How to Find the True Meaning of Fundraising? Keep a Donor-Gratitude Journal
Reality check. What is your real goal for fundraising?
Think about this carefully. Obviously (I hope), it’s not just to raise money. Money is only as good as the purpose to which it’s applied. So what’s fundraising for? Have an answer? Jot it down. Okay, let’s get to it.
Your Fundraising Reality Check
If you answered, “furthering our mission,” you’re only half right because if no one else values your mission but you (or a handful of folks), you’re waging a losing battle. Nonprofits exist because they meet real needs.
Nonprofits are publicly supported because the public perceives these needs as genuine and critical.
Have you made a strong enough case? Are the needs you meet critical? If you ceased to exist, would bad things happen?
Philanthropy is a Value-Based Proposition
When your organization enacts values that people (potential donors) also wish to enact, you’ve got an opportunity. You can make a values match. When you’re doing something very few people care about, you’re going to have a problem because, you see, all of philanthropy is based on the value-for-value exchange.
I (the donor) give you (the charity) something of value (money or time). In exchange, you give me something of value (usually something intangible such as feeling good about doing the right thing, fulfilling a moral or religious obligation or paying a debt).
Your real goal for fundraising is to enable your donors to enact their values in a meaningful way.
This is Why You Must Approach Fundraising in a Donor-Centric Manner
Always ask, “What’s in this for the donor?” But don’t stop there—keep asking, “What else could be in this for the donor?”
The more meaning you give to your cause, the better your chances are for sustaining your donor’s giving over time. This is why donor stewardship (aka relationship building) is so important. If I, the donor, feel good once, that’s nice. I made a gift. I got a “thank you.” Yay me. But then I move on, and the “feel good” evaporates.
Research on Emotion Shows Positive Emotions Wear Off Quickly
Our emotional systems like newness, according to extensive research by Robert A. Emmons, PhD, of the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough, PhD, of the University of Miami. So if I don’t hear back from you until the next time you ask for a gift, I’ll likely have forgotten all about you by then. Maybe I’ll repeat the gift. Maybe not. I certainly am unlikely to give you more.
In fact, research on the impact of a one-time act of gratitude by Martin Seligman, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, shows gratitude recedes quite quickly. Study participants wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been properly thanked for his or her kindness. Recipients immediately exhibited a huge increase in happiness scores. This impact was greater than any other intervention. However, benefits decreased by 50 percent within a week and disappeared completely within a month.
In other words, gratitude must be repeated in order to be effective.
Let’s Come Back to Your Goal with Fundraising
Isn’t part of it to be able to show gratitude? When you think about fundraising as self-serving (to get you towards your monetary goal), you really miss the point. The point is to make something possible—something for which many people can feel gratitude—the people you serve, their families, their neighbors, future generations, your community, the world. It’s about a lot more than raising a buck. Gratitude really goes against the self-serving bias because when we’re grateful, we give credit to other people for our success.
Are you giving your donors the credit they deserve? Are you making fundraising about your donors’ meaningful actions?
Keep a Donor Gratitude Journal
The benefits of gratitude are enormous: It makes you happy; it makes other people like you; it makes you healthier; it boosts your career; it strengthens “feel good” emotions; it boosts optimism; it reduces materialism; it increases spiritualism; and it enhances self-esteem.
It does all these things for both the gratitude giver and the gratitude recipient. It may sound hokey, but try to keep a gratitude journal. Not just any gratitude journal, but a donor-gratitude journal. Write down five things each week about why you’re grateful to your donors.
You can be grateful to specific donors or to donors as a group. Just get in the habit of thinking about what you’re specifically grateful for. For example:
- I’m grateful to Mary because her challenge grant will help us reach our goal.
- I’m grateful to George because he took me out to coffee, shared a bit of himself and brightened my day with funny stories about his grandchildren.
- I’m grateful to the Acme Corporation because their volunteers spent an afternoon here helping us get a lot of important work done.
- I’m grateful to John’s assistant for helping me get through to him.
- I’m grateful to Joanne because she agreed to invite her friend here for a tour.
As you get into this habit, you’re more likely to have gratitude on top of your mind. When you interact with your donor next, you’re more likely to tell them what you’re feeling. This will keep your donor feeling good over the long term.
Demonstrate Gratitude in Your Workplace
Instilling a gratitude habit begins at home and at the office. And this habit has demonstrated positive spill-over effects.
Researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania randomly divided university fundraisers into two groups. One group made phone calls to solicit alumni donations in the same way they always had. The second group was assigned to work on a different day and received a pep talk from the director of annual giving who told fundraisers she was grateful for their efforts. During the following week, the university employees who heard her message of gratitude made 50 percent more fundraising calls than those who did not.
So remember to say "thank you" to the people who work for and with you. You may find those employees feel motivated to work harder.
Make Fundraising Transformative, Not Transactional
The real purpose of fundraising is to enact transformative change. Preferably, on a larger scale—a scale beyond which one human being could accomplish on their own.
People give to organizations because, by so doing, they can accomplish what they could not accomplish on their own.
- I may be able to feed one homeless person by myself, but I alone cannot end homelessness or hunger.
- I may be able to show support for my local arts group through attendance, but I alone cannot assure their continued existence.
- I may be able to recycle my garbage, but I alone cannot stop global warming.
- I may be able to sign a petition about an area of concern, but I alone cannot fight that issue in the courts.
If you can, don’t just write what you’re grateful for in your journal. Write a “thank you” note to your donor or simply pick up the phone and let them know how you feel! This will make the giving experience transformative for them, as well as for your organization.
The true meaning of fundraising? Transformation and gratitude—a never-ending cycle of voluntary action for the public good.
Want to get in the gratitude groove?
Take this free gratitude assessment offered by “Happier Human.” Get a low score? No problem. You can get in the groove fairly quickly by practicing one or more of the gratitude exercises they suggest for about a one-month period. Not only will it improve your fundraising, it will improve your life. (By the way, when I took the test, I found that I should channel gratitude more frequently rather than more intensely. I would guess that’s the case for many working in the social benefit sector. We do it. Just not enough.)
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.