As Halloween approaches, I’m reminded of my childhood years trick-or-treating. I was good at bringing home a huge haul of candy. And, I was also pretty good at collecting money.
Let me explain.
In elementary school, my teacher distributed UNICEF boxes to students. I think I was around 10-years-old when I received my first orange-and-black box. The colors of the box immediately caught my attention because they just happened to be our school colors.
When my teacher explained that UNICEF helps children in need around the world, my friends and I were revved-up to help by raising money from our neighbors.
Collecting for UNICEF was not my first fundraising experience, but it did teach me five valuable lessons that continue to serve me well all these many decades later:
To get, you have to ask.
As a kid, I knew I had two choices on Halloween; I could 1) sit at home and not have any candy, or 2) put on a costume, knock on doors, and ask for candy. Even as a 10-year-old, it didn’t take much effort to figure out that if I wanted to eat candy, I had to get off my rear-end, and go ask for it.
Well, the same principle applied to UNICEF. If I wanted to have money in my box to help kids in need when I returned to school, I’d have to ask for it.
I think you’ll agree that I discovered a pretty simple principle. But, if it’s so simple, why do so many development professionals avoid asking?
At one major, prestigious university medical school, the major gift officers would not get out from behind their desks to go visit prospective donors. Sure, they’d go on the road occasionally, but they never saw as many alumni as they could or should have. To solve the problem overnight, the head of advancement got rid of the offices. Yes, it was an extreme move. No, it was not a particularly elegant solution.
The thinking was that the major gift officers couldn’t hide in their offices if there were no offices. When they were on-campus, they could work in a bullpen to set appointments. Without an office or even a desk of their own, being on campus wasn’t very comfortable. So, some of the major gift officers quit while the others went out and started asking more people for donations. The school started raising much more money.
When my teacher distributed the UNICEF boxes, she explained what the organization would do with the money. Then, she asked us if we would agree to raise money to help kids in need. When we all agreed, the teacher added something else. She said that she wanted us to ask others to give only after we had donated first. She told us that we couldn’t expect others to support UNICEF if we weren’t willing to do so.
Peter Benoliel, Chairman-Emeritus of Quaker Chemical, is a generous philanthropist and recipient of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning of Greater Philadelphia’s Legacy Award for Planned Giving Philanthropist. In my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, I share five suggestions Benoliel offered to development professionals to help make them more effective. One of his suggestions was that “staff and volunteer fundraisers should be morally armed by making their own donation first.”
It was a great lesson to learn early. When I was standing in a neighbor’s doorway with my orange-and-black box, I was able to say something like, “I’ve donated what I can to UNICEF. Can you please give something to help needy kids, too?” There was no way an adult was going to say “No” to a little kid after that.