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To Ask or Not to Ask

Have you ever heard the old saying, If you ask someone for advice, they’ll probably give you money, but if you ask someone for money, don’t be shocked if they give you advice? As fundraisers, you very probably have.

You’ve probably also heard what I call the #1 donor complaint: The only time I hear from the nonprofits I give to is when they need money.

What’s a fundraising professional to do? After all, asking for support is your (and your department’s) responsibility. In fact, as I have written about many times in the past, not asking often enough is one of the biggest mistakes fundraisers can make.

Look at just about any successful development office and you’ll find one thing they’re not shy about is asking. Appeals are made for donations on a regular, sometimes monthly, basis. And, brace yourself for this, just because an individual gives doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be asked again. Not at all. Many follow-up relatively quickly with another appeal. Why?

Research continues to show that the more frequently donors are asked—and give—the more apt they are to give again in the future. But don’t be fooled. By no means, does this mean that your cause should only ask for more money.

Sophisticated annual giving professionals know that donor engagement involves more than just gift solicitation. These are seasoned pros who take pains to create direct mail pieces that specifically ask their supporters for advice. Take for example a university that sends a headline like this: “You may have graduated one or 51 years ago. To us it doesn’t matter. Please share with us any useful advice you may have that would be helpful to new students.” A reply card is included for responses so graduates can respond with their opinions on any number of topics.

One particular university we worked with sent this kind of a mailing out in early May as a test alongside a biographical update mailing usually sent at the same time of year. The goal was to imitate the experience of filling something out and sending a gift. An email, including a link to a digital survey, was then sent a few weeks later as a follow-up to the print mail piece. Not overtly intended to be viewed as a gift solicitation, the mailing did include a subtle mention for additional support at the bottom of the page.

Good engagement and fundraising strategies must have, at their heart, asking. The trick is to be expansive in what you’re asking for. And remember, gifts can come in many sizes and types, for example, time, talent, and treasure. When you have a donor willing to give in all three of these ways, pay attention. That person is someone who cares, probably deeply, about your nonprofit.

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