When I was growing up, asking for what was known as “charity” was not always looked on favorably. (As you may suspect, I’m a baby boomer!) Charity implied something different then than it does today. In the John Wayne era of pulling oneself up by the bootstraps, charity sometimes meant that the recipient couldn’t take care of himself and that she hadn’t necessarily earned the help she was receiving. There was one big exception generally, and that was giving at church. So, asking was sometimes frowned on. It was a demonstration of weakness, vulnerability and maybe even getting something you didn’t deserve. Asking for a gift might even be considered rude! (The Board Chair of an organization once told me that it would be far too rude to ask for a charitable gift for that organization!)
Now, fast forward say 25 years, into a new world of philanthropy.
The private sector plays a far more robust role in solving problems and making the world a better place. And, when the private and public sectors come together in productive ways, really exciting things can begin to happen! (Hint: Seed funding for new medical research projects can jump start new lines of discovery making them prime time for funding from the public sector. The ROI of a private gift to seed a project can be remarkable.)
But, I wonder if some of those old notions of asking still persist, even in the face of very bold strategic plans that can change the course of human health and quality of life.
Last month, we invited our readers to participate in a survey that explored how their Boards and development committee members feel about asking for major gifts, opening doors and telling their story. Thank you to everyone who participated!
There is good news and bad news to share.
The really good news:
· 90% of the respondents agreed to strongly agreed that their Development Committee feels comfortable sharing their passion for the organization. (This is excellent news!)
· 90% reported that Development Committee member appear to be comfortable to very comfortable sharing the organization’s story. (Again, great news!)
· 90% agreed to strongly agreed that their Development Committee members believe it is important to understand the donor’s motivations for giving. (I must admit, I worry about the other 10%!)
· 90% agreed to strongly agreed that their Board and Development Committee members are comfortable with opening doors.
· 90% agreed to strongly agreed that the Board and Development Committee members feel comfortable with accompanying a development officer on a fundraising call.
· And, 90% agreed to strongly agreed that the Board is agreeable to learning more about fundraising. (I’d call that really good news!)
Now, for the bad news (and some is really bad):
· 40% of the respondents reported that their Board is not at all comfortable with fundraising
· 10% reported that Board members are not comfortable opening doors, will not accompany development officers on a call, and are not open to learning more about fundraising. (Perhaps, here we should examine the criteria and expectations for Board members! Still, this is likely an improvement over the past.)
· And, a whopping 50% of the respondents reported that Development Committee don’t like to ask for gifts and won’t! (Now, that’s disturbing!)
We were fascinated by the results. Fortunately, there is a lot of good news. By in large, people are comfortable with telling the organization’s story, opening doors and sharing their passion. They are even willing to learn. But, clearly, the road to actually asking is rockier.
Our good news/bad news findings are especially timely given the new data on philanthropy in the U.S. Giving USA™ recently reported a 7.1% increase in charitable giving in the U.S. in its 2015 report.  The largest contributing sector to that increase is individuals. Gifts from individuals also continue to make up about 87% of the philanthropic pie, when factoring in bequests and family foundations.
Our next blog will look at tips for getting over some of these hurdles and why it’s important to continue to partner with your volunteers when it comes to engaging and asking individuals to invest in your vision. In the meantime, we would like to leave you with a couple of ideas:
· If your Board and Development Committee are opening to telling the organization’s story, think about the tools they need from the development office to best tell that story. Are you consistently arming your volunteers with new and compelling messages and stories?
· If your Board and Development Committee are willing to accompany development officers on calls, do you have a disciplined and formal process in place to maximize that resource with your highest value prospects?
 Giving USA 2015. Annual report on philanthropy for the year 2014.