No fundraiser has a crystal ball. Although it would be nice, the reality is that preparing for “the ask” only goes so far. Everything from a fundraiser’s job title to patience and timing all come into play when soliciting a gift of any size. During the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ recent annual conference in Baltimore, Md., Harvey McKinnon, CFRE and president of Harvey McKinnon Associates in Ontario, Canada, gave fundraisers the burning questions donors have when being solicited, and just how to handle them.
1. Why Me? McKinnon said all donors want to understand why they are being pinpointed for giving, and should be made to feel they can inspire others by contributing. “Your job is to figure out how you can break into their circle of concern,” he said. “Show you care, make sure you have met. That personal meeting makes an enormous difference with people.”
2. Why are you asking me? The actual person who is doing the ask is extremely important in this situation, McKinnon said. Those who are higher up in the organization will be more successful than their subordinates, or those who have not been with the charity for as long. “Some organizations will give people titles to make them sound more senior than they are,” McKinnon said. “Trust is something that is partly earned because they see your passion and your commitment to the cause.”
3. Do I respect you? Donors always want to know about the person who is doing the ask. If a fundraiser has done volunteering, or has proved they are committed to the community or a cause themselves, it gives them more clout with prospective donors. “Preparing answers to those types of questions (from donors) is critical,” he said. “Integrity helps to gain respect, and there is a real pressure.”
4. How much do you want? Many times, a donor will not give what they think they should give, but instead, will give what you ask them to give, McKinnon said. Also, those who are wealthy often are approached by many charities, so it is best to seek major gifts from donors who have their priorities straight. “You want them to give enough that they still feel good,” he said. “Most donors make their largest gift between the seventh and ninth donation. People have a great giving capacity, way more than we think. Over time, you learn what is appropriate and what’s not.”
5. Why your organization? Fundraisers have to distinguish their groups from other organizations to show donating will be impactful. This can be done though showing authentic visuals such as videos or photos, he said. “If you can’t define what your unique selling proposition is as an organization, you have a big problem,” McKinnon said. “The practical successes of your organization need to be shown. This is critically important.”
6. How will my gift make a difference? Giving allows the donor the opportunity to feel great joy, and charities should tap into that, McKinnon said. Show the donor they have the chance to make a substantial impact by giving.
7. Is there an urgency to make a gift? Many donors respond well to deadlines, McKinnon said, therefore they should be made and followed. “People like deadlines. It refocuses the passion and why you are doing what you are doing,” he said.
8. How easy is it to give? A donor will be interested in contributing if you make it easy for them to do so. Catering to the donor audience, and taking out unnecessary steps will bring money in more quickly.
9. How will I be treated? Good copy makes a huge difference in inspiring to give, McKinnon said. Potential donors want to feel appreciated when engaging with an organization. “A personal touch from the people at the back end of the organization helps a great deal,” he said. “Job hopping is really tragic from a donor relations standpoint,” because it does not allow for continued communication.
10. How will you measure results? Honesty with donors is the best policy. A charity must be truthful about where the money is going, and whether or not it was used for something that proved to be successful, McKinnon said. “One really effective way to do this is to talk about your organization’s successes and failures,” he said, “and what you have learned from them.”
11. Will I have a say in how you use my money? Allowing a donor to feel included in the process, and giving them time to make the decision is necessary. Give them information about how the money is being used while it is happening, not just the results.