Lead Your Horses to Water. Inspire Them to Drink.

By Lauren Rahill

As the old saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. In other words, even when you serve people an opportunity on a platter, it’s up to them to take what you’re offering.


This idea is something we encounter regularly in fundraising, particularly when getting people to engage with the PAC. In our world, it’s not literal horses and water we’re dealing with, but rather convincing PAC volunteers and prospective donors to drink from the proverbial waters of the PAC.


People, like horses, can’t be forced to act — no matter how hard you wish for it. The good news is, there are ways (outside of wishing wells and birthday candles) to set yourself up for success and inspire your prize champions to take that drink.


PAC Volunteers

As a PAC professional, you spend a lot of time recruiting and leading a battalion to help you reach your goals. But in the end, you can’t force them to be active participants. Luckily, there are several simple ways to build a strong group of volunteers that will increase the odds of follow-through.


1. Make sure to use the right people. Know your audience and seek support from those most likely to engage. Rather than being guilted or coerced to act on your behalf, your volunteers must want to participate. Remember, it takes time and energy to set a volunteer fundraiser up for success, so for your sake and theirs, don’t get caught backing the wrong horse. The most effective fundraisers believe in the cause they’re selling.


2. Make sure it’s easy. The word “volunteer” is key here. This isn’t the wild west — show you respect their time and appreciate their help. These individuals already have a full-time job, so if your “ask” is complicated or takes too much of their time, they simply won’t do it.


3. Make sure they’re prepared. “PAC-speak” isn’t the natural language of your everyday member or employee, and PAC compliance issues can pose a hurdle to any novice. Additionally, many of your volunteers lack the benefit of fundraising or sales training to guide them in being an effective fundraiser. Expecting them to act without any preparation is like bringing a knife to a gunfight and assuming an easy victory. Volunteers need to know what to do and say, how to make the “ask” and how to keep things legal. Providing training, pre-written materials, a list of contacts, and set goals, schedules and expectations will help them feel confident in their role.


4. Make sure to give them a reason to care. Because they’re giving up their own time to volunteer on your behalf, finding a way to show your appreciation is key (and they likely won’t look a gift horse in the mouth). Public recognition among their peers, special gifts, VIP experiences, networking opportunities and access to organization leadership are all ways to incentivize them to fulfill their role.


5. Make sure they’re telling the right story. In other words, encourage them to tell their own story. Peer-to-peer fundraising is effective because it’s personal, so encourage your volunteers to keep things authentic. A story straight from the horse’s mouth will go much further than a canned response. Even in a virtual setting, people can smell a phony from a mile away.


6. Make sure they don’t lose hope. Be sure to warn your volunteers that fundraising is a numbers game. They’re going to hear “no” a lot, but it’s important that they get back in the saddle. While the most effective fundraising efforts are personal, volunteers shouldn’t take negative reactions personally.


PAC Prospects

Prospective PAC donors are cut from the same cloth as volunteers. You can spoon feed them information, provide benefits for joining and ask until you’re blue in the face, but you can’t click the button for them. PAC giving is, for better or worse, voluntary. It’s your job to get past the objections and present the PAC as an opportunity they can’t afford to miss. Increase your chances of successfully converting them into donors with a few simple steps.


1. Make sure they understand what you’re asking. Research tells us many objections to joining a PAC center around a lack of information, misunderstandings about how a PAC works and the nature of PAC support. Rather than putting the cart before the horse, focus on education before, during and after fundraising efforts to overcome information-based objections. An educated constituency is more likely to engage with and contribute to your PAC.


2. Make sure they can see value. Most people give to a PAC because they believe in the cause for which the organization was established, but you can’t hang your hat on an assumption that everyone understands the PAC’s value up front. To effectively motivate others, education and storytelling are key. Telling the right story in the right way can create true believers out of your audience. Just because you understand the value of the PAC doesn’t mean they will. The more appealing you make the water and the better you show them the personal value, the more likely they are to take a drink.


3. Make sure they feel appreciated. You can’t fundraise with only a lick and a promise and expect immediate results. Recognition is an important element in motivating people to give. People don’t want to hear how their support benefits you. They need to know what’s in it for them. Many either want recognition among their peers and leaders, want to know that you personally appreciate their participation or are motivated by specific benefits like gifts, PAC match or invitations to VIP events. Focus on the benefits of membership and regularly thank them for their time and support.


4. Make sure the right person makes the “ask.” As G.T. Smith said, “Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.” It’s not about passing the buck to a volunteer. Peer-to-peer outreach is the most effective fundraising method because someone the prospect knows or someone like them is making the ask. Keeping their peers "pleased" may be a more important motivation in this case than the cause of the organization itself.


5. Make sure the “ask” is specific. In addition to actually making the “ask” (a straightforward but often overlooked step), your request has to be specific. Don’t jump the gun when it comes to fundraising. Our research has shown that people would be more inclined to give if they were asked for a specific amount. An effective solicitation provides the prospective contributor with all the information needed to understand what you are asking of them, along with why — and to what — he or she is being asked to contribute.


6. Make sure to follow up. You can’t pull in your horns after one communication. It often takes several touches to move a prospective donor to a decision point, so don’t assume that one ask will move the needle. The final step in a fundraising request is to follow up with your prospects. Give them time to consider the information you presented, provide requested information in a timely manner and send reminders, following up until they’ve taken action or provided a definitive response.


Targeting the right groups in the right way will help you, your volunteer fundraisers and your donors ride off into the sunset.


Ready to jump those hurdles? Reach out at 866-521-0900 or lauren@sagac.com.


Lauren Rahill oversees Sagac’s business development and marketing division. As Marketing Director, she brings to her role nearly a decade of experience planning and executing public affairs campaigns for pro-business political committees and managing the strategic aspects of Sagac’s public affairs clientele.