How Often Should I Ask?

We don’t have to look far to understand our responsibility when it comes to forgiveness. Christ was very explicit when Peter asked how often he should forgive a brother who sinned against him. “… Up to seventy times seven” was Jesus’ reply (Matt. 18:22). Clearly there is no limit on how often we should forgive. But as fundraisers, is there a cap to the number of times we can ask a supporter to give?

I learned a valuable answer to that question during my time as the director of a men’s homeless shelter and recovery center. We had just completed a very successful capital campaign to build a transitional housing unit for graduates of our discipleship program. The lead gift of $1 million was provided by the owner of a multi-national business with plants in the U.S. and South America. He was a generous, long-time supporter of the mission. Since he was one of our Top 10 lifetime contributors, I personally managed the relationship and would meet with him periodically to share news about our ministry.

During one of these cultivation appointments, a month or two after completion of our capital campaign, I happened to mention that the mission hadn’t yet found a way to purchase a bus to gather homeless men and bring them to the mission for a meal and a warm bed. It was not an ask. I merely wanted to share how our outreach program was expanding.

The donor looked at me rather sternly, “How much do you need to buy a bus?” When I quoted the cost he said, “Why didn’t you come to me for the funding?” Apologetically, I told him we were looking to other donors because “you’d given us a million dollars just two months before.” I explained that I felt awkward asking for more so soon after such a large gift.

I’ll never forget what he said to me next, “Denny, don’t deny me my joy.” Though he was an extremely successful business owner, this donor found his greatest fulfillment in the stewardship of the profits God had entrusted to him. He felt a deep-seated responsibility to help those in need, but he relied on organizations like our mission to point out those needs.

So, is there a limit to how often a development officer can ask a supporter to give? My answer is a lose translation of James 4, “we have not because we ask not.” You’ll never raise the resources necessary to support your ministry if you don’t ask people directly. But how do you know when it’s too much or too often. Here are three thoughts:

The donor will show you.
Part of cultivating a fruitful donor relationship is understanding the motives and rhythm of a donor’s giving. Some supporters prefer to time their giving with specific events such as tax refunds, the last week of December, employment bonuses or investment dividends. Others have more personal giving triggers. I once had a couple who always made their annual contribution on their wedding anniversary. Use your CMS database to track donor giving habits and be sensitive to your donors’ patterns and preferences.

Ask when to ask.
Especially with your mega- and major donors, it’s not only appropriate but especially helpful to ask how a donor prefers to be approached. Some may only want to meet annually with your director or CEO. Others will appreciate more frequent contact. Asking about timing also allows you to identify areas of your ministry that are the most appealing to a donor, such as woman’s programs, scholarship needs, campus expansion, etc.

Also, donors who are direct mail responsive will quite often tell you how frequently they want to receive your appeals. Don’t yield too easily to donors who promise to give without a reminder. Ask permission to mail them at least appeal a year, rather than honoring their request to be dropped from your file to save the printing and postage cost.

As my mentor in fundraising says, “People give to people for people.” Invest in knowing your donors, particularly those of high capacity, so you can invite them to partner with your organization when and how they prefer.

“God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). You do, too! Give your donors something to cheer about by asking them again and again to partner with your ministry. Don’t deny your donors the joy of giving!

Author: Denny Bender, Consultant

– Before joining The Timothy Group, Denny served as Executive Director of Union Rescue Mission in Wichita, Kansas, a 114-bed emergency housing shelter for homeless men that also provides addiction recovery, a residential life-change and re-engagement program, as well as food assistance and infant care items for women and needy families.

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