Making a Mega Difference

Today, in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, there were at least 3 stories about gifts to nonprofit organizations that each exceeded $50 million.  I read these and instead of wow, I feel…well, despair.  

Like most of us—99% of us, in fact—these are numbers I cannot even fathom. let alone think about giving away as a charitable gift—or even to my kids!  It is a world beyond my abilities.

I’m certainly not alone.  Clients tell me that they are losing small donations at  greater rates than ever before.  Donors tell me that they hear about these mega gifts and think, “Why bother?  What could my measly gift even mean?”

That, of course, is the wrong way to think.

Most mega gifts go to mega organizations.  When I was an on the ground fundraiser, had I only measured my success by amount of money raised, I would have only been successful when I was raising funds for large organizations.  Yet, some of my best successes—if not the most money—came when I worked at much smaller organizations.  

Gifts tend to be commensurate with the operating budget of the nonprofit.  Foundations won’t give more than 25%; individuals typically give far less than that. 

Our job is to show our donors how their gifts, even if they don’t come close to 8 figures, make a difference in the work we do.

Showing your donors what you achieve largely because of their support makes a difference.  Instead of always going to your donors with your hand held out for more, clasp their hands and thank them for making things happen. 

Showing them results is different than accounting.  Instead of saying, “Your gift of $50 bought x hot lunches,” tell them how without the help of those who contribute to the organization, your clients would be hungry.  “You helped to feed our children, and more—because they aren’t hungry, our kids do better academically and socially.  Thank you for making this difference.”

Tell stories—and make sure that all your stories have some tension. That is, don’t just show what your work does, but tell what happens if you aren’t there.  Tell your donors how they are part of making a change for the better.  In order to show that, you must also show what occurs if they aren’t part of the equation. 

Nonprofits often tell prospects that “your gift of any size” counts. Truthfully, there are sizes of gifts that are so small they actually cost the organization.  But, more to the point, it is important to ask your prospective donors to be aspirational.  We are all pretty hardwired to spend the least we can to get what we want.  That’s why sales are so popular.  Rather than “Your gift of any size,” consider saying “your support is critical.  Because of you we will be able to.......”

Our job is to make donors feel that what they do makes a difference because it does.  And it needn’t be a mega gift to mean a mega lot!

Janet Levine