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Elycia Cook: A Fundraising Edge

Posted by denver

We’ve all been there — taking time out of our busy schedules to get a car door ding repaired by the mechanic. Nobody likes it. So it’s not at all surprising that most of us wouldn’t have the wherewithal to fundraise in a situation like that.

But most of us are not Elycia Cook, executive director of Friends First. Cook asked the checkout clerk why getting her car repair appointment was so difficult, and was told that the franchise had just opened a new call center after expanding from 180 stores to 306. Cook politely suggested that the call center work out its kinks to prevent the company from losing customers.

That’s when the light bulb went off.

Elycia Cook Friends First

Elycia Cook, Executive Director Friends First

“When I’m walking out, I turn around and said, ‘If you’re growing that fast, what are you doing to be socially responsible and engage with your community?’” Cook says. Thanks to her quick thinking, she was connected to the person responsible for community investing, who called her within half an hour. The two scheduled an appointment for a few days later.

But between the phone call and the appointment, Elycia attended a Leadership Edge training provided by SVP. And this session was focused on fundraising.

“I learned to ask according to the capacity of the giver, and then shut up. Don’t give them a menu of all of these different choices,” Cook says. “In the Leadership Edge training, we talked about making one specific ask, and make the ask worth the time. And as I was putting my packet together for this meeting, I thought, ‘Why would I ask for $2,500?’ If the company’s grown this much, they’re not broke. So I asked for a $5,000 sponsorship.”

Which she got.

“I would not have gone for the higher amount had I not gone to the class,” Cook says. “As soon as he paused, I would have probably come in with lower offers. But this was a huge success. They don’t even have a budget for Colorado yet because they’re so new here. It was a great time to get in.”

The success of her ask led Cook to brainstorm other ways to put her Leadership Edge training to good use. She remembered how much a match helps other people give.

“So I just made a list of people I knew who were very supportive of Friends First and had the capacity to give $1,000,” Cook says, “and I got on the phone and said, ‘We want to raise $25,000. We seem to raise more when there’s a donor who’s willing to match others’ gifts. Can you commit to $1,000 for a match?’”

The endeavor was a success — Cook received multiple donations for the matching fund, and with a lot less effort than she used to put in. She says she used to take each donor to lunch and make time-consuming asks, but the Leadership Edge class got her thinking of fundraising in a new light.

“I’ve been on this roll with my fundraising,” Cook says. “I’m teaching everybody here. That class really was good timing.”


SVP Denver, in partnership with The Denver Foundation and the Kansas Leadership Center, launched Leadership Edge, a 12-month leadership development program in nonprofit best practices, in early 2016.

This program, designed to support development as a strategic volunteer in collective philanthropy and to provide a forum to learn specific content in key areas of nonprofit functioning, helps Partners see how to transfer their business skills across sectors.

For more information, please contact Pat Landrum.


Article written by SVP Partner Carrie Jordan