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Don’t Make Decisions for your Donors

Thursday, May 28, 2020 9:45 AM | Anna Matheson (Administrator)

Written by: Joseph Tumolo, CAP®, CEO, Gift Planning Development, LLC

The hot topic on all the social media posts, emails, and zoom webinars center around fundraising during a pandemic. Do we call donors? What do we talk about? Do we ask them for a gift? Every one of our donors are in a different place financially, in their life stage, and their health status.  How can we make a blanket decision regarding our donor’s interest and ability in making a gift? We can’t. There are plenty of donors making large current and deferred gifts during the pandemic. So why take away their right to make a difference and have an impact on the people we serve?

Don’t make decisions for your donors. It’s my favorite phrase to use with my clients and in my work. How many times do we decide on behalf of someone what we think they will prefer without asking them? Here are a few examples I have heard recently; “A donor just made a large major gift a few months ago, we can’t possibly talk to them about a gift from their assets”.  “We upset the donor by misspelling their name in the annual report last week. We can’t possibly talk to them about doing more at this time”. And of course, “we are in a major pandemic, the economy is so uncertain, we can’t possibly talk to our donors about making major gifts”. Sometimes our assumptions are more subtle, and we don’t realize we are doing it. Here is one I caught myself making recently “this person has never made a gift; how could they possibly be open to a conversation about a planned gift”? Turns out the person was a retired, long time employee of the organization and in fact, had provided for the organization in their estate plans already. We most likely never would have known that (during her lifetime).

I am not suggesting that we ignore the reality of what is going on or be apathetic towards what our donors are going through. I am suggesting that we let our donors decide what is best for them. The easiest way to continue to have fundraising conversations with donors is to ask their permission to have a conversation. Take their temperature, ask them if it is appropriate for you to bring up the conversation about them making a gift. I will often say to a donor something like “I know things are very uncertain right now and I was not sure if I should bring up the gift conversation with you, but I do not want to make that decision for you. Is it appropriate for us to have the conversation”?

Stop making decisions for your donors. Present the opportunity for them to decide. This applies to all aspects of your interactions with your donors. Ask them how they would like to be cultivated, asked, and stewarded for their gifts. It will separate you and your organization from the competition.


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