Have you ever heard a nonprofit professional, speaking of prospective donors, say:
They should give until it hurts.”
Recently, I once again came across this phrase. I shuddered. Nevertheless, I realized that this person was not alone in his thinking.
The Rev. Jimmy Swaggert, echoing the sentiment of many church leaders and paraphrasing the Bible, is reported to have said:
Give, even at all costs, ‘till it hurts.”
Even Mother Theresa, who has been Beatified by the Roman Catholic Church, reportedly said:
Give, but give until it hurts.”
So, with this blog post, I know I’m going out on a limb. However, I must emphatically state that, on this point, the nonprofit professional I mentioned was wrong. Rev. Swaggert was wrong. Mother Theresa was wrong.
Unless you’re dealing with a population of masochists, asking people to give until it hurts is not a sound strategy. Most people tend to run from things that cause pain and toward things that give them pleasure.
I believe we should inspire people to give until it feels good.
Fortunately, I’m not alone in this belief. Recently, Michael Kaiser spoke at Drexel University and stated:
Make giving fun!”
Kaiser is the Chairman of the DeVos Institute of Arts Management at the University of Maryland. He is also President Emeritus of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. When Kaiser speaks, people listen. And rightfully so. He’s a masterful nonprofit leader and a gifted turn-around expert. Whether you work for an arts organization or not, you owe it to yourself to listen to his remarks. You can find the video by clicking here.
Here are some additional key points that Kaiser made:
[Donors] don’t join our family to be whined at.”
“They join because we’re inspiring and fun.”
“The donor doesn’t owe us allegiance. We need to earn it.”
“Donors get fatigue when we get boring.”
In other words, all nonprofit organizations, whether involving the arts or not, need to make giving a pleasure. We need to recognize that people will be more willing to donate if giving is enjoyable, and they’ll be more willing to continue their support as long as giving continues to be gratifying.
So, how can you more effectively inspire prospective donors by making giving fun?
If you work for a theater company, being fun should come easily. For example, you could invite major donors to watch a performance from the wings, letting them enjoy the show as well as a sneak peek behind the scenes, literally.
If you work for a symphony orchestra, you can invite donors to watch a live rehearsal. I remember when my business partner, at the time, and I suggested this to the Philadelphia Orchestra. The first reaction was, “The musicians’ union will never go for it.” The second reaction was, “Even if the union allows it, who would want to go?” Well, with our strong encouragement, the development team was able to enlist the support of the union. When the Orchestra offered donors the opportunity to attend an open rehearsal, massive numbers happily went. Now, this is a normal practice for arts organizations around the country.
Sometimes, we just need to get out of our own way.
If you work for an art museum, give donors a tour behind the scenes. Let them see parts of the collection not on public display.
If you work for a science museum, invite donors to a sleepover in the museum. That’s another idea I offered a client years ago. The Academy of Natural Sciences tried it, and it was enormously popular. Now, museums around the nation commonly offer this opportunity.
If you work for a zoo or aquarium, let major donors have a chance to feed the animals or see a newborn before the general public has a chance to see the new arrival.
In other words, look for opportunities to be fun and engaging. Look for opportunities to connect donors with what your organization does.
I recognize that some organizations will have an easier time with this than others will. For example, I once served on the board of the Philadelphia Children’s Alliance. PCA brings justice and healing to the victims of child sex abuse. There’s definitely nothing fun about that. Nevertheless, PCA has been able to find ways to engage supporters in fun ways:
- encouraging supporters to be “Teddy-Bear Wranglers” so PCA can give the children it serves a free, comforting bear;
- inviting donors to a behind the scenes tour of the PCA facility and the police Special Victims Unit, including a detention cell and interrogation room;
- arranging for people to give to PCA while they shop at Amazon;
- allowing people to bid for auction items and buy raffle tickets, both at home or at the gala.
If PCA can make giving fun, so can your organization.
As Kaiser told me, nonprofit organizations need a plan for engaging donors in an ongoing, genuine, fun way. Charities are limited only by their creative capacity. My previous two posts address the subject of creativity:
So, let’s stop asking or expecting donors to give until it hurts. Instead, let’s inspire them to give until it feels good, brings them joy, and allows them to have fun while doing good. If we do that, people will be more likely to give, give longer, give more, and encourage others to give as well.
Remember, “fun” is the first three letters of fundraising, as my friend Nancy Martino has pointed out.
That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?