Re-Framing the Narrative: Is this a $500 problem or a $500,000 one?


One of my clients was recently telling me how much she was looking forward to making her first million dollar ask. Like many development professionals, this was clearly an item on her bucket-list.

I inquired if there was any correlation between the amount of an ask and the level of anxiety she might experience in relationship to the solicitation–sharing the adage that, “the number of zeros make absolutely no difference.”  My client’s less than enthusiastic response was mostly anticipated. “Oh sure, that’s easy to say, but a lot harder to manage when we’re talking about a gift like that!

That’s when I offered up a different idea that a blazingly intelligent colleague once shared with me. What if, instead of leading with the dollar amount, we focused our conversations with donors on the problems they care about solving?

In other words, what if we re-frame the narrative of the ask?

The organization was launching an exciting new initiative that was, no doubt, going to speak to the philanthropic passions of a number of our key donors. After sharing details about the initiative, the impact it could have for youth in our community and confirming the donor’s anticipated buy-in, I suggested we pose the following questions: “Given the opportunity this new program offers, where does helping to solve this problem rank in terms of your philanthropic priorities? From your perspective, is this a $500 problem or a $500,000 problem?”

While there are absolutely times when it is best to present a specific number to a donor, this approach has proven quite effective when we know that the campaign priority or major gift initiative truly aligns with the donors’ specific philanthropic desires. The idea here is to help our donors shift from focusing on the amount of a gift to how they might fully embrace the role they wish to play in solving a problem they deeply care about.

At the end of the day, that’s one of the most rewarding aspects of our work as fundraisers, helping people achieve their goals to make the world a better place. And when we can have a conversation centered on that, it makes it a whole lot easier to stop fretting over the number of zeros.

by: David Gee, Associate Vice President, HUB Philanthropic Solutions


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