When seeking a gift, use your voice

The organization with which you’re associated has hit a costly bump in the road. What’s the best way to raise a significant chunk of above-the-budget money as quickly as possible?

Option 1: Send an email or/letter to everyone on your mailing list

Option 2: Speak directly to folks who you think are most likely to say “yes” to the giving opportunity

If you chose the second option, congratulations. You’re on your way to a more successful fundraising effort.

To be sure, there are times when Option 1 will suffice. But as Vanessa Bohns, assistant professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, writes in a Harvard Business Review article, “asking in person is the significantly more effective approach.”

In fact, her research shows that in-person conversations are 34 times as likely to generate gifts as in-writing requests for support.


In my minds-eye, I see longtime fundraisers yawning with boredom. Bohns’ advice is obvious, I know. The kind of thing you learn in a Fundraising 101 workshop.

But before you shrug off her research findings as much ado about nothing new, I hope you’ll take a hard look at your own fundraising program. I’m betting you’re more dependent on email messaging and/or direct mail appeals than is good for the organization. And that goes for the urgent as well as your everyday “bread and butter” fundraising.

For development staff in small and mid-size nonprofits, consistency in connecting one-on-one, either by telephone or in person (the best), is a daunting discipline. Text-based communications (letters, emails, texts, and newsletters) are a tempting proxy for the spoken word.

But don’t go there, Bohns warns.

If your office runs on email and text-based communication, it’s worth considering whether you could be a more effective communicator by having conversations in person. It is often more convenient and comfortable to use text-based communication than to approach someone in-person, but if you overestimate the effectiveness of such media, you may regularly—and unknowingly—choose inferior means of influence.

This doesn’t mean you should give up completely on mass appeals (printed or electronic). That method has a place in a well-rounded fundraising effort. However, the superior means of influence is always your voice, so use it when and where you can.

Let them hear you now.

For more advice on how to ask for gifts, see:

And now for a kick in the ask

Listening for the gift

Stories are a fundraiser’s best friend


  1. I’ll take a face-to-face meeting with a donor any day. But, getting that meeting is my greatest challenge.

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