Specific.It’s an amazing dynamic when you can stop and see the logic of it.
I’m talking about how the lack of specificity in fundraising suppresses and diminishes giving.
But so many managers and leaders miss this point. And Jeff and I don’t understand why – because it’s not true in real life, so why should it be true in the non-profit world?
Managers and leaders are expecting you to bring in unrestricted gifts, and at the same time, they’re demanding larger gifts and success in major gift fundraising. It doesn’t make sense. Let me explain.
A non-specific ask, like “give to the general fund” or “help us do our great work,” is not as appealing as a problem specific, time-limited ask. It isn’t. But the manager/leader is “forced” to try to get that kind of money to cover the need for operational funds – that 25% to 35% of overhead that donors have a harder timing giving to.
It makes sense that donors would have a hard time with this. In the commercial world, we wouldn’t expect a buyer to buy a product without a detailed description of what the product is or what it will do to solve or address the situation we want the product for.
Imagine going into a hardware store and asking the customer service person the following question: “I’m trying to find a tool (WHAT you need) that will locate a stud behind the drywall (PROBLEM you’re trying to solve) in a room I’m remodeling. Do you have such a tool?” And the customer service person replies: “Well, there are thousands of great tools in this store. If you can just go to the cash register and give them $35, I think your problem will be solved because that $35 will assure that the tool you seek, and thousands of other tools will be available to good customers like you!” And then he walks away.
How ridiculous is that interaction? Totally and unashamedly ridiculous! It’s absurd and irrational. Why would any customer service person talk to a customer, who has identified a specific problem they are trying to address, that way? They wouldn’t.
But we expect donors to support a situation like that happily. “Just trust us,” we say. “Give us the money, and we’ll take care of the details.” Why would a donor want to do that? They won’t. And they don’t.
It’s why donors give substantially less to non-specific asks. In their book The Science of Giving, Daniel Oppenheimer and Christopher Olivola address the tangibility of giving. They’ve done specific research that shows donors will give three times as much to a tangible (specific) ask vs. a non-tangible ask.
So the ask with NO geographic focus, NO specific mention of how money will be used, and NO description of the problem being solved will result in giving that is three times LESS than one where there’s a geographic focus (answering the question where), there’s a description of a specific problem to be solved, and how the money will be used.
It makes sense. Of course it does. So as you’re preparing your asks for this important year-end, take this into account. Do not, under any circumstance, replicate the above hardware store scenario in your asks. Be specific and tangible. That’s what your donor wants. And if you deliver that, you’ll bring them great joy and fulfillment. (Tweet it!)