I have consulted with well over 200 organizations in my career. This experience has put me in a position to share some of the “greatest hits” of why organizations do not ask a donor or prospective donor to make a gift. Allow me to share both their arguments against and my arguments for asking a donor or prospective donor for a gift.
In a major gift portfolio.
Against: They are in my portfolio and I plan to ask for a major gift soon.
For: Unless there is a date certain goal in your donor management plan for making an ask, then chances are the ask will slip and you will have lost an opportunity for another annual gift and another reason to thank the donor and further engage them.
Against: They do so much for us already and past appeals to them have been disappointing.
For: Often, volunteers are bewildered that they are not asked to make a financial contribution. Some volunteers may be wealthy. We already know they are philanthropic by virtue of their volunteering. Treat them as a source of potential major and planned gifts. Do the research and add those appropriate to a portfolio.
Against: They do not get paid very well. Morale has been up and down.
For: Not all staff are created equal. Some are paid better than others. Some have wealth from other sources that you may not know about. Mission-driven staff may want to make a small contribution to show their support and high percentage staff giving is an attractive point to make with outside stakeholders.
People who already donated this year via direct mail or website
Against: They just gave a few months ago. How can we ask them again? We might alienate them.
For: Your best donor prospect is your last donor. The data is clear. When mail appeals are sent to donors to the previous campaign, they are 2X more likely to give than others. They like your organization and want to support it and will respond when asked.
Donors who are still paying off a pledge
Against: We do not want to appear greedy by asking for another gift while they are making pledge payments.
For: A multi-year commitment through a pledge is typically for a campaign or special project. And the donor was asked because they are annual supporters. Hopefully, during the gift discussion, a double ask was made distinguishing project/campaign giving from annual giving. You can call the donor to reinforce the point and ask permission to send an annual appeal.
Board members who have already made their annual gift
Against: The board culture is to give an annual gift only. We have never asked for more except for the occasional event ticket purchase.
For: If you do not ask you do not get. Who better to go back to than board members? They are your leaders. The only way to change the culture is to ask and tell them why you are asking for more.
Members of advisory committees
Against: They are prominent business leaders who are giving us their time twice a year. We do not want them to think the advisory committee is just a way to get a contribution.
For: The charter for the advisory committee should address the intention or requirement for philanthropic support as part of membership. Remember, the people who you have assembled also benefit from the group and if they agreed to be on the committee, then they will welcome an overture for a gift.
Donors who have not given in the past five or more years.
Against: It is a waste of funds to solicit them.
For: When lapsed donors are included in acquisition mailing, they usually respond better than rented lists. When they do contribute, you can call them to thank them for their gift and inquire why they stopped giving. You will learn valuable information to apply to other lapsed donors.
Against: Morale is low, and we do not want to make it worse by asking for a contribution. And besides, they have never, as a group, been very generous.
For: You should know which faculty members have more resources than others. Some have outside consulting and business income and other sources of wealth. Be intentional and scale the ask appropriately to all faculty members. To the extent possible, show how their gift will benefit them in their work.
Against: With declining reimbursement rates physician income has declined for the past 15 years. We want them to make grateful patient referrals, so we do not want to irritate them with an appeal.
For: There are many physicians, especially specialists, who still have hearty incomes. Many are generous and owe their livelihood to your medical center. Those physicians who step up to agree to refer grateful patients are usually personally generous as well.
Everyone Is Asked
It is an article of faith with Copley Raff partner organizations that everyone is asked for a gift at least one time in a year. Everyone needs to be reminded that you are a philanthropy dependent organization. Donors can be fickle. “This year I feel like giving.” “Last year I had other priorities.”
This is why asking must be a constant and you need to have systems, the right staff, smart leadership and willing volunteers to make it happen. It is not a shotgun approach. Thought must go into who you ask, when, how much, for what and by whom.
Copley Raff’s mission: Every interaction is to help nonprofit organizations fulfill their missions by meeting ambitious goals, aligning their leadership, elevating fundraising, and activating the brilliance of their teams. It’s a bold promise but one that we know will serve you and your organization’s mission in a way that will deliver tangible and meaningful results – the kind of results that make a real difference!