundraising. It may not be the best way - or even the only way - but it can work. Because once people care, they will move mountains to help those in need.