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Showing gratitude is the first step in the process of approaching donors for an increase in their level of giving.

Char Rapoport Nance, director of the Ohio region of ORT America in Beachwood, said fundraisers who want to ask donors to increase their level of giving need to remember first and foremost to express appreciation.

“The best way to ask to increase a gift is to start with thanking them,” she said. “Nothing is more important than thanking your donor, telling them how much good their gift is doing, help them to understand.”

Nance said it’s important to keep donors in the loop on what an agency is doing.

“It’s important after you thank them, after you express your personal thanks for their generosity, that you give them a little … inside speak so they know the value of their gift,” she sid. 

Passion is also an important ingredient in the mix to successfully approaching donors for more, Nance said. 

“Share your genuine – and that’s the key word – genuine enthusiasm, for the next project,” she stated. “Tell them what the financial resources you need will be, and then ask them, say, ‘Would you like to be on the ground floor on this? With a gift of ‘X’ number of dollars, you can help us start this off. You can be a named giver. You can be the first one to allow students to be able to do this.’”

Telling the story is critical to making the case for a larger gift. 

Kim Cole, vice president of advancement at the University of Akron and executive director of the University of Akron Foundation in Akron, said transparency is a crucial component to the communication between fundraisers and donors.

“Donors are very smart investors,” she said. “Today’s donors want to know what impact their gift has.”

In addition, it’s important to remember that first-time donors often give once a year and that aggressive appeals can backfire.

“There’s a big risk of donor fatigue there,” she said. “That is asking too often, too quickly or too much. You’ve got to give people space.”

Cole said fundraisers who intend to make requests for major gifts should expect to put in time building the relationship first, with as many as 12 contacts over an 18-month period prior to making the first ask.

“Fundraising’s about relationships, so you’ve got to build it up,” she said. “Sometimes you’ve got a lot of information to share. All that takes time. You can’t rush that part.”

Cole said for large requests, the relationship becomes all the more important.

“For $10,000 or higher, certainly you’re meeting that person several times before you’re making that solicitation,” she said. “Big numbers like that can be scary to donors and I think that the more transparent fundraisers  are with their donor base and talking about big picture and maybe sometimes scary big numbers, the more you talk about them, the more comfortable the donor is with them, the more opportunity they have to ask questions. And again, if they’ve got the capacity, and you’ve been transparent and forthright and you have this vision, if they’ve got capacity, they’re likely going to rise to help you meet the need.”

Numbers without context don’t convey the story, both professionals caution.

“Don’t just throw out dollars,” Nance said. “Dollar signs and numbers, that’s not real. That’s not visceral. That’s not something that people can see, feel, touch. Tell them what it means. What does it mean if you increase your gift from this much to this much?”

Ultimately, Nance said, a fundraiser’s ability to communicate is critical.

“Help them to feel your enthusiasm, your genuine enthusiasm for whatever this new project is, and the difference they can make in the lives of other people.”

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