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How-to Library • Featuring articles from past issues of Contributions

But Do You Really Mean It or Are You After Something?
Are donors perceiving even our “thank you’s” as manipulative today?

By Andrea Kihlstedt

In meeting after meeting of development committees across the country, volunteers and staff do everything they can do to avoid making direct, clear, personal contact with their donors. 

They meet for hour after hour planning events, reviewing lists, editing fundraising copy. But when it comes to assigning personal solicitations, there’s better than a good chance they’ll find excuses not to do what they’ve agreed to do.

This is true for small organizations and large. For capital campaigns and annual funds. For experienced volunteers and neophytes. It’s the rare person—staff or volunteer—who relishes the opportunity to invite friends and associates to join them in making a gift to their organization.

I often ask executive directors and development directors how many people they solicit in person each month. Most of them respond with a sheepish shrug, telling me they never seem to have enough time. And in the next sentence they’re likely to tell me how frustrating it is that most of their board members don’t ask either.  I just raise my eyebrow and I can tell they’re relieved to turn the conversation to another subject.

How to Raise $1 Million
ALSO BY THIS AUTHOR: Andrea Kihlstedt is the author of How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in Ten Bite-Sized Steps. For more information, click here.

Why is it so hard to get people to ask for gifts for the organizations they believe in?

What’s so scary? What does this asking process trigger in us that we’d rather live with the discomfort of shirking than push thorough our anxiety and reap the likely returns?

Volunteers and staff alike are so focused on money they forget that people give because they genuinely want to help. They lose sight of the fact that people will give money in order to make a difference in their community.

I recently suggested to a development committee that they identify their top 100 donors and assign calls to thank them for their gifts … nothing more! This should be easy. Indeed it should be fun! And several members of the committee were willing to give it a try. But a few others were worried that the donors would “see through” this process as a ploy to get them to give more money! 

Was it a “ploy”? You could look at it this way, I guess. We will at some time approach them all for more gifts — and we do hope their gifts will be generous.

But does this mean that thanking people is always suspect? What does this say about us—about our inability to authentically appreciate people for the money they give?

If money is all we’re thinking about when we look at a donor’s name on a list, perhaps these worries are justified. But people are far more than their money. They give for reasons far grander than the simple financial exchange. They give because they want to help make a difference in the world. And if in thanking them, we thank them not for the money but for what the money made possible, we might find they’ll come to us asking what more they might do.

“Thank you for allowing us to take care of 10 more children this month.” “Your gift helped us put on the concert last night.” “Without your gift we might not have been able to help Clement enroll in our training program.” “Your gift helped me know that people out there care about what we do.” “Your generosity inspired me to work even harder.” “Your gift helped us get through this very cold winter when heating bills were so high.” The things we might thank people for are endless. They needn’t be grand, they just need to be real.

When we focus on the results of people’s giving, we also remind ourselves of the power and importance of our work. In doing so, we will ignite our own energy for the mission. And our passion for the cause is the single most powerful motivator for overcoming the natural resistance to ask.

Don’t let yourself or others in your organization lose sight of the importance of what you are doing. Money is merely an exchange – nothing more, and nothing less. When people give they do so out of a desire to make a difference. And when they learn that their gifts have made a difference, they may well want to give again … assuming you got out and ask them.

Andrea Kihlstedt is the author of the book, How to Raise $1 Million (or More!) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps, published by Emerson & Church. Kihlstedt has spent the last 27 years as a capital campaign consultant, working with organizations large and small, giving her ample opportunities to observe remarkable people who through their courage, commitment, and energies make our world a better place through fundraising.


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