2 min read

The Girl Scouts command a $700 million cookie empire. That success doesn’t come easy, and here’s how you can learn from them.

Although your fundraising activities might be more prestigious than that of selling cookies to passersby, there is something to learn from those organized, badge-wearing, smiley-faced Girl Scouts you see standing in front of your local supermarket. (After all, Girl Scouts of the USA command a $700 million cookie empire.)

Lesson #1: Pick the right audience.

If you’re trying to raise money, be sure that you’re promoting your work to the audience most likely to support you. A Girl Scout is not going to stand in front of a Jenny Craig studio to raise money, although they might have ready cash available in their wallet. Reach out to folks that you suspect have not only the capacity to give but would be intrinsically motivated to donate to an organization like yours. If you’re trying to grow your house-file through direct mail prospecting, be sure to do your homework on the lists you’re renting or exchanging. Have these folks given to like-minded organizations and at a high level? Or if you’re thinking about how best to cultivate those in your existing file, look first at those who are steady givers, even if their donations are small. If they think about you enough to write you a check every month, then they believe in your cause and are worthy of your cultivation efforts.

Lesson #2: Partner with others.

The most savvy of Girl Scouts don’t just rely on their location to sell their cookies but they get others to sell for them.  Reach out to your top supporters and ask them not for a donation but for access to their network. If they believe in you enough to write you a check for thousands of dollars, then it’s worth asking them if they know of like-minded friends or family members that might be interested in your work. Social media is an easy, virtually cost-free way of getting your “friends” to share your work with others. The growth of your network can be exponential. You should also think about asking like-minded organizations to swap house-files. Playing nicely in the same sandbox is a lesson not just for junior scouts.

Lesson #3: Collect data and stay in touch.

This is mother of all Girl Scout fundraising methods and one that must be emulated with scout-like precision and dedication: collect data and stay in touch. Be sure to ask for contact information at any location, both physical and virtual, where your organization is in contact with those that might be getting to know you for the first time. It seems obvious but many organizations are timid in asking folks for their contact information. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. But most importantly, stay in touch. Act on the information you acquire and be sure to follow up with thoughtful updates on organizational successes and when appropriate, send hand-written thank you notes for that added personal touch.

As a former Girl Scout turned foundation staff member, fundraiser, then consultant, I think it’s important to take a step back every once in a while and remember these simple but time-tested lessons.

It’s my personal and professional goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you. Feel free to shoot me an email at lpallares@americanphilanthropic.com or check out our services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com

Photo credit: djwtwo via Visual hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

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