The psychology of confidently asking for a HUGE gift

For over a decade I have been interviewing fundraisers who consistently achieve extraordinary results – I’ve found this is the most reliable way of discovering techniques that actually work rather than just sound like a good idea.

One of my favourite interviews was with Victoria Stephenson, Head of Philanthropy at UNICEF UK. To give you a sense of why I was keen to interview her, annual major donor income has grown by more than 280% since Victoria started managing the team in 2012.

In my interview we discussed one very wealthy donor in particular, who had initially made a gift of £40,000. Eighteen months later they made another gift – £4 million.

Victoria and her team worked hard to steward the gifts, reporting on the incredible impact that gift had made to the lives of children and families in one of the poorest parts of the world.

Then comes the interesting part. There was a discussion within UNICEF as to whether the donor ‘had done enough’ or if not, how much to ask for next time. Most people felt that if another gift was to be sought, then around £4m would be a fantastic result. What would you have said?

Victoria was convinced that the right thing to do was to seek a larger investment. Critically, she stuck to her guns in arguing this case. Would you?

She got her way, and presented the donor with the exciting chance to fund £15 million worth of life-changing support to children and families. The donor was delighted to say yes, and thanked her for the opportunity.

What can any major donor fundraiser or director of fundraising learn from this story?

  1. Victoria repeatedly said that it was never about the money. She was inviting the donor to help make a particularly exciting project happen which would transform lives. The issue was the project, not the price tag.
  2. Let’s acknowledge how difficult it can be for people who work for charities to comprehend the financial mind-set of the super-wealthy. Your financial thermostat – what feels comfortable – is likely to be set differently.
  3. Focussing on ourselves or our beneficiaries, we can forget that giving makes people happy. The rich person interviewed at the end of the Secret Millionaire programme (when they are £50,000 poorer) is always happier than at the beginning. This is obvious but so often over-looked by fundraisers who talk as if the gift opportunity is Beneficiary Win / Donor Lose, whereas of course it is Win / Win. ‘Why would we not offer someone an even better, more exciting opportunity?’
  4. A major part of the major gift fundraiser’s job is to educate your colleagues about what is possible and how the process works. Don’t be cross if they don’t get it. Of course most won’t, initially. Expect that and get skilful, creative and determined at helping them see things differently.

Condition your thinking so that thinking BIG is easier

One of the best solutions to these problems is to expose you and your colleagues to real stories of fantastic fundraising success.

But beware, don’t fall into the trap of focussing only on what seems easier for the fundraiser like Victoria who succeeded. By envying the brand or resources that appear available to the other charity, you take away your own power.

Study and share these examples to help you learn at both a conscious and subconscious level that enormous gifts and partnerships are possible. With the right tactics, why shouldn’t they happen for you? One participant on the Major Gifts Mastery Programme told me that listening to my interview with Victoria on the World Class Fundraiser’s Edge CD made her change her mind about how much she should ask her own donor for. She had been planned to ask for £2m, but instead dared to opt for £5m.

The donor said yes, and made the single largest gift that the organisation has ever received. By shifting her own financial thermostat and her beliefs of what was possible, she increased the size of the gift by three million pounds. Let’s be clear, if we are to improve our ability to raise money for the causes we serve, we must not only improve the key skills, we must also study examples that expand our belief of what is possible.

Need to increase Major Gifts, Corporate Partnerships or Individual Giving income in 2019?

Our next mastery programmes for Major Gifts, and Corporate Partnerships start in April / June 2019 and each runs for six months. To find out more more / request your free coaching taster worth £65, follow the link above.