The Money Etiquette of Fundraising

With school in full swing and the holiday season piquing people’s giving spirits, the end of the year sees fundraisers fall upon families of school-age children almost as abundantly as leaves from the trees. And in an election year like this one, political campaigning adds to requests for support — potentially overwhelming the askers as well as the asked. So if you’re soliciting cash donations from friends, family and acquaintances this year, you want to be sure you approach fundraising properly.

[See: 7 Deadly Money Sins to Avoid.]

After all, philanthropic as it might be, fundraising does come down to money — a sensitive subject for many people. You don’t want to be too aggressive and push people beyond what they’re comfortable giving to a cause or force them to explain their financial situation. “When you’re making a charitable ask, you’re tiptoeing up to that line that this is a conversation about finances,” says Daniel Post Senning, great-great grandson of etiquette maven Emily Post and author of “Manners in a Digital World.” “You can ask for the donation. You can tell them why the cause matters to you … These are good ways to do the ask. But you want to be really careful.”

Fundraising for certain causes can be particularly touchy if you’re treading into political issues. If you’re broaching such subjects in public — which includes on social media — you need to recognize that not everyone agrees with you. “Whatever side of whatever issue you’re talking about, the reality is that people have very strong and very different opinions,” Post Senning says. “So the things that make a discussion about those topics intelligent also make a fundraising request or a campaign about those topics intelligent — that you’re moderate in your tone, that you don’t stake out territory that’s too extreme or strident, that you show some awareness that there are people who might think differently about it than you do. I think you’re both more likely to garner some support for your cause, and you’re less likely to offend or turn off people who see things very differently than you do.”

Technology and social media can help make fundraising easier. For one thing, you are in full control of your message and can carefully craft every post and email before making them public. Also, using online social networks, including Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, as well as crowdfunding sites and dedicated fundraising sites such as FirstGiving, Fundly and Edco, allows you to reach out to a broad group with little effort. Plus, these tools can help you track your progress more efficiently.

[See: 10 Social Media Posts That Can Endanger Your Finances.]

Financial planner Stacy Francis used FirstGiving and, for the first time, Facebook to raise money this year when she participated in the 70.3-mile Ironman Triathlon in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Her goal was to raise $7,000 for her nonprofit organization Savvy Ladies, which is dedicated to providing financial assistance and education to women struggling to achieve financial independence. She wound up collecting well over $11,000 for the cause. “Social media has opened a whole new way of fundraising,” she says. “It was another way to reach out to my network.”

Asking for support via social media allows you to be relatively passive while still putting your cause out there with an explanation of what it means to you. Indeed, Francis is careful to provide plenty of information about her fundraising efforts without being too aggressive. “I think when you’re wording an ask for charity, it’s really important that the person doesn’t feel pressured, but also that the person is informed about the organization and the use of the money,” she says. “That’s really helpful, but also very respectful.”

Just remember not to go overboard with constant communications. “When you become a pest or do anything that comes across as overly pushy, it’s going to turn people off,” says national etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, owner of The Protocol School of Texas, which specializes in business etiquette training. “So bombarding someone with multiple emails, multiple posts, it’s just going to do the opposite of what you’re hoping to do, which is sell.”

A more passive approach can be effective in a real-life setting, too. For example, if you set up a fundraising shop at the office for, say, your daughter’s Girl Scout cookies, you can leave a tray of samples out in a common area along with a note about the sale, including your name and contact information and an order form. You also can send a mass email to co-workers letting them know that you’re selling and that they can stop by your cubicle or office if they’re interested. “That way, there’s no pressure,” Gottsman says.

Just be sure to check with your employer first to see whether there is an office policy on fundraising. Gottsman believes every workplace should have official guidelines for this purpose. “It takes away some confusion,” she says. “If there’s not an office policy, it’s free range.”

One particularly problematic issue that can come up is whether supervisors should ask their subordinates for donations. Given the power dynamics, workers may feel required to contribute to their bosses’ causes in order to stay in their good graces. Gottsman advises against putting yourself in this sort of situation. For similar reasons, she recommends not soliciting contributions from clients either.

[See: Check, Please: Paying the Bill in 6 Awkward Situations.]

Wherever you do your fundraising, the proper etiquette is to follow up with your supporters. You can do so via the medium through which you originally connected. For example, if a contributor first learned about your fundraiser via Facebook, you can send her a thank-you note using Facebook Messenger — rather than just posting a mass message to your feed. “Sometimes you don’t have that person’s email, mailing address or phone number, and they wouldn’t want you to have that information,” Post Senning says. “In that case, a social media reply is perfectly appropriate and a good minimum standard.”

Even better, if you do have or can get your donor’s physical address, send a handwritten note or another personal token to express your sincere gratitude for their support. That’s what Francis did after she completed her triathlon: She spent 10 hours writing thank-you notes to every contributor. “I really wanted individuals to know how much they were appreciated,” Francis says.

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