There’s a simple six-step process to assure you secure a philanthropic gift.
The heart of this process — your key to success — is to flip the philanthropic asking equation on its head and get your donor to ask you, not vice-versa.
Just get your donors to pop this one little question, and you’re home free.
Of course, you have to set them up to pop this question. But it’s easy, once you know the formula.
And I’m going to share that formula with you today.
Guess what else is really great about this?
It’s not scary!
If fear has been holding you back, today is your hallelujah moment. Because I’m here to tell you exactly how to get your donors to ask you for a gift, rather than the other way around.
Your Fright-Free 6-Step Process to Secure a Philanthropic Gift
- You say “Can I tell you a story?”
- You tell an inspiring story.
- Your donor listens, spell bound by your tale of ONE person, animal, place or thing in peril.
- Your donor ponders the injustice, sadness, loneliness, pain, hurt and lost opportunity.
- Your donor asks: “HOW CAN I HELP?” (Bingo!)
- You answer with a specific amount for a specific project (so they can do what they’ve already indicated they want to do).
This simple process applies to gifts of any size. It applies in spades to major gift fundraising.
It’s a way to gently lead your donor (whether in a personal meeting or via a written appeal) to the place you want them to be. A place of recognition… understanding… compassion and engagement. A place where your donor is able to enter into the story – the same story your organization enters into on a daily basis.
If you tell folks a compelling, purposeful story, they will ask you:
- To hand them the gift of opportunity.
- To offer them the chance to be the change they want to see in the world.
- To show them how to give that story you told them a happier ending than it would otherwise have.
- To tell them how they can be a hero.
Here, again, is what their question will sound like:
“HOW CAN I HELP?”
Reframe Fundraising as Storytelling
The 6-step fright-free fundraising process is all about the oldest form of human communication.
The best way to inspire philanthropy is to connect with your organization’s stories. Pick stories representative of your ongoing mission. Showcase the trials, tribulations and triumphs of those who rely on your for support.
One person, one family, one community, one project, one issue at a time.
Share the story of Jane who is hungry. Bud who is homeless. Snoopy who is abused. Mary who is facing eviction. Terry who has dementia. The village that lacks clean water. The school that has no supplies. The river that’s become polluted.
Tell this story so compellingly your donor can’t help but become involved. At least a little bit. They may feel anger, incredulity, frustration, hurt, sadness or any one of many emotions that will ultimately lead them to ask the all-important question.
The one you’re waiting for.
The one you’ve set them up to ask.
The one that will set you up for your ask.
“HOW CAN I HELP?”
Be Prepared to Answer
“Thanks so much for asking… here are our priorities, and some specific ways you can make a difference.”
Each specific “here’s how you can help” becomes your implicit “ask.”
Be prepared to let your donor know specifically what something will cost, and what the outcomes will be if funding is/is not forthcoming.
I can’t tell you how disconcerting it can be for everyone involved when you don’t have a specific, ready answer for this question. In fact, nothing will take the energy out of the room faster than failure to answer with an inspiring, definitive response.
Consider this unfortunate scenario (and, believe me, I’ve seen this happen):
“How can I help?”
“Well… any gift you can give to our organization, of whatever amount, will be helpful. Do you know how you’d like to help?”
[An alternative unfortunate answer might be: “Oh, we’re not asking you to make a gift today; we’re just here to learn about your interests.”]
Cue the whimpering sound of air escaping from a balloon.
What looked so bright, uplifting and promising a second ago suddenly feels flat and useless.
Because you failed to answer the clarion call of…
“HOW CAN I HELP?”
Don’t Protect Donors from Parting with Money They’re Happy to Give
When a donors asks “How can I help?” they mean it.
You’ve managed to arouse them through your storytelling, and now they want to become a part of the story.
So… they pop the question!
When you fail to answer directly, you let donors down.
- You donor thought they were making you an offer you wouldn’t be able to resist.
- Your donor thought they were writing you a more or less blank check.
- Your donor thought they were rushing in to be the hero who saves the day.
But… your response took the wind right out of their sails.
Apparently, the problem they thought they were going to help you fix is not really that urgent. You’ve told them they can give any amount. Or you’ve told them you’re not asking them to give right now.
Why not, they wonder? Why not, when they could make a difference?
Giving Feels Good to Donors
When you think asking is evil, you shortchange your supporters by taking away this ‘feel good’ opportunity.
When you think fundraising is about making donors poorer, you minimize the act of philanthropy.
Whatever you do:
- Don’t endlessly cultivate your donor without ever getting to an ask. It wastes both of your time.
- Don’t rebuff your donor once they’ve expressed an interest in giving.
- Don’t make your donor do the work of asking themselves for the right gift for the right project; that’s your job!
Be prepared to answer “HOW CAN I HELP?”
Inspire Donors to Spread their Money Where it Will Do the Greatest Good
One of my favorite quotes is from Hello Dolly, when Dolly Levi tells the rich, curmudgeonly Horace Vandergelder:
“Money is like manure. It’s not worth a thing unless you spread it around.”
Your job as a philanthropy facilitator is to show your donor prospects the best ways to spread their money so that good things spring forth from the fruits of their labor.
When you tell a story of a barren landscape, in whatever form that takes for your particular cause, you open a door in your donor’s mind. They want to walk through that door to help enrich that landscape so things no longer look so bleak.
People want to feel a sense of connection and purpose. Giving (time, money and energy) is a central way humans strive to find meaning. By expanding their vision of helping outside the confines of their family and business, innovative philanthropists intensely engage the human experiment and are willing to direct their full resources towards human betterment.
So when donors ask “HOW CAN I HELP?” take them at their word. And give them the thoughtful answer they (and those who rely on your organization) deserve.
Don’t Blow Your Golden Opportunity
When opportunity knocks, open the door.
Tell donors, specifically, how they can help.
Don’t just make it about money. Make it about impact.
“You can feed Jane and her entire family for a month with a gift of $X,XXX.”
“You can increase your gift this year to $X,XXX.”
When a donor asks “How can I help?” tell them.
“I’m so glad you asked. There’s a huge need right now for a mini-van so we can take seniors to doctor’s appointments. Your gift of $25,000 will make this possible. Is this something you can consider?”
“We’re looking for five people to each give $5,000 so we can purchase new laptops for the school. Would you be willing to be one of these five leaders?”
“Our highest priority right now is getting folks waiting for dental treatment off our waiting list. If we could build a Fund of $50,000, we could serve everyone in need tomorrow. Can you consider a leadership gift towards establishing this Fund?”
Specific, outcome-oriented answers– with price tags attached — will make everybody happy.
Essentially, you’re asking for a gift – but the ask comes in the form of an answer. An answer your donor solicited! How cool is that?
If you can get donors to ask this powerful question, you’re solicitation suddenly becomes a piece of cake.
“HOW CAN I HELP?”
Be a Philanthropy Facilitator and Matchmaker
Be helpful. Make giving to you easy. And “just right.”
Tell your donor precisely what they can bring to the table.
Think of this as the equivalent of asking your dinner host “What can I bring?” — only to have your host say “Bring whatever you want,” or “Just bring yourselves,” This always makes me feel a bit lost. I don’t know what they truly expect of me. I love it when the host gives me a specific answer like “How about bringing a dessert?” Especially when they know I love to bake!
The host who gives the non-specific answer likely thinks they’re being kind and not burdening me. Instead, I often end up feeling a bit bad about this outcome. I consider bringing a dessert, but then worry they may already have one. I feel I probably should contribute, but don’t know what they need. I worry they’ll judge me if I make the incorrect choice.
Sound at all familiar?
Don’t make your donors worry you’re judging them for how much they gave, or the purpose for which they earmarked their gift.
Be a matchmaker.
All of fundraising is about matching donor values to the values your organization enacts every day. By telling donors compelling stories, you uncover their values. When you hit on a value they share, they’ll self-identify as someone who wants to become an active mover and shaker for your cause.
By asking “HOW CAN I HELP?”
Answering Your Donor’s Central Question Banishes Fundraising Fear
How often have you, your board and/or volunteers been afraid to ask for a gift?
How much money have you left on the table as a result?
Replace fear with courage.
Have the courage to tell your memorable, actionable story. Tell it with passion, infuse it with color and details, and show what wonders will ensue if the donor jumps into the story to give it a happy ending.
Most people want to make our world a better and more caring place. Telling a compelling story designed to influence people to do something positive they’re already predisposed to do – something that matches their values and makes them feel good – is a fine thing.
Don’t short-change your donors. Help them help you.
This will make them feel wonderful.
Every ask you don’t make is a gift you don’t get — and a gift you don’t give to donors who seek meaning and purpose in their lives.
Become one of the good guys. Freely facilitate philanthropy. You’ll find you attract a lot of good guys in return.
Want to Learn to Ask for Major Gifts Joyfully?
Whether you’re new to raising major gifts or have had a program for awhile, my 8-week online course, Winning Major Gifts Fundraising Strategies for the small to medium-size shop will enable you to take things to the next level. There’s nothing else you can do that will have such an enormous impact on your bottom line. An upfront investment will yield results far into the future – as long as you take things step-by-step according to a plan. Learn exactly what to do – and when and how to do it — in this course. Check out the full syllabus HERE.
If you’re already an enrolled Clairification School student, make sure you log in to grab the Exclusive Student Savings of $200.
If you’re not yet a Clairification School student, you can enroll and register for the course simultaneously to get the additional student discount.
You’ll get CFRE credits… there’s a refund policy if you’re not satisfied… you can enroll up to 5 additional people for no extra fee… and this time next year you’ll be popping corks! I’m here to help you, if you’ll let me.
Hope to see you in school!
I usually burn through e-mail, but this article grabbed me so I clicked on the link, logged onto the site (I joined last week) and slowly and thoughtfully read the article. Thank you. Now, I am going to print it out and share with my staff!
“How can I help?” — we make it so much harder!
Again, thank you.
Thank YOU Bruce. I love that you’re sharing this with your team. And, BTW, this is a great question team members should ask each other regularly. It’s how a culture of philanthropy is built. 🙂