When I first became a fundraiser, I was taught how to overcome objections, the reasons that prospective donors provide when explaining why they will not make gifts. If someone told me that the amount was too high, I could offer paying in installments over time. If a person were upset because they weren’t receiving their alumni magazine anymore, I could update their address or their mail control code, removing that barrier. The training focused on responding to objections directly stated by donors. It also communicated to me that everyone out there has a reason (or many reasons) not to give.
As we think about prospective donors, we can easily imagine the reasons they may not have the capacity or the inclination to give. That’s usually an internal dialogue, but I took a stab at drafting a solicitation letter that puts those concerns right out there:
April 1, 2021
Dear Potential Donor,
I’ve been wanting to reach out to you for a while now, but it just never seems like the right time. Regardless, I committed myself to writing today to invite you to join me in supporting our organization’s deserving beneficiaries/students/clients/patients/visitors/guests by making a gift of $XXX.
I’m not sure that my outreach will be welcome, because I’m acutely aware that we’re in the throes of a global pandemic and related economic downturn, but I truly hope that you and yours are well. I am also hesitant to seek your support, not knowing if you and/or others in your family have been directly and adversely affected by these challenges. And if you’ve been fortunate enough to remain healthy and employed, I suspect that you might prefer to focus your philanthropic dollars on charities that are providing the most direct support to those who are ill/hungry/creating vaccines/serving as first responders rather than our organization. I know those needs are truly great.
If you’ve read this far, I’m hoping that means that you’re still able and willing to at least consider including our organization among your philanthropic priorities. Our mission is truly important, and, given the state of the world today, even more relevant and pressing. But I’ve heard from some people that they are dedicating more of their funds to supporting their political party and specific candidates, because our nation’s future is at stake. Maybe you’re in that boat?
You gave to us in the past, and we appreciated it, but it’s been a few years since we’ve heard from you. I think you dropped out around the time that our president/CEO/board chair made that decision about programming/staffing/our location/parking that upset several members of our community—could that be what’s keeping you from participating? I also got emails from three people recently expressing concern about a news article/social media post/talk show segment that mentioned one of our counselors/coaches/doctors/performers/employees—I’m starting to wonder if you saw it and had the same negative reaction. Please know that we are investigating the issue and will take appropriate action, as needed, to address it.
The more I think about it, maybe I shouldn’t even be writing now, while you’re finalizing your income tax return for last year. Are you feeling like our organization is only focused on the “big guys,” and you don’t have enough resources to make a gift that would be meaningful to us? Or maybe you think that we have more money than other deserving organizations, and we don’t really need you or your gift. Please know that we value every donor and happily put every gift to work to fulfill our important mission. But I’m worried that our stewardship somehow failed to make this clear to you or is not as good as what you get from other organizations.
You could help us do so much good in the world and improve the lives of so many, which is why I really should ask you to make a gift today. But what if you’re thinking that we send you too many appeals, and I’m adding one more to the pile? And then, if I don’t ask, will I be confirming your suspicion that you aren’t actually important to us?
Thank you very much for your thoughtful consideration of my request (if you are open to receiving it right now). I recognize that there are many potential reasons why you may not give today, but we would be so grateful to have the benefit of your support once again.
Wishing you all the best,
The Bottom (Punch) Line
April Fool’s! I would never send this letter or anything like it, and I know that no one else would either. Please don’t take it seriously!
I’m sharing it today, because we often have similar “conversations” with our donors in our heads, and they can prevent us from asking. I’ve seen solicitation letters that “proactively” include an objection or two (with responses). The readers may not have thought of the objection themselves, yet now the institution has raised it for them! We need to stop doing these things. One of my rules of the road is “never raise an objection for the donor.” Wait for them to raise it with you (and often they won’t).
One of my favorite fundraising volunteers has a mantra—“If you’ve met one alum, you’ve met one alum.” It serves as an important reminder that, just because one person shared an objection with you (or even hundreds signed a petition about an issue), they are only speaking for themselves. Our individual prospective donors are just that—individuals. Until we ask them to give and they respond, we can’t know what they’re really thinking.
In these challenging times, it’s important to be thoughtful and to be human, but it’s also extremely important to keep asking. The amazing nonprofits we serve really need the support.
Tammie L. Ruda