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Fit Your Fundraising to Your Donor's Personal Giving Style

Reprinted from Contributions Magazine

fit-fundraising-to-donors-giving-style.jpgDo you ever worry that you will ask for a gift and get the Blank Stare? If you know how a donor thinks about giving, it will help you get a smile and a nod instead of the dreaded Blank Stare. All donors are unique. However, they tend to fall into one of three basic categories: Leaders, Followers, and Loners.

Leaders want to give the first gift to a project. They delight in starting the ball rolling. When you ask leaders, say that this gift is going to influence other donors. Tell the donors they are pioneers, trailblazers. Ask for a challenge gift to motivate other donors. You can tell a donor is a leader if he talks about being the first to do something, about the value of creativity, innovation, thinking outside the box, and momentum.

Followers want to see lists of other people who are committed to a project before they sign up. The best candidate to solicit a gift from a follower is someone she admires in the community. When asking for a gift from a follower, use words like joining, participating, standing up to be counted. The clues that you are talking to a follower are discussion of community, belonging, doing the expected thing, the obligation to give, the community of philanthropists.

Loners are the independent thinkers. They don't care what anyone else thinks. The tricks of the fundraising trade (elaborate recognition schemes, giving clubs, naming opportunities, or exclusive receptions) do nothing for them. They simply want to give where their money will have the most impact. You can risk turning them off by talking about benefits that don't matter to them. Just talk to them about the project. If the project is hard to raise money for because the cause is not popular, so much the better.

To put it more simply, leaders like to think outside the box. Followers like to see who else is in the box. Loners say, "Box? Why would I care about a box?"

The best way to find out a donor's giving style is to ask. Here are a couple ways to phrase the question. "How do you like to be treated by the causes you support?" "What accounts for your generosity—was your family philanthropic?" "What motivates you to give, to this organization or any other?" Don't be shy about asking—philanthropy shows people in their best light, and people love to talk about themselves. But if it feels awkward, preface the question with a request for permission, like, "Do you mind if I ask you something about your philanthropy?"

Most donors are followers. Philanthropy is essentially a conservative enterprise, and most people want the reassurance of knowing that their peers or people they admire have given to a project before they sign on. But the leaders and loners have a very important role to play in any campaign, and, by paying attention, you can ask in a way that works for everyone.

Paul Jolly
© 2011, Paul Jolly. Reprinted from Contributions Magazine, vol. 25, no. 5. Reprinted with permission.

Paul Jolly ( has been a fundraiser for over 20 years, in development shops ranging in size from 1 to 30. His consulting practice focuses on helping organizations strengthen relationships with their best donors. He has given numerous workshops in the Mid-Atlantic region, serves as an "expert" on the Asking Matters Web site, and is a peer reviewer for Maryland Nonprofits' Standards for Excellence program.

Topics: Fundraising