Some of our favorite advice on fundraising is this: Don’t ask your donor to give you their money, instead, offer them an opportunity to be a part of something important.
For many people who aren’t used to it, fundraising can feel uncomfortable. It can feel like asking for a big favor, like asking someone to give up a valuable resource that they might otherwise use for putting a roof over their head, or sending their kids to college. However, if you convey neediness or desperation when you’re making an ask, then you run the risk of convincing your prospect that they actually are being put upon. Unfortunately, this could result in a lower gift than you might have otherwise secured or making the donor feel awkward around your organization.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, being philanthropic makes people feel good—it activates pleasure center of the brain.
Don’t believe us? Check out this New York Times article published just last year about a study in Nature Communications revealing that generosity actually changed the activity in the human brain in ways that makes people feel happier.
If your job is to motivate board members, leadership, or other stakeholders who get stuck feeling like they’re burdening a donor by asking for a gift, there are some tools you can use to help them rethink their approach.
First, empower your stakeholder with knowledge about the donor. Even if your they have had a personal relationship with the donor for years, there may still be pertinent information that they are not aware of, such as the donor’s history of charitable giving. Armed with this information, your stakeholder can feel more prepared to navigate a conversation about making a financial contribution to the organization. Even if there are no details in the research that are new to them, it can be validating to learn that they already have all the background they need to make an ask.
Second, give your stakeholder talking points and language to fall back on. Remind them that instead of making a request for a financial transaction, they are offering someone the chance to be a part of the great work of your organization. Phrases like “join us,” for instance, can help put the stakeholder and the donor in this mindset. Consider that instead of asking the donor to “give” something, the stakeholder might be asking them to “be” something: be a member of the patron program, be a co-chair of an event, be a leader in a campaign, be an advocate for important work.
Third, focus your stakeholder with specific tasks. Depending on where you are in the process of cultivation, you may have instructions to help guide your stakeholder in setting up and engaging in a conversation with the donor. Think about the type and level of ask you’d like them to make. Are they soliciting a patron membership? A campaign gift? Or gala participation? Is there a range that they should be asking for, or do you want them to leave it entirely open? Having a set of guidelines to keep in mind will help steady them if they get nervous to initiate a conversation about money.
Finally, motivate your stakeholder with the reminder that having the conversation is the win. No matter what happens, an authentic and meaningful relationship with the donor is the best possible outcome.