For best results, study the five R’s of giving

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, Notes on Nonprofits

You may have heard about the five R’s of asking for a charitable gift. The key to fundraising success is the right person asking the right person, at the right time, for the right amount, for the right project. This sounds straight forward but if you’ve ever done any fundraising you know it’s not easy.

I met with the CEO of a large nonprofit raising money for an endowment campaign. Lucky for them, they have two donors who have agreed to match all contributions 2 to 1. Offering a match is one of the best ways to encourage giving and leverages the investment of the matching donor/funder at the same time. It’s a win-win. 

As the CEO told me about a recent gift, I recognized the five R’s. First, the people doing the asking were the donors who sponsored the match. There is no better asker than someone who is personally invested in the campaign.

Next, the right person is a couple who owned a successful business and sold it for several million dollars. It’s interesting to note the couple had been marginally involved in the nonprofit over the years and had made a few modest gifts.

Asking for the right amount is one of the toughest decisions to make and more art than science. In this case, the nonprofit did their homework and knew the couple had given several six-figure gifts to other nonprofits. These past gifts helped the nonprofit decide to be bold and ask for a seven-figure legacy gift that would resonate in the community for generations.

The process the nonprofit took to interest the couple in the campaign culminated over a series of six meetings. One took place in the home of the asker which is a bit unusual. In this case, it provided a first-hand look at the significance of the project and passion of the volunteers leading the effort.

At another meeting, the organization presented a short power point that included an overview of the organization, its programs, and budget. They shared a few key stats about their economic footprint and leading role in shaping the future of the community. They showed examples of what the permanent recognition would look like with the couple’s names on it and how their gift would be honored throughout the community.

Finally, they asked for the gift. I’m happy to share the couple said yes.

In analyzing what made this gift possible, the CEO shared an important tip. He said it took years for some board members to believe people would make gifts of $1 million or more. With board members and donors alike, it took time to build trust in the CEO and each other before they were willing to put their reputation on the line to ask for or make significant gifts.

You may be thinking this could never happen here or to my favorite nonprofit. Nobody we know has that kind of money, we don’t have a match, it’s not realistic in Tallahassee or the Big Bend, and so on. I disagree.

The steps in this example are the same regardless of the gift amount. What may be missing is the vision to launch an ambitious campaign and the commitment of leadership volunteers to make it happen. Board members often underestimate their importance and credibility in the asking process. In this example, the Executive Director was not in the room for several of the meetings or when the ask was made. This was done peer to peer.

I heard another consultant make the following distinction and it really stuck with me.
Peer to peer asking is not a wealthy person asking another wealthy person. It’s a committed person asking another committed person. This distinction is significant and may help volunteers and staff feel more confident about asking someone for a gift larger than they have made or could make.

The last lesson is the amount of preparation and thoughtfulness the staff and volunteers invested in preparing their case, getting to know the prospective donors, and earning the right to ask. This mega gift took months to achieve and was the result of focusing extensively on the interests of the people involved.

A campaign is about the future of the community. A gift is always about the donor and what they make possible.

Alyce Lee Stansbury, CFRE, President of Stansbury Consulting, and Kelly Otte, MPA, Executive Director of PACE Center for Girls Leon co-produce the column and love to hear from you. Write to us at [email protected].

Notes on Nonprofits

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Notes on Nonprofits was founded by Kelly Otte in 2008.

Alyce Lee joined in 2011 and is proud to continue writing this regular column.


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