Retiring the Tin Cup

Posted: December 12, 2013

It’s mid-December and the annual end-of-year “ask” is well in progress. Virtually every cause is reminding donors that it’s still around and in need of support. The approach can be overwhelming, with a multitude of letters and emails asking – sometimes, what seems like begging, or worse, badgering – individuals to give.

I’m not saying that nonprofits shouldn’t make year-end appeals. Some donors undoubtedly appreciate the nudge, particularly when donations are tax deductible. Others may welcome the opportunity to honor persons they hold dear with a charitable alternative to traditional gifting.

But, to restate, it’s the approach. I call it the “tin cup” syndrome. I see too many organizations echoing Dickens’ Oliver Twist, with a “Please, sir, I want some more” tone to appeals. Volume is key, as though the fifth “please give” is the magic reminder. Perhaps it is for some donors. But let’s be honest: guilt and appeals exhaustion are not viable philosophies of fund development.

GivingPleasure of Giving

There is a better way to ask and it comes from understanding what motivates people to give. There are multiple studies that show people who make charitable donations are happier, healthier and even viewed as more attractive by others. Brain scans reveal that giving activates feelings of pleasure. Research also demonstrates that people are more motivated to give when they donate to a person or group they know or when a donation builds a social connection.

This is powerful stuff. It confirms that conveying the satisfaction that comes from giving has awesome fundraising potential. And it supports what has been my mantra for some time: relationships are at the heart of fundraising.

Fund development, as part of your strategic plan, is a year-round endeavor. Make developing relationships with your donors a priority throughout the year and you won’t need to deluge them in November and December, tin cup in hand.

How you do it matters, in big and small ways. I recently received a donation request from an organization I have a history with that addressed me by my full name: Dear first, last, middle initial too. My immediate reaction: wait a minute, you know me! That detail diminished our relationship – certainly the opposite of what was intended.

Giving Through, Not To

As you look ahead to fundraising in 2014, keep in mind a central truth. People give not to your organization but through it. Your nonprofit is the means by which individuals can support a cause that has meaning for them. Here’s a personal example: I can’t go to Africa to help a woman with a disfiguring condition, but through an organization I can fund the operation she needs and change a woman’s life. That knowledge thrills me and makes me want to give again.

Find the equivalent for your fundraising appeal. Communicate that you understand your place in the giving dynamic. Tap into the pleasure donors receive when they give. Do everything you can to enhance the experience of giving for your donors. Accomplish all that and you can retire the tin cup for good.

Looking for guidance with fund development? Let’s talk.