For a vast number of nonprofits, there is a single, simple adjustment that could be made which would radically change how much is received through charitable giving. . . they could invite more gifts from their donors.
Just ask more. That’s it.
It’s not a difficult concept to grasp. It’s been backed up by research for decades. Year in, year out, it’s one of the top conference topics for development professionals.
And yet, we continue to invite gifts from our most generous donors far too infrequently.
To be clear, I’m not talking about annual giving, direct mail, giving days, and the host of other channels and strategies used to generate more modest, consistent giving from donors. Instead, I’m focused here on engaging individually with major donors and prospective major donors and inviting them to give a specific amount for a specific purpose.
Simply put, we aren’t doing that nearly enough. And, the reasons have more to do with us than we may be willing to admit.
Here are 3 significant reasons why we aren’t inviting more major gifts and how to address each:
- We aren’t comfortable talking about money – religion, politics, sex, and money are all taboo topics in polite or professional settings. And, like everyone else, those cultural taboos can and do influence development professionals. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, I’ve found many development professionals are fundamentally uncomfortable talking specifically and directly about someone else’s money and how they might consider using it. Take some time to reflect on how you feel about money. How did your family of origin treat money? Deep down, do you believe money is good, bad, a tool, something to share, something to save? Once you have a clear sense of what money means to you, you can identify how you can engage more openly in conversations with donors about their support.
- Asking makes us personally feel weak, vulnerable, or inadequate – if you reside in the United States, you have been and will continue to be shaped by a “rugged individualistic” culture that communicates, “asking for assistance is a character flaw.” Asking for help, asking for support, asking for money, etc., can make us feel personally inferior. The subtle nuance, here, of course, is that inviting gifts from donors is not about asking for ourselves. We are seeking more support for those we serve, for our institution’s mission, and to enhance a spirit of community more broadly. It is never about us. When we put our institution’s mission first and focus on gathering the needed resources for those we serve, we can begin to reframe “asking” from a negative activity into one that is empowering and inspiring.
- We don’t practice – generally speaking, development professionals loathe practicing the process of inviting gifts. Having said that, every time I’ve assisted development professionals in a practice session, the after-the-fact response has been exceedingly favorable. Practicing “the ask,” is like eating healthy or going to the gym – we don’t really like it necessarily, but we feel much better about ourselves after we do it. My encouragement is to set aside professional development time each month to practice with your colleagues some aspect of inviting gifts. Phrasing the invitation. Responding to objections. How best to follow-up. Just practice. Think of any other profession – teachers, lawyers, doctors, auto mechanics – everyone else practices. We should, too.
We can generate more charitable resources for our institutions to serve more and to serve better. We can invite more gifts from our donors.
We simply need to negotiate the biggest obstacle: Ourselves.