How to Ask This Giving Season

I’ve been so focused on the giving side of things lately that I haven’t spent as much time on the asking side.  Nonprofits are hurting.  Estimates are that giving was down 30% in October alone – I can’t imagine what November and December are going to look like.  Stories like this one about Goodwill Industries are becoming typical; basically donations are down and demand for services are up.

However, ironically, maybe even paradoxically, the Chronicle reports that while gift buying is down people still intend to give to their favorite caues this holiday season.

So, what gives — or maybe, more accurately, who gives?  I’m guessing (and really it’s just a guess) that people in their heart of hearst want to report that they will causes they feel passionately about, even when their wallots say they shouldn’t and when nonprofit spreadsheets say they aren’t. So, the real question isn’t whether donations are up or down, but how can we activate a lot of people who want to give to each donate a little this holiday season?

Part of what we have to overcome is the oversolicitation of donors who are turned of by being treated like ATM machines.  Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy’s new report (this is only a summary, the full report is due out in early 2009) on why donors stop giving puts it more politely as, “no longer feeling connected to the organization.”

Connectedness trumps wizardy.  This is  always true but particularly relevant now when belts are being tightened.  It is the only way to make donors big and small feel welcome, appreciated and needed.  Katya Andreson reports on a presentation that the fundraising guress Kim Klein at Network for Good this week.  Kim’s suggestions for raising money in tough economic times were:

1. Encourage your donors to give the gift of charity.  It’s the holidays.  People are buying gifts.  Have them make that the gift of charity.

2. Call all your major donors.  She says, “The tendency right now is to think, “Oh, these poor people. They lost so much money.” So you don’t call them. What you actually wind up saying to them, even though you don’t mean to, you wind up saying to them, “All we cared about was your money. Now that you don’t have so much money, I can’t be bothered to call you.” And that is really,

really, really not a message you want to give.  You want to welcome them. You want to write to them and use a follow-up phone call to say something like, “We thank you for all you’ve done for us over the years. We are determined to hang in there and continue to do our work as best we can. We hope you will support us at whatever level feels acceptable to you.” Focus on the donor, not the donation!

3. Tell 70+ donors how to save on taxes!  She says, “You can transfer up to $100,000 in any given year directly from their IRA to a charitable organization and they pay no income tax on that. Normally if you withdraw money from your IRA you pay a tax, whatever tax bracket you’re in that year. And of course if you donate it, you claim that tax donation.  This is a very nice provision that allows you to avoid taxation and still claim the donation, so it’s kind of a double tax advantage.”

4. For smaller organizations especially, share a wish list!  She says, “Tell people, this is the stuff we need. We need four ergonomic chairs. We need 10 printer toner cartridges. We need 75 reams of paper. We need new filing cabinets.” And you just kind of list all the stuff, everything in your budget.”

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Allison Fine

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