How Can I Help?
Raise your hand if you’ve heard any of the following (or some variation thereof) from someone on your Board, your Finance or Development Committees or even on your staff:
“How can we ask people for money right now?”
“People are losing their jobs or getting furloughed… the last thing they are thinking about is donating to us.”
“The stock market has to calm down before we can talk to any of our major donors about their support / our campaign.”
These perceptions are all understandable and – at the same time, I would offer – all 100% misguided.
No doubt you’ve heard the very good advice that we should be connecting with our donors and volunteers right now to check in on them, to share the impact they are having and to make sure they know how much we value their partnership in our mission. This is absolutely the time to engage with our donors. It is also the right time to ask those in a position to provide financial support to do just that.
Why? Because we are all wired to want to help. Even in the midst of our own anxieties and challenges, we instinctively want to do whatever we can to help others.
I was on a call with a colleague a few weeks back and he started out asking after my wife’s hunger relief organization. “How are they holding up? Is there anything I can do?” As the conversation progressed, he expressed his concerns about being able to fundraise right now.
Again, I totally get where he was coming from, why he was feeling that way. Nevertheless, in response I said, “We’re going to keep asking people to support our missions because (a) we know they care about this work and (b) just like you expressed at the start of our call, they want to know what they can do to help.”
Remember, we know that focusing on the donor’s needs is always the path to success in fundraising. When we understand what it is that matters most to them and how, in partnership with our organization, they can solve the problems they care about solving, that’s when donors are most likely to inspire us with their generosity. And right now, what is true for almost everyone who is able to donate… they want to help.
A few more examples to illustrate why I believe we should be asking, unapologetically, for support:
The chief development officer at an organization we work with sent a simple thank you/thinking of you note to one of their donors. A week later the donor, who had already given their usual annual amount, sent them a four-figure donation that was two times the amount of any previous contribution. Their note said, “Thank you for thinking of me and I just want to do what I can to help you in your work.”
A longtime and very dedicated volunteer reached out to my wife’s hunger relief organization to let them know, because of her age, she couldn’t come in to pack bags. Three days later a five-figure check arrived with a note saying, “I’m so sorry I can’t be there with you right now, but I want to help and this I can do.”
Finally, we had a solicitation with a donor for a capital campaign this past week. The meeting had been set up over two months ago and, to our surprise, the donor wanted to meet as planned (virtually of course). They made a generous commitment (actually beyond our ask amount) and, when they asked about timing and we told them if they needed/wanted additional time before making their initial pledge payment, the donor said, “Why would I wait? I have a donor advised fund and, as far as I’m concerned, this is why I do. If it would help, I’m happy to make this a one-time gift.”
Now, don’t get me wrong. We certainly must be sensitive in our outreach and avoid being tone deaf in our appeals. But, if our work and the impact of our mission mattered before, it still does, and we simply must ask for the support we need.
Too many of our partners and friends are wondering what they can do to help. In many cases, it’s just up to us to ask them to.
Thank you, as always, for the life-changing work you are doing day in and day out.
Breathe, hold strong and stay safe.
David Gee, Vice President, HPS Chicago