Do We Forget to Ask?

Are you a student of philanthropy?  Or a student of fundraising?

There’s a difference.  Students of philanthropy discover WHY donors feel motivated to support a cause.  Students of fundraising learn HOW the invitation is extended to do that.

Either way, every so often we students need to do more than give it a passing glance or a quick read.  Being a student calls us to hunker down and actually study.

We can study the elements of a transformational gift and, when we do, discover the similarities in most leadership gifts. It’s remarkable how often the same things are evident.

We can study why development shops succeed and how major gifts officers find the time and make the time to be out, engaging with donors.

I want to be a life-long learner. I love discovering why an organization or one of its programs is successful.

The other day I came upon the publication of a little-known but highly successful nonprofit.  They raise over $10 million every year and serve the poor in a broad geographic area in the United States.  The publication (I guess you could call it a magazine) taught me three lessons.

The piece itself is 40 pages.  It’s been in existence for more than 100 years.  The inside pages are a glossy stock but the front and back covers are treated somehow to give a more textured, sturdy, feel.  Substantive, I guess you could say.

The piece, full color, is well-designed throughout but decidedly not fancy.  Not cutting edge by any means.  Hey, they serve the poor. Their donors would be annoyed, I think, by fancy.

The real lessons were inside the piece.  In 40 pages I counted a minimum of 15 stories, long and brief alike, that talk specifically about what the organization does and how the support from donors is put to work. There is zero ambiguity about it.  Over and over, the reader is shown the impact of their giving. Really, it’s the only thing the publication does, except to:


In the 40 page piece there are six requests for support.  Including the back cover!  Four full-page invitations to enable the work the rest of the publication describes in remarkable detail.

And the interesting thing is, the multiple asks do not seem to be over-kill, or in any way out of place.  They seem, well, expected.  Normal.  If I were a donor to this organization I would expect them to ask.  How else is the work going to happen?

That’s one of the two things donors want the most: to know how their gift will be used and that it will make a difference to someone.

I wonder how often we neglect to extend our own invitation to give.  And how often we forget it must be in partnership with how the gift will be invested.

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