by David T. Warren, VP of National Markets at Everence
About a year after I took my first full-time job as a fundraiser, I had breakfast with the retired director of my church denomination’s foundation. At that point in my career, I was seeking fundraising wisdom everywhere I could find it, attending conferences, going to seminars, and interviewing every contact I could find who had significant experience in my new field. I knew after even just a year that fundraising could be hard work and I wanted to get every advantage I could to help me be successful.
Over 20 years after that deeply encouraging breakfast, two pieces of wisdom stand out that I have repeated to others many times since. This wise gentleman who had raised millions of dollars for the work of the church, who was an accountant by background, and I’m confident never scored as an extrovert on any personality assessment, told me: “I’ve never hesitated to ask for money that I knew would be used well” and later, “The best possible ask is one that will meet a true need.”
These two powerful ideas, coming from this quiet but confident older gentlemen, had a real impact on my confidence in asking people to support the organization where I was working at the time. And they have stuck with me for over 20 years now, during which time I have found my calling as a fundraiser and as a counselor to others engaged in fundraising.
I think these two ideas offer especially good guidance for those of us engaged in the work of encouraging others to meet real needs during this time of deep uncertainty in our world. Below are some suggestions on how I think you can apply these principles at this time. I’ve summarized them under the titles of:
Sensitivity, sincerity, and confidence.
I’ll give you a peek at the end of the story here as I start. We need to move forward with confidence during this time. However, in order for our donors to interpret our confidence correctly, we must lead with sensitivity and sincerity.
As you move forward, fundraising with confidence, preface your fundraising in person and through various channels by acknowledging what your donors are experiencing. You must meet them where they are. Tell them you know they may be worried about illness, or finances, or other issues facing them personally. Give them grace that they may not be the people called to help you at this time. Tell them you get it and that you care about them as people who are invested in your cause and in your organization. Give them space for where they are and what they may be going through. Let them know that their relationship with you and your organization is secure regardless of whether they can support you right now.
After you’ve connected with your donors about where they are, tell them where you are as an organization. Our donors long for authentic communication in all times, but right now they really want it, and they will reward you for it. As my mentor taught me 22 years ago, share the real needs of the people you are helping as an organization. Not your organization’s needs, but the needs of the human beings you are helping during this time.
Make your case for support to your donors, as persuasively during this time as you ever would. If those helped by your organization have greater needs now than they normally do, don’t hide that. Make a strong case for how you are effectively meeting needs during this time, and for how your donor’s dollars will change the life of another person at this moment in history. Be real and be persuasive.
If you have some challenges as an organization in meeting the needs of those you work with, be honest. People aren’t going to reward bad budgeting or poor management, but they will understand unexpected challenges; be transparent.
You’ll recall that my mentor told me, “I have never hesitated to ask for money that I knew would be used well.” So, during this challenging time, be confident about the things you do well, and tell people that you do them well! What are the indicators of your organizational success in meeting the needs of people? What have you been recognized for? What testimonials can you share? Find stories of your successes and get them out to your donors and prospective donors. This is no time for modesty!
You should also continue to fundraise with confidence. Yes, some will not be able to give at this time. However, many will still be able. Don’t say “no” for your donors. Keep asking with sensitivity and sincerity; but keep asking. Don’t give up on your normal avenues of fundraising unless there are obvious reasons to do so. Consider whether alternate opportunities to raise support have opened at this time. This is not a time to be timid. It is a time to be strategic and sensitive.
Finally, tell people how you are moving forward with confidence as an organization. Convey a sense that things are going to get better and that your organization is part of the solution – and so are your supporters. Send the message that you are going to be here as place of hope, healing, and positive change for the future, and you welcome partners in that brighter future!
Blessings on your work. Fundraising is an important calling and a channel of rich blessing to the givers, the receivers, and the “askers.” Please feel free to reach out if you need encouragement!
David Warren is the Vice President of National Markets at Everence® Financial, where he manages a team of over 40 financial professionals nationwide.
He has worked in fundraising in higher education, public broadcasting, and international economic development.
During 2019, Dave’s team at Everence worked with donors to raise over $18 million in charitable gifts to the Everence Foundation.
Dave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.