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Asking for Money in a Recession

By Nell Edgington

In difficult economic times like these it can seem impossible and exhausting to raise money.  It may appear that everyone is saying no, and raising enough to keep your nonprofit going is nearly impossible.  You may grow angry at those who have wealth, but are unwilling to part with it because of fear and uncertainty.

In times like these it can be helpful to remember why people give and what motivates and demotivates giving.  It is important to take a bigger picture view of what you are asking for.  You are NOT asking for donors to keep your organization from shutting down.  You are NOT asking them to save a sinking ship.  You are NOT asking them to fix a deficit in your organization.

It has to be a much larger conversation.  You are asking them to seize the opportunity to invest in a solution to a serious problem their community faces.  You are asking them to make another person’s life better and by doing so they will make their own and their community’s lives better.

The Nonprofiteer, a blog on nonprofit issues, responded recently to a nonprofit Executive Director’s frustration at trying to raise money in this climate.  The ED is fed up with the wealthy individuals she is trying to raise money from:

Here’s my problem: whenever I tell donors how desperate we are, I get a sob story about how desperate THEY are.  (The next person who tells me he simply doesn’t read his 401K statement is getting a swift kick in the pants.) It’s obvious these people have money; they just don’t want to share it with us.  What’s your advice?

The Nonprofiteer shows no pity for this ED and in fact demonstrates how wrong her approach is.  Rather than viewing donors as selfish and out of touch with the needs of her organization, the ED needs to change the conversation and convince the donor how her organization is providing solutions.  She needs to demonstrate that an investment from that donor will make a real impact in their community:

People don’t give to agencies they think are desperate; they give to agencies they think are successful…It may be accurate to say, “Without your $100, we won’t be able to house our clients tonight.”  But it’s just as accurate, and twice as effective, to say, “With your $100, tonight Charles and David will have a place to sleep and access first thing tomorrow morning to telephones and computers to continue their search for a job.”

And I would take it even further.  An investment in this organization will work towards getting Charles and David into successful jobs and housing so that they become self-sufficient and are no longer a burden on the community’s safety net.  You as a donor will not just be helping them get a good night’s sleep you will be setting them and people like them on a path towards becoming fully contributing members of our community.  And then their beds will be free for others to start their journey along the same path.  In essence, you are investing in a trajectory where there are fewer burdens on our society, more contributing members and a stronger, healthier community.

The conversation completely changes from one about a narrow, short-sighted mentality, to one about investing in dramatic changes in our community and our society that inspire passion and commitment, energy and enthusiasm.

Sean Stannard-Stockton wrote earlier this year in the Stanford Social Innovation Review about why people give.  He echoes this argument that people give from a desire to connect to and have impact on their communities:

I believe that giving is motivated by humans’ deeply held need to find meaning in life. For most people, meaning is deeply intertwined with community connections (defining community as narrowly as family and as broadly as the full community of life). Humans want to feel a sense of connection and a sense of purpose to life. Giving (time, money, and energy) is a central way that we strive to find meaning.

The more that nonprofit leaders, board members and Development Directors can demonstrate how an investment in their organization creates significant and meaningful change in the world and community around a donor, the more success nonprofits will have.  People need to be excited, engaged, energized, passionate and committed in order to give in a significant way.  To get to that you need to broaden the conversation.

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About the Author: Nell Edgington is President of Social Velocity (, a management consulting firm leading nonprofits to greater social impact and financial sustainability. Social Velocity helps nonprofits grow their programs, bring more money in the door, and use resources more effectively. For more information, check out Social Velocity consulting services and clients.

Monday, January 26th, 2009 Fundraising, Nonprofits

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4 Comments to Asking for Money in a Recession

[…] Social Velocity blog explains how to Ask for Money in a Recession. […]

[…] impact their organizations are having and a donor’s values and goals.  As I discussed in a previous post, the ask cannot be about an organization’s need.  It has to be about empowering a donor, […]

[…] Social Velocity blog explains how to Ask for Money in a Recession. […]

[…] Social Velocity blog explains how to Ask for Money in a Recession. […]

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