One of the professors here at Harvard is an exceptionally good fundraiser. His track record is outstanding. When he speaks at fundraising events, he believes he should be upfront about his role. That way no one is surprised when he asks for money. He often introduces himself saying, “I am in the business of picking pockets and rolling drunks.” With a little humour, he’s established his role.

Three circles of giving

His research shows that people who give to charity usually give 40 – 60% of their donations to 1 to 3 charities working in their areas of core interest. They give another 20 – 30% to another four charities or so that are working in areas that are priorities for them. The remainder of their donations are what he calls “Chequebook gifts” (oops – I’m in the States today, so that’s Checkbook gifts). These are gifts that may be sizable to you but to them they are amounts they don’t even have to think about. They don’t care too much about what you do, but they’ll give you something so you’ll go away.

The point for fundraisers is you need to realize what kind of a gift you are receiving – core, priority or chequebook? If you do not know you are receiving a core gift, then you probably aren’t. Most likely you are getting a chequebook gift.

A strategy for asking for money

Your goal is not to become a core interest of theirs since it will be very difficult to displace an organization or cause that is already in the core. A good goal would be to be at or near the top of their second level priority gifts. You’d like to be 4th or 5th on their list.

An approach this professor finds effective is to thank the person for all the good work they are already doing in the world. After thanking them, say that your ministry is doing work that they care about and that you’d like to suggest doing something together that will be important and special to the donor. You should know the prospective donor well enough that you have a project or program that you believe will excite them.

Three questions you should answer if you want major gifts are:

  1. Are we doing important work? Show them how what you do relates to what they think is important.
  2. Are we well-managed? You should have an accountability plan that includes availability of your financial statements and anything else that shows you are good stewards of the money that flows through your ministry.
  3. Will my gift make a difference? If you’ve done a logic model for your programs, you should be able to show what the impact will be and how you will know that you have been effective.
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An exploration of Christian ministry leadership led by CCCC's CEO John Pellowe