Inspiring Generosity Takes More Than Words

We spend much time with our staffs and our volunteer leaders working on the mechanics of asking.  Finding the right language.  Searching for the perfect words.  Role playing different approaches.  All in an attempt to get comfortable with what we believe is the best possible method of soliciting the gift.  And these mechanics are not unimportant.  It’s just that they aren’t the most important part of the process.

When we ask someone to support our institution, what we really want to do is move them.  We want to arouse their passion for the work of our institution.  We want to stir their emotions.  We want to inspire them to give generously.  And when we think about the asking process in this way, the specific language we choose to “make the ask” becomes less important.  I might phrase the ask as, “We’d like you to consider making a gift of $50,000.”  You might be more comfortable with, “We’re asking you to partner with us and make a commitment of $50,000.”  Either way gets the solicitation made.  But I would suggest that these asks (or just about any other variation on the theme) are not sufficient to arouse the passions of donors and prospects.  And yet we are preoccupied with getting these words “perfect.”

So, if the ask itself isn’t the key motivator for donors, how can we best inspire their generosity?

I suggest inspiring others happens when we are passionate and authentic.  Some years ago, I attended a personnel crisis management seminar at Harvard.  One of the key points from that training came in the form of research that had been conducted about arguments.  The professor for this course showed us a video and, as I recall, it had two people who were arguing on camera.  One person was the researcher and the other was the subject.  The experiment was designed to set up the subject in such a way as to coerce a real argument.  And there was some serious voice-raising going on!

The experiment showed that when the researcher would “mirror” or “match” the intensity of the subject (i.e., when he would raise his voice when the subject raised his voice, or when he would stand up from a seated position when the subject would first stand up), the argument would escalate to almost uncontrollable levels.  Increased intensity beget more intensity.  But on the other hand, when the researcher would respond to increased intensity from the subject with a calm, quiet voice and with composure, the intensity from the subject would lessen.  The fireworks would shut down.  It had little to do with what the researcher was actually saying.  It had far more to do with the level of passion and intensity in the researcher’s response.

Humans tend to mirror the passion and intensity of those with whom they are engaged.

Similarly, when we solicit a prospect, our specific word choice matters less than our authentic passion and intensity.  Tell the compelling stories of how our institution has transformed lives.  Or ask the volunteer solicitor to explain specifically why they have become involved and what moved them to make their largest gift ever.  And share these stories with passion, conviction, authenticity, and intensity.  If the story is compelling and told with passion, you will move others.  You will inspire generosity in others.

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