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  • Writer's pictureDebra A. Gill

Asking for Impact

Updated: Nov 17, 2021

For the love of philanthropy

Asking for money. Easy or hard? When I kick off a training seminar or retreat, I often ask the question “who really enjoys asking for money?” Few people raise their hand. Whether I’m working with staff or volunteers, it’s clear that many have yet to learn the key to effective philanthropy. Asking for contributions isn’t about the money, it’s about creating the opportunity to make an impact. The dollars, whether large transformational gifts or many moderate and small gifts combined, are just a means to an end.

Shifting the focus to impact changes the entire conversation. Do you want to help cure cancer? Is teaching a youngster how to play an instrument important to you? When you last enjoyed a play, a ballet, a theatre performance, a local sporting event or a concert did you look at the donor list and think “I should give to this organization”? Would it be meaningful for you to know that you’ve put food in front of hungry children or provided them with a warm bed while their hard-working parents catch up with their bills?

The list of impacts to be made - opportunities to be fulfilled - by philanthropy is endless. Highly successful fundraising professionals turn apprehension into curiosity. Don’t assume you already know what matters to your donors, how they want to be recognized, what they want to accomplish with their gifts – ask them. It seems simple enough yet too often we speak about our missions so passionately that we forget one of the most basic rules of our industry – we have two eyes, two ears, and one mouth; we must use them proportionately.

The key is asking donors, with a genuine sense of curiosity, what is most likely to fulfill their personal giving goals. The one size fits all approach doesn’t work with impactful philanthropy. We must get to know our donors and their preferences. How do they make their charitable giving decisions? Do they want to support children, their alma mater or church, the environment, healthcare, the arts, social services, animal welfare, or other infinite worthy causes?

And our discovery doesn’t stop when we pinpoint altruistic objectives. The most successful philanthropic specialists develop a keen understanding of a donor’s recognition preferences, desired giving methods and frequency, appetite for multi-year commitments, legacy plans, campaign inclinations, and the like. We must take the initiative to explore creative resources beyond traditional cash contributions to find the best solution for each donor and their family or corporation.

When I think of philanthropy, I think of It’s a Wonderful Life. Without George Bailey, Potter took over the town and the results were less than desirable. Without philanthropy, our communities would be vastly different. Imagine having no libraries, museums, symphonies, ballets, theaters, or operas. Visualize wildlife with no advocates, universities without academic scholarships, for-profit hospitals with no local responsibilities, and churches with no means to grow and thrive. If that were to happen, we would no doubt seek the help of an angel to right the world again. Perhaps those angels are fundraising professionals.

The reality is that each and every one of us are touched by philanthropy in unexpected ways each and every day, often without even knowing it. So, whether you are asking or being asked, take the time to think about impact. What impact do you want your charitable giving to make? What impact can you have by giving others the opportunity to join you in your philanthropic endeavors? As one of my favorite donors once said to me, “You’ll never know unless you ask.”

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their missions.

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