Don't Decide For Your Donors

That sound—it’s a door slamming shut.  And too often, the person doing the shutting is not who you think it might be.  It’s not the prospect saying, “No, I don’t want to support your organization.”  They are not the ones telling you that you are asking too often or for too much.  It is the development or executive director, or a board members, deciding what someone will or won’t do without even bothering to ask. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told, “We can’t ask Joe for that, he won’t be interested, “ or “Jane could never give at that level,” I might not be rich but I’d be a darn sight closer.

When I hear comments like that, I always ask, “And you know that because?” And the answer is never, “I asked him;”  “She told me.”

Rule number one in fundraising is don’t assume.  Don’t think that just because you “know” someone you have an inside track of what they will or will not support at what level.  Yes, do your homework.  Know what their capacity appears to be.  But don’t make the mistake of thinking your research will uncover everything—either up or down.

There was a study done a long time ago where people with capacity but without a history of philanthropy were asked why they didn’t make charitable gifts.  “No one asked,” was the response by over 80% of them.  I doubt if that study were done today much would be different.

Asking, however, should not be confined to asking for the gift.  First you should ask for their attention.  Then ask for their interest and involvement.  And only when they are clearly interested and involved should you ask for their investment.

Sometimes that investment should be of their time.  Other times, ask them to share their talents—volunteer or give advice; serve on a committee or on the board.  And when you ask for their treasure, ask for a meaningful gift.

What’s meaningful?  Ask them.  That’s another ask you need to make before asking for a financial commitment.

Mostly, however, give them that opportunity to learn more about your organization and your cause.  Don’t decide without talking to them that they will or will not want to be a part of your community.

In other words, open your doors wide—and invite as many people and organizations inside.  Some will say no.  Some will shut the door, often right in your face.  But many will accept your invitation to come inside.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and build more committed boards.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for the free monthly newsletter.