It is a real challenge to write a successful fundraising speech, but you must include the following to move your audience, says John Shosky
Probably the hardest speech to give is the fundraiser. Fundraising speeches are often the lifeline of the lifeblood of a campaign or non-profi t organisation. So speakers are under considerable pressure to be successful. They must stimulate philanthropy. There are some speakers who are great ‘A-level' fundraisers: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich and Bono, among others. And there are common elements to their excellent fundraising speeches.
Start with an exampleEvery good speech is a morality tale, with heroes and obstacles and a quest for a better world. Audiences love stories and easily relate to them, so start with one. A fundraising speech is the perfect type for this approach. Explain the nature of the problem you confront with a story about someone who has made a difference. A good instance is Margaret Thatcher's Clair Booth Luce Lecture in 1991. She started with comments about Ambassador Luce and others to show the link between public service and philanthropy: "...among the legitimate aims of philanthropy is the nourishing of the values of freedom and the free economy that underpin the prosperity of this country and of the West as a whole". Such a beginning shows the importance of the event and the potential contributions of each member of the audience. This will allow for immediate audience interest and a strong emotional response.
Another beginning is to give an example of someone in need. Give that person a name and tell their story. It provides a human interaction rather than a faceless statistic. Here less is more. Just tell the story without a breaking voice or rhetorical tricks.
Explain the scope of the problemExplain the scope and depth of the problems you are trying to confront. Whatever it is, explain its importance and the necessity to address it. Tell the audience the problem reaches out to harm thousands, maybe millions of people. Tell them we live in a global village, where the problems of one or many are the problems of all. In a speech in 1996, Nelson Mandela said: "The children of South Africa have assumed a responsibility beyond their years, both in the freeing of our country and in building its future." That is a good way to broaden the scope. Next, show what that means. Mandela continued: "Our children have borne the brunt of apartheid's ravaging deprivation. Most were robbed of their right to a decent education, adequate health care, stable family lives - and sometimes of their entire childhood. And this applies to the majority of children." This is where you lay out the issue in some detail, indicating the causes and implications of the problems.
Explain the importance of the workBut there are people and organisations trying to address these problems. You or your organisation is one of them. Tell them about your accomplishments, and the hard work underway. Explain the plans for the future, how with support more could be done, and more quickly. And tell them about the people involved. Name names. Humanise the presentation. Show how you are boldly fighting for a better future. Speaking to the American Cancer Society in 1977, journalist William F Buckley Jr spoke of Alfred Sloan, namesake of an institute for cancer research. Buckley noted that "even since the death of Alfred Sloan, some 10 years ago, the odds (of cancer survival) have begun, slowly, grudgingly, but exhilaratingly, to change. Because of his work, his determination, his philanthropy, because of the efforts of those fired by the same resolution, progress is made every day."
Involve the audienceNow, show how each member of your audience can become part of this great work. Do not underestimate the necessity of this part of the speech. Remember, every member of the audience wants to feel important, that their efforts are needed, that they can make a difference. Crudely put, each person is asking: "What's in it for me?" Explain how each person's involvement will make your campaign or organisation better, more effective, and more successful. In a speech at Eisenhower College in 1969, then Governor Ronald Reagan explained that the involvement of the audience would make a profound difference. He said: "You - ladies and gentlemen of the world of commerce and the professions - you can make no greater investment in freedom than your contributions to independent schools and colleges in this country." He used a key fundraising word, "investment". An audience must believe that their money is not destined to be wasted or to help someone to live the high life. Rather, they want guarantees the money will go directly to help address the problems cited in the speech. You have to show that the organisation will be careful, prudent and responsible with donated money. This is a fiduciary duty.
Ask for moneyThis is the major point of the speech, known as ‘the ask'. Ask for it openly and directly. Don't hint. Don't be evasive. If you are worthy of support, then there is no shame in asking for it. Fiscal support is a way for people to join together to make a difference. Yet, it is hard to ask. In one recent fundraising speech I heard, the audience was told that donations were not expected during these troubled economic times. I almost fell out of my chair. The audience was there to support the organisation, precisely because funding was tight. Ask for the money without any weasel words that diminish the strength of your message.
Also, research your target audience. Find out where the donations have gone in the past. Use that information as part of ‘the ask'. Show you understand the immense demands for a company or individual's donation. Demonstrate how your work has a priority. If that work is successful it may help alleviate other problems and curtail the necessity of donation in other areas. Show that giving you a piece makes sense in terms of the overall goals for a donor.
You can take two approaches to ‘the ask'. One is to ask for it in the speech and try to collect funds on the spot. That is easy for small sums. You see this approach in religious services that set aside time to pass around the plate after the sermon or homily. For larger sums, ‘the ask' is performed at a follow-up meeting, often one-on-one between the fundraiser and the corporate or philanthropic person designated to handle donation requests. In this case, the expectation is that, if the follow-up meeting is scheduled, then ‘the ask' is the main item of discussion and some level of commitment will be made. Of course, the two could be combined. I recently heard a fundraising speech that attempted to raise $40,000 for a project. There were approximately 40 people in the audience, each of them reasonably wealthy and intensely engaged in the topic. If the speaker had said: "Well, if each of you could give $1,000, we could do this," then I'm sure each of them would have pulled out a chequebook. But the speaker instead scheduled a follow-up and asked each of the 40 for the full amount. The result? Nada. So don't overlook the possibility that the speech itself could generate instant donations. Build that possibility into the speech and the process. And spread the pain. Don't try to get everything from one person. If one person bankrolls the project, you become enslaved to that donor.
Ask for other forms of supportYou can also ask for volunteers, resources like buildings or equipment, in-kind services such as printing or transportation, or anything else that you would use funds to buy. This might be easier for many organisations. In the recent presidential election in the United States, union assistance and college volunteers were major factors for the election of President Obama.
Explain any tax advantagesAlways, always, always do this.
Thank the audienceEven if they don't donate now, each member of the audience might donate in the future. So thank them for their interest and involvement.
End with a sense of urgencyThe donations are needed right away for the work to continue. In fact, it would be catastrophic if funding dried up. So the watchword is "now".
John Shosky is a Washington speechwriter