A farmer and his wife had a goose. Every day that goose laid one golden egg – which made the couple very happy – for a while. But soon it wasn’t enough. They asked each other why, if this goose could lay one egg each day, it couldn’t give them more or more often. What a stingy goose. They knew there had to more in there. So they strategized and decided to go for broke. They cut open the goose to get all of the eggs out at once. Needless to say this did not make the goose more productive. In fact, there were no other golden eggs hiding inside, and worst of all the goose died. Not only did they not get the bounty they were accustomed to, they killed the goose and got nothing more ever again.
Last week I shared a finding from a study on high net worth philanthropists who said they stopped giving to organizations primarily because they were asked for an inappropriate amount or too often. I dealt with the issue of the inappropriate amount in my last blog post. This week let’s talk about how many asks is too many, particularly in the context of a capital campaign.
Annual Giving During a Capital Campaign
First let me tip my hand and say that, as often as possible even when there is no capital campaign, I coach organizations to ask their major and principal donors to give only once per year. This takes planning and discipline. It also takes discovering what your donors’ passions are and matching those interests with your needs to make a specific, comprehensive request bestowing all of the benefits a donor might expect at that level. But what if you add a capital campaign? Is it possible to ask only once? The answer is, most often, yes. There are several ways organizations tend to approach annual giving during capital campaigns:
- Suspend the Annual Fund. One way you could achieve only one ask is by removing the other, namely the annual gift ask. Yet you can’t go without supporting the organization’s ongoing programs and operations. The way that this approach is achieved is by adding your annual operating needs for the next three to five years in as a case element of your capital campaign, asking for a multi-year pledge that will cover both the capital and/or endowment needs as well as operations. I am not a fan and do not recommend this approach.
- Allocate a Percentage. Another way is to eschew the ask for an annual gift from those you approach during the campaign and allocate a percentage of every gift to ensure you cover your annual needs during the active fundraising for the campaign. You then resume annual gift requests the following year. As with the approach above, this approach, while making sure you have the funds you need for annual needs, will likely have the unintended consequences of losing momentum when you resume your annual giving activities. You lose opportunities to grow major donors during the time of suspended giving and send a message that maybe the annual ask isn’t all that critical, raising less than you might have otherwise achieved for both the annual and capital campaigns separately.
- Business as Usual – Many times an organization will continue all of its annual activities and requests on schedule and just add one more ask for a capital gift on top whenever you get around to asking that particular donor. After all, you are probably already bombarding your donors with multiple asks, what’s one more? Besides, they are probably just holding back on you any way. This approach is a sure way to ultimately kill the goose.
- One Ask. Multiple Requests. A capital campaign presents an opportunity to educate donors about the difference between faithfully supporting the annual work of the organization and considering a gift over-and-above for an extraordinary and urgent opportunity. This can be achieved by sitting down with them once during that year with a thoughtful, comprehensive, but specific request for their support. Many times this is called the “dual-ask.” This, in my experience, is the most effective approach.
Every gift request during the capital campaign should be an opportunity to thank the donor for their generous and crucial support for the mission, explaining the specific impact their personal giving has made and showing the positive outcomes the donor intended. The proposal and conversation should include what the capital campaign will allow you to do that you can’t otherwise accomplish without over-and-above giving. It should also detail the impact on growth and operations including new and incremental revenue and operational costs, with a plan on how those incremental costs (if they exist) will be met.
One Ask, Multiple Requests
When it comes time for the ask, you should say something like, “Continued faithfulness to the ongoing mission is our first priority. Above all, we are asking our donors to continue that support. We are also asking you to consider prioritizing a gift over-and-above your annual giving for the next three years to accomplish the vision we have discussed.” The annual ask should be a specific gift request, for an in-budget need that matches their passion. The capital gift should also be a specific amount to ensure the success of the campaign. If you are asking your major donors multiple times during the year to support the golf classic, buy a table for the gala, renew their membership, etc., stop it! Include all of that in this one request, as a thank you. They will reciprocate with a very grateful sigh of relief.
But what if we also need endowment funds, or if they are a candidate for planned giving? What if they say, “I will continue to give my annual gift, and would love to support the capital campaign, but right now is not the time?” There may be instances where a “triple-ask” is in order. It is a perfect opportunity to discuss how this donor, who you believe loves you enough to support your capital needs and your ongoing mission, would like to include the organization and its mission in his or her legacy giving.
You may ask, how is this not trying to extract all of the golden eggs at once? When you dig deeper into what a donor means when they say they are asked too often, they mean multiple times during the year. Asking once per year for multiple needs is only one egg, with multiple yolks. An example I often give is of a donor who had given multiple gifts in a year to an organization totaling over $16,000 as well as a capital gift of $1 million to the previous capital campaign. As we approached them to renew their capital gift to continue the vision, we also combined the other multiple asks into one request, totaling $70,000 to expand a program they were passionate about. Their first response was shock they had only given $16,000 the year before. With all of those request it felt like more. The next was thanks that this would be the only time this year they would be approached for a gift. The last was a yes: for both request.
One thoughtful request for a comprehensive gift focused on what the donor cares about will most often be appreciated, particularly when it’s understood it will be the only time you ask them this year. They also will not hide from you in the grocery store the next time they spot you. The rest of your interactions will be to thank them, show them the impact of their giving, and talk about how they want to continue to make a difference with you as you look to the future.
Keep Annual Giving Your Priority
Lastly, the message should be, if you can only respond to one of the requests at this time, stay faithful to the annual support. The organization doesn’t need a new building if you can’t accomplish the work you exist to provide. However, continue to explore ways the donor can achieve what he or she would like to do for the capital campaign over-and-above either through delayed or deferred giving. There may be another golden egg down the road if you are patient, persistent, and professional.
Written by Daniel Neel, President of The Fundraising Resource Group. The Fundraising Resource Group helps nonprofit organizations across the United States with fundraising feasibility studies, capital campaigns, annual giving campaigns, major gift fundraising, nonprofit marketing, fundraising training, and other high-impact, high-return fundraising activities. For more about how we can help your nonprofit achieve fundraising success, visit http://www.thefundraisingresource.com or call 888-522-1492.