In many of the development trainings we lead, we talk about how best to assess a donor’s likelihood of saying “yes” to an organization’s invitation to support them in their work. It can be equally helpful, though, to flip the dynamic and ask a different question: “what are donors looking for as they assess us and our appeal to them?”
Decades of experience, with the successes and failures that have come with it, have taught us that our most generous supporters tend to evaluate us across four different dimensions.
First, do I, as a prospective supporter, have a foundation of trust in the institution and its ability to deliver on its commitments OR do I have that base of trust with the person who has reached out to me? This initial and most important question speaks directly to the vital role of ongoing stewardship and the need for our governance leaders to embrace their roles as advocates and matchmakers.
Second, does the organization have a clearly articulated and documented case for support? Are they clear about the change the want to see in the world, what they want to do to affect that change, how much it will cost and how my support can help? Today’s cases don’t need to be perfect and they should deliberately leave space for ongoing ideation and evolution, but the most effective organizations have made a good start in framing up for donors what a better future will look like.
Third, do they have a plan 1) to raise the necessary support to affect the change they envision, and 2) to implement and make real that proposed change once they’ve raise the money they seek? Development planning and instilling faith in an organization’s ability to execute effectively are increasingly important to major, principal and transformative donors.
Finally, do they have the courage to ask me for what they hope I will provide? All of our experience makes clear that there is a hard line that separates thriving organizations from those with wide margins for improvement: a willingness to extend that explicit invitation for support. It’s an oversimplification to remind our readers that the number one reason people give is because someone asked them. However, fundamentally, the courage to utter these words: “We’d like to ask you to consider a gift of ___________ to support us in making this vision real” is consistently the difference between good and great in philanthropy.
Do four things: build trust, articulate your case, demonstrate planning and ask for what you need. You’ll be glad you did.