Serving Your Donors Means Asking

This post first appeared on the Veritus Group blog.

cupped hands illustrating asking

For many years now, my colleagues and I at Veritus Group have been continually perplexed with how many major gift officers around the country are not asking their donors for gifts.

I recall one meeting a few years ago when the development director of a non-profit boldly and proudly claimed, “In my 25 years of fundraising I can say that I’ve never had to ask a donor for a gift.” My mouth fell to the floor.

This was not something to be proud of, I thought, but in this person’s heart and soul this was some sort of badge of honor. This is not uncommon. Right now there are scores of development directors and major gift officers who have been working in fundraising for years and have never really sat across from a donor, looked her in the eye and asked her to make a significant gift.

I know what’s going on here. These folks are afraid to ask. They don’t understand what fundraising is really about. And, to put it bluntly, they really don’t care much for their donors.

I know, that sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? I said it like that on purpose; if someone really cares about serving their donors, they will ask their donors for significant gifts.

I want to be clear. Asking your donors to make an investment in your organization that will make an impact on the world is one the greatest things you can do for a donor. Donors want to give. They need to give. Donors experience joy in their lives when they give their money away.

Make no mistake: if you are not asking donors for gifts it’s not because the donor doesn’t want to be asked – it’s you. You need to examine what is going on inside of your own heart and mind on this.

Richard and I talk about this quite a lot; here are some of our thoughts on what may be blocking you from truly bringing your donors joy:

  1. You’re hung up on money. Our culture isn’t open about money. We don’t like to talk about it. It feels weird to discuss it with friends and family. It makes us uneasy and uncomfortable, and we bring that baggage to our thinking about talking to donors. We project our own “weirdness” of money onto our donors and therefore try to avoid it.
  2. You lack confidence. Many fundraisers are afraid of rejection. Look, no one likes to be rejected. However, if you can separate out the fact that YOU are not the one being rejected, you can gain the confidence necessary to be bold with donors. But you also need to know that, as a fundraiser, sometimes donors will say no to you. It’s part of the job. And, as Richard often says, “no can many times lead to a yes.” No’s help you get better. Embrace the no. Don’t take it personally, and don’t let it take you down a negative path.
  3. You have not embraced what fundraising really is. Fundraising is ultimately about love. It’s powerful. What you do as a fundraiser is this: in one hand you take a need in the world and with the other hand, you bring a donor who has a passion to address that need – then you help these two to come together. If you just sit with that for a bit and let it sink in, you’ll realize how amazing that is. Frankly, I don’t think many fundraisers have actually embraced that concept. Fundraising is about love. That needs to be part of your heart and soul. If you have that, you’re always compelled to ask.
  4. You haven’t figured out yet that serving your donor means asking. If you are a new fundraiser and you’re reading this, then you’ll be far ahead of your older colleagues who may just now be embracing this. Your job with your portfolio of donors is always to serve your donor. If you believe that fundraising is about love, then you have to serve your donor by asking him to support the work of your non-profit. Above all the other ways you serve your donors, this is by far the best way. Yes, you need to figure out their passions and interests, yes you need to make connections for them and show them the impact of their giving and thank them profusely… but if you don’t ask, you are ultimately NOT serving your donors.

If you are having trouble asking your donors to make a significant investment in your organization, then really examine what I’ve said above and see if it holds true for you. Or if you’re contemplating asking for gift but you’re hedging a bit, and you find yourself making excuses why you shouldn’t, or why you think you should not ask “too high,” take some time to check yourself. Does your donor really not want to give that much, or is there something inside you that is holding you back?

Remember, to really serve your donors properly, you have to make that ask.

Jeff Schreifels headshot

JEFF SCHREIFELS: For more than 25 years, Jeff has been developing, planning and executing strategic fundraising and marketing programs. He’s served as Development Director at several nonprofits and was Senior Strategy Director at The Domain Group, where he helped to develop record-setting fundraising programs for the agency’s largest clients. Jeff is the proud father of two young-adult children who are the joy of his life. Jeff is passionate about life, philanthropy, relationships, and the Philadelphia Phillies!