How Not to Ask for a Major Gift
Twice in the past month I’ve been asked for a major gift.
Pretty much out of the blue.
Without much preparation, relationship-building or making of an inspiring case for support.
It was clear to me what the charity would get out of it: my money. It was not so clear what I would get out of it. Should I not care?
Perhaps if I were the ideal, perfect donor I would give with no expectation of receiving anything in return.
Perhaps if I were less ego-centric, I’d just do it because it was the “right thing to do.”
Perhaps if I were not on a quest for personal meaning, I’d give just because the person who asked is someone I know (though, not all that well); it would give them a feeling of success, and that would bring me some happiness.
Perhaps if I were not searching for a community of folks who share my values, I’d give without quite understanding the depth and breadth of values enacted by these charities or without having met more of the people involved.
Perhaps if I were not examining what it is that sparks joy in my life, I’d give whether or not this cause was currently at the top of my list or I’d been given opportunity for reflection and consideration.
But I’m not perfect.
I’m betting most of your donors aren’t either. And even if I was perfect, in these instances, the case for why this was the right thing for me to do wasn’t even made all that well. The ask was about money, not impact.
There was simply an assumption that since I’d shown interest in the past, I would likely welcome this opportunity to demonstrate my interest even more passionately.
Okay. That’s not a bad starting place. But… you should never assume. You know what they say about the word "assume," right?
Instead, you should endeavor to:
- Find out more about what really floats my boat.
- Lead me gently toward greater interest in what you do.
- Inspire me with what will happen if I become more invested.
- Paint a joyful picture for me of how this will light up my life.
Yep. I said my life.
Of course I want to know how my gift will accrue to the betterment of the world. Of course I do! But don’t forget you have to make me feel that’s truly what I’m doing! That’s when I’ll feel a warm glow and experience the true joy of giving. Otherwise, I’ll feel I’m simply transferring money from my wallet to yours. You’ll check a task off your list as “done,” and I’ll be left poorer, not richer.
A Major Gift Is Not an Impulse Purchase
It takes time for donors to warm to the idea. And they warm to it as they talk about it and bat ideas back and forth.
When asking for a major gift, think first about how the act for which you’re asking will enrich your donor’s life. Go BIG as you think this through.
Most people, donors included, are:
- Filled with expectations—mostly hopeful; often fueled by what's going on in their world.
- Ego-centric—not in a bad way.
- Searching for personal meaning—as they ascend the Maslow Hierarchy of Needs.
- Looking for community—in a quest for belonging
- Looking to spark joy in their lives—in a quest for healing and self-actualization.
David Brooks wrote an interesting opinion piece recently for The New York Times in which he spoke about the ways people develop different goals in life. He made an interesting distinction between happiness and joy.
- Happiness involves a victory for the self.
- Joy involves the transcendence of self.
Make your ask about this potential for greater joy.
Brooks notes those who find joy often put relationships at the center:
“They ask us to measure our lives by the quality of our attachments, to see that life is a qualitative endeavor, not a quantitative one. They ask us to see others at their full depths, and not just as a stereotype, and to have the courage to lead with vulnerability.”
When you meet with a donor to ask for a gift, lead with vulnerability.
Be open to their needs, not just yours.
Don’t overlook this critical step in the asking process.
I really might have made these gifts.
If the asker had lit my fire and opened my heart.
Sadly, I was left in my head. Simmering.
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.