Making the Invitation

If there is one word in our work that captures people’s imagination and interest more than, “asking,” I don’t know what it is.  Gift officers are conditioned to talk unremittingly about “making the ask,” presidents and CEOs wonder if they are “asking” enough and for enough, Board members want the development team to “ask” more, and donors wonder if your next visit will include “an ask.”

For such a seemingly important word in our work, I’m not sure that we’ve spent much time “asking” if it is the right one.  Upon closer inspection, the definition of the word, “ask,” and the ideas we attach to it, just don’t seem to be the most helpful.   Dictionary.com defines, “ask,” in the following ways:

  • to request or petition;
  • to solicit from another;

“Begging” is listed as a synonym.

In general, the concept of “asking” brings with it the notion that we are requesting to receive something from someone else.  If we have a zero-sum mindset, it means we are seeking to gain something while encouraging another to lose the same.  In the worst way of thinking about “asking,” we are begging to get  something of value from another.  These notions are wholly inaccurate ways of thinking about what the process of giving is all about.

When people give, they don’t lose anything, they gain.  We know from research, that givers are healthier, happier, live longer, and report feelings of greater joy in their lives.  When we give, we are a direct (and one could argue, a primary) beneficiary – the giver truly does benefit as much if not more than the receiver.

Over the years in this work, I’ve asked at least 1,000 significant donors about their giving experiences.  And over and over again, I’ve heard the same emotional response as they have reflected on their generous behavior:  “Our giving means far more to us than it could ever mean to the institution.”  They feel better because they acted on their impulse to be generous.  In fact, they are better because they acted on it.  When we “ask” donors, we aren’t taking anything from them. . . we aren’t begging. . . we aren’t soliciting.  We are giving them an opportunity.  In fact, we are providing one of the most meaningful opportunities one human can offer another.

Instead of talking so incessantly about the misguided concept of “asking,” let’s begin to talk differently and more accurately about our work.  Let’s start talking about “inviting” donors.

Inviting donors to do something that will transform them.  Inviting donors to be happier, healthier, and feel better about themselves.  Inviting donors to align their giving with their values in support of a purpose bigger than their myopic self-interest.  Inviting donors to respond to that quiet but penetrating voice to act nobly and with care for others.

In fact, let’s not just talk about it.  Today, let’s start “inviting” more donors and stop “asking” them.

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