Be Happy

My client, an educational organization, didn’t want to ask their alumni for support.  A social service agency felt that their volunteers were already giving so much they couldn’t possibly ask for a donation.  Another agency says its clients are too poor to be asked. None of these organizations are doing well financially.  In fact, all three are operating pretty much in the red.  And I’m not going to claim that if they asked their alums, their volunteers, their clients for support, it would put them in the black.  But it would signal a change of attitude about fundraising that would—over time—pay off handsomely.

Regular readers of this blog know that one way to get me up on my soapbox is to compare fundraising with begging or talk about “hitting on” a prospective donor.  I get incensed with people tell me that it is “embarrassing” to ask for support.  My answer is always the same: “If you don’t feel that you are giving someone an opportunity to be part of an extraordinary organization that does terrific things, you are in the wrong place.  That’s true whether you are staff or a member of the Board.  Making a donation is not a chore or onerous—it is a blessing, a gift.  Indeed, the latter is the word we use to describe support that is given.

But if you don’t feel that way, what do think that does to the person who is making the gift?

Many years ago, I was at something—a concert, a premiere, a sports event—and the crowd was really pumped up.  I, however, was too cool for such nonsense.  Frankly, I thought they (the others in the audience) were pretty lame.  And I said as much to the person standing next to me.  Who moved away.  Undeterred, I said it again to the person who was now standing next to me.

“So leave,” she said.  “If you don’t want to be here, go.”

Hmmm.  But truth was, I didn’t want to leave.  I just wasn’t comfortable in the role of a fan.

Instead of acknowledging my discomfort and trying to enjoy what clearly had some appeal to me (or else, why was I there? And why didn’t I leave?), I took the road of least resistance.  I called it lame, stupid and—worst of all (for me!)—held back and didn’t allow myself to enjoy whatever it was.

I think too often we act that way about fundraising.

Instead of allowing ourselves to enjoy it and revel in the fact that we get to give others the joy of being able to give, we focus on the dark side.  We worry that the person won’t want to give.  So what?  Maybe he or she doesn’t know enough about our organization—and now you have an incredible opportunity to show them why their gift will mean so much. Perhaps timing is wrong, or the size of the gift is too much of a stretch right now.

Worse case scenario is that they either don’t care very much for your cause or organization or they are highly invested in some other cause or organization.  There.  That didn’t hurt so much, did it.  And now, perhaps, you’ve had the chance to learn about some other nonprofit or were able to negotiate a more comfortable gift for them.

Try this.  As you think about the fundraising you need to do in order to do your job or fulfill your Board obligation, cast your mind back to the last charitable gift you gave.  Study after study show that making a gift makes the giver happy.  I’ll bet that when you signed that check or pledge card, happy was the way you felt. Satisfied that you were doing good and that, because of you, good things would happen.

Take that feeling and know that by asking others to support your good organization you are offering them that feeling and that opportunity to help make the world a little bit better.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and to build better, more involved and engaged boards.  She is the co-teacher of the online Get Grants class, and co-author of Get Ready, Get Set, Get Grants.  Learn more about Janet’s consulting and training at