Inspiring Generosity

Let’s face it.  There’s nothing we can do to convince a stingy person to become generous.  It’s beyond our powers.  And thankfully, it’s not our job!

When we ask donors to fund worthwhile causes, we relate primarily to people who already have a tendency to be generous.  Our work involves connecting these generous individuals with missions and ministries they care about.

And yet.

And yet … is it really that simple?  “Mrs. Donor, I know you care about XYZ, and here’s an organization that’s working to address this issue.  Please give generously.” 

Ummm, no, this approach won’t fly.  So let’s agree that, in fact, a part of our work as development professionals involves inspiring generosity.

But how?  It’s a challenge we face day in and day out.  What can we do to inspire generosity in others?  And, realizing that each donor is unique, how can we possibly inspire generosity through channels like direct mail and email?

I’d like to offer five tips that have helped me see this daunting challenge in a different light, and I hope they will help you, too.

Tip #1:  Express gratitude. 

In particular, share how lives have been changed thanks to the generosity of your family of donors. Donors need to know their gifts make a meaningful difference. 

Tip #2:  Convey respect.  

As you craft appeals and other key messages, do so with a particular person in mind.  Someone you know and respect.  Perhaps a favorite aunt, a neighbor, a former teacher … someone who is, or could be, a donor to your organization.  Read your letter or email with that person’s name right at the top.  Is this how you would speak with her?  If not, start over.

Tip #3:  Paint the picture of current needs.

The art of storytelling is key to inspiring generosity.  Get permission from individuals you serve to share real stories.  Avoid composites.  Include direct quotes and small details that bring your stories to life.  Let these stories “speak for themselves” in terms of establishing the need for contributions.

Tip #4:  Use channels appropriately. 

Face-to-face visits are the most effective means of fundraising.  They’re also the costliest.  How many times during the year can you personally visit with your top 25 donors?  It’s important to use all channels to support your friend-raising and fundraising efforts, but use them appropriately.  When it comes to your donor communications plan, one size does not fit all.   Be smart with file segmentation and data selects to customize the approach based on past engagement and giving behavior.

Tip #5:  Practice generosity in your own life.

The spirit of generosity doesn’t spring from wealth.  Some of the most generous people I know have little money, but they freely share what they have with others.  Time.  Talent.  Treasure.  If you haven’t yet incorporated charitable giving in your personal lifestyle and budget, there’s no time like the present.   You won’t be sorry.  And when you know by experience the joy of giving, you will become even more effective in your efforts to inspire generosity in others.

Happy fundraising,

Bonnie O. Meyer, CFRE

Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer

John Payne