There is no Use in Pleading and Begging (3/2013)

A fundraiser does not beg. That is a truism, at least among us fundraisers. After all, we don’t collect donations for ourselves but for others, for the social welfare or for animals. A fundraiser does not beg, but he asks for money, even if he is often reluctant to do so. Small farmers are suffering, children are in need of medical help, the church organ is on its last legs or nuclear transports have to be prevented. The mission is sacred to us fundraisers. For the mission we ask our donors again and again for help.

We fundraisers have realized that we can not do that immediately. Before, we have to draw the donor on our site. “Friendraising” say some. But at some point we cannot help but to express our request for a donation. The dramatic climax of this request is reflected in the English term “The Ask”.

We fundraisers do not beg, but we ask for help. Because the peasants are starving or the organ will crash. We do not work for us (or just a little bit), we work for others. But do we  work for the right ones?

Donor relationships work – as all relationships – on the long term only if they are based on an equilibrium in giving and taking. This is also the feature of market relations. And actually,  not only the beneficiaries benefit from the donor relationship but also the donors themselves.

Numerous scientific studies, like the one of the social psychologist Daniel Batson of the University of Kansas, demonstrate that most people feel a need to help. Studies of the economics professor Ernst Fehr in behavioral experiments with children show: Altruistic behavior is innate in man. It triggers positive feelings in us. Help feels good – in the truest sense of the word.

But help is not so easy. One might be able to aid the sick neighbor, taking care of purchases and taking out the trash. But who wants to enable talented girls in southern Africa to go to the university cannot offer direct help in most cases. Who has the time and the money and the know-how to fly to South Africa or Malawi, to look for talented girls there and to help them individually with cash or in-kind donations?

To these donors any charitable organization can make an offer. It transforms the donations into tangible help for the needy or projects that the donors would like to see implemented. So if you want to pave the African students the way to a college or university, you may give to UNICEF, SOS Children’s Villages or “tat fuer tat: Malawi” and feel as an ally of this disadvantaged group.

Hence, fundraising is a service for our donors. Nonprofit organizations make donors an offer: to provide the aid that you want to give, but cannot give. Services for participation and identification, which also meet basic peoples’ needs, are inclusive.

This makes clear: Fundraising has little to do with asking and nothing to do with begging. It is a service of its own which has a real value for our target group, the donors. We make an offer to the donor, to assist them in helping. Just as travel agencies offer their customers an offer to assist them with their travel arrangements.

But then we do not need to run after our donors anymore. We have to make them a good, compelling offer. And we should consider to whom we make this offer: Who has a wish to help, which our organization can most likely meet.

Suddenly, the relationship to the donor, which was always accompanied by the fear of rejection, is relaxed. The roles are clearly defined. One actor – the fundraising organization – offers something the other actor – the potential donor – might want to have. The donor does not need to feel heartless if he or she says no. The fundraising organization no more needs to fear of getting the brush-off. Both parties meet as equals and with new trust.

The focus of the fundraiser is now on attractively designing the offer: target group-oriented communication of the goals and successes of their charity, the development of a distinctive brand that stands for quality and ensures trust, as well as the unique positioning of the nonprofit organization in the donor market . It is time that we fundraisers find a new self-awareness and self understanding. We are in need of our donors, but our donors are also in need of us.