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The Self-Restricting Ask

Scenario: You just received a check from one of your most loyal donors—a renewal of his annual $2,500 contribution.

Secretly, you look at yourself in the mirror and think you’re “all that.”

Now put yourself in this situation (perhaps it’s happened to you before): You’ve just received that $2,500 gift. You come into the office the next morning and learn that this donor

  • Just gave $35,000 to the theater in her local community from her $1.2 million IRA

  • Is seriously considering starting a college fund for her new grandson

  • Is preparing to put her vacation home up for sale

  • Is getting ready to retire and sell the family business, including the building in which it is located.

How is that $2,500 annual gift looking to you now?

A donor who yearly writes you a check for $2,500 doesn’t really put much thought into the gift, wouldn’t you agree? To that donor, $2,500 probably doesn’t qualify as a major gift even if it meets your minimum to be called major. That donor is likely to have a higher, perhaps much higher, capacity.

The point here is that an annual gift isn’t necessarily a major gift. The lesson is, if you are continuing to ask your annual donor for the same amount as he or she has been giving for the last few years, you very well may have been missing out on opportunities for more, maybe even much more, for all those years. The bigger issue is that if you’re asking for relatively insignificant upgrades in gift amounts, you’re missing out.

You should be inviting your donor or prospect to set the amount with you. And not by phone or mail. Let’s go back to Fundraising 101 for a moment. These donors who give annual, substantial gifts are, in effect, telling you they see the potential for, and would like to enter into a long-standing relationship with, you and your organization.

Think about this: your $2,500 annual donor almost for sure supports other non-profits. Someone else, be it the donor’s church, school, or hospital is having a dialogue about something more. That other organization may be involved in conversations with your $2,500 donor about a $50,000 gift. Even then, the donor may have so much more capacity than that.

You need to invite prospective major donors to participate in determining what they want to support, how, and to what degree. This implies, of course, that you’re doing your prep work in order to decide what amount is appropriate to ask for.

Have you ever thought about this—instead of asking for gifts, invite donors to have a conversation about their gifts to your organization.

The way we see it, there’s two steps in this process:

  1. Find out what motivates donors and talk about that with them.

  2. Talk with your donors/prospects about how to accomplish their philanthropic goals.

You know what conversations can accomplish? Without them, the non-profit down the street may benefit and not you. Get the picture? Invite your donors and prospects into meaningful funding conversations.

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