And now for a kick in the ask

If Giving USA and other such reports are believed, this is the best of times for fundraisers and the good causes for which they work.

  • Donors dug deep in 2015 (the most recent year for which giving numbers are available), doling out a whopping $373.25 billion to their favorite causes.
  • Individual donors upped their gifts by 3.8 percent when measured in current dollars (and 3.7 percent when inflation-adjusted).
  • And there’s more where those gifts came from. According to the authors of Money for Good 2015 ($FG 2015) “a $47 billion opportunity exists to increase and shift charitable giving.”
  • Even better, “American donors feel strongly about giving and giving back—they are highly engaged with giving through volunteering and other activities, they feel a responsibility to give, and they believe their giving makes a difference.”

getting_kicked_out_the_door_400_clr_14276Why is it then that so many development folk, and most especially those working for small to mid-size nonprofits describe this as the worst of times?

Part of the answer could be this from the pages of $FG:  “Limited understanding of donor behaviors, motivations, and preferences continues to hold the social sector back from realizing this $47B opportunity.”

The research findings and strategies provided in $FG are a call to action for the nonprofit sector –a kick in our collective ask, so to speak. For faith-based organizations, the kick points in the direction of a more donor-centered, ministry-oriented approach to fundraising.

After ouch, it’s not so bad

The good news is that it’s not so hard to overcome the roadblocks to fundraising effectiveness as identified in the $FG report. With common sense and attention to the principles of fundraising as ministry, it’s possible for even the smallest organization to tap into the latent generosity to which the report alludes.

Donor behaviors
You’ve likely heard that the reason people don’t give is because they’re not asked – or more precisely, not asked in ways that connect with their hearts. But when it comes to why folks do give, the reason is more complex. The whys and ways of giving (donor behaviors) are unique to each donor, which explains the labor-intensive aspect of fundraising. It takes time to identify giving patterns within a group of donors and even more to tailor the way you ask to fit those patterns. However, if your goal is to grow givers’ hearts along with the organization’s bottom line, this is time well spent.

Implications for how you ask
To the extent feasible, segment requests for support to match what you know about the folks who support your organization. And don’t stop there. Pair the ask for a gift with opportunities for hands-on involvement with the work that the gift(s) will help fund. Obviously involving donors/volunteers is easier for some organizations than for others, but that’s no excuse for failing to try. I’ve come across amazingly creative ways by which donors are able to “touch” the causes to which they give.

Donor motivations
A piece of a person’s heart accompanies their contributions and as such, the best and most generous gifts are expressions of personal passions. A gift is the tangible evidence of belief in the values, goals, purposes, and importance of the organization. As one person told me, “The Holy Spirit puts people where they should be. You don’t give because of what someone else is. You give because of what you are.”

Implications for how you ask
A ministry-centered development program is characterized by sensitivity on the part of fundraisers to the heart’s desire of those with whom they work. And it requires acknowledging the validity of where the Spirit might be leading the donor, even if it is not on the same path as the funding appeal du jour. The surest way to build relationships is to listen for and then affirm donor passions.

Donor preferences
Despite periodic scandals within the nonprofit sector, people of faith continue to value and support causes that touch their hearts and souls. The majority of Christians firmly believe that the organizations to which they give are doing good work. Conversations with donors illustrate that most take deep satisfaction in being part of something that is larger and greater than themselves. As the $FG study tells us, “giving feeds donors’ feelings of connection to their community and to others and builds their sense of self.”

Implications for how you ask
Within the context of Christian fundraising, donors should experience themselves as beloved members of the family of God. From the pronouns used in appeal letters and thank yous (e.g. we vs. you/us), to the stories selected for organizational publications, to the ways by which donors are recognized, our words and methods should be selected to encourage a sense of belonging, oneness, and shared purpose. Every gift, large or small – it’s all in the family.

For the most part, organizational leaders (including fundraisers) with whom I work are focused on connecting with donor hearts – on honoring donor behaviors, motivations, and preferences. Yet even the best and most experienced of my tribe can benefit from an occasional kick in the ask. If that’s you today, click on over to Money for Good 2015 and brace yourself for what’s coming.

To read more about asking, thanking, and growing givers’ hearts, see:

Listening for the gift

My one word plan for year-end fundraising success

Put the focus on thank you, please

What's your take on this topic?

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