Stop Scolding Donors to Make Unrestricted Gifts
No one likes to be scolded.
Yet most nonprofits make a practice of regularly admonishing supporters to give "where most needed."
You probably think this is a good thing. After all, it gives you the greatest flexibility. Right?
Wrong. Think again.
You’ll have a lot more flexibility if you raise more money.
And you’ll raise a lot more money if you stop thinking about you and your needs and think more about your donors and their needs.
The practice of worshiping at the altar of unrestricted giving is about as non-donor-centered as it gets!
A prime example appeared a few years ago in an article I found on NPR (since taken down from the site), in which the then CEO of National Philanthropic Trust chided potential donors to be loyal in their giving because it helps build planning. She said:
It’s really expensive for charities to find new donors and to raise money, so by doing fewer larger gifts, and then staying with them for three to five years, you’re actually helping the charity plan better and it's easier for them to meet their mission.
She continued to warn donors not to make the "common mistake" of giving to a very specific project or narrow program within a charity. These "restricted gifts," she said, don’t help a charity out with its other needs, such as computers, training and maintaining facilities.
It goes counter to intuition and common sense to force folks into your mold.
Why not encourage supporters to give to those programs about which they’re most passionate? Wouldn’t you think that would bond them to your organization over the longer term in a more natural way than telling them the "healthy way" to give is akin to eating their vegetables?
I’ve never really understood the penchant in so many nonprofits to eschew restricted gifts.
Some do this to the extent that major gift officers are penalized for bringing in too few unrestricted gifts. Essentially, this means these fundraisers are not allowed to talk to donors about what the donor really cares about. Their task is to steer donors away from their passions and toward a middle-of-the-road strategy that simply doesn’t excite them. This is absurd! If you want to know why, take a look at this blog post by donor-centered fundraising guru Penelope Burk.
When you give people choices, they'll respond in greater numbers.
You see, if you package your overall case for support into different program "cases" that resonate with people's individual values, you’ll end up capturing more attention. People actually will read what you send to them. They’ll consider their options carefully. They’ll think about their giving. And they’ll make a thoughtful gift. Guess what else? About 50 percent to 90 percent of folks will decide to give an unrestricted gift!
Yes, you’ll also end up generating earmarked funds for your most popular programs. That’s great! Now you know what floats people’s boats.
And for those programs that are less popular, you can direct your unrestricted funding there. You’re missing the boat if you simply talk in generalities and use unrestricted funds for "sexy" programs that could potentially bring in greater donors and dollars. Yes, you need to keep the lights on. Yes, you appreciate donors who "get" this. Truly, I love the donors who give happily "where most needed." But I also love those who give passionate, transformational gifts to a program near and dear to their hearts. One is not better than the other. And there’s definitely room for both.