How to make giving to you “essential”

by Marcy Heim on June 10, 2020

You show appreciation and respect to major donors when you talk about the legacy they leave with their gifts.  Honor Clubs, Societies, elite events and personal conversations with the leadership are all benefits you may provide your major donors. These are wonderful and build good relationships! 

While I believe we have instinctively adopted this, I gained a deeper understanding of the shift in our messaging for COVID with some research presented during my recent 3-day retreat with Marisa Murgatroyd (yes, I have a coach, too). According to Phillip Stutt’s research, in the U.S. we’ve seen a complete shift in the personal values that influence decisions from what’s been compelling over the last 5 years to exactly the opposite. The TOP 5 listed below used to be the BOTTOM 5 and vice versa.

Personal Values

Values that used to be impactful included maintaining a good public image, being successful and admired for your achievements and acquiring influence and status. These values inspired major and mega giving. And this is STILL GOOD. I want you to get that. Givers deserve to enjoy their giving and feel respected and admired.

However, there has been a total shift of the values people say inspires their decisions.

Now at the top 5 of the values list are:

1. Helping and caring for family and friends

2. Preserving your own safety and the safety of your family

3. Being dependable and trustworthy for family and friends

4. Having a safe and stable community and nation, and

5. Treating every person in the world equally and justly

You may be familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  During these times, and not surprisingly, we’ve gone further down the pyramid from self-fulfillment and esteem needs to our more basic needs.  Makes ‘common sense’ but it also helps us see what is needed to shift our missions from (in COVID-speak) “non-essential” language better used in times of prosperity to “essential” language better used in times of scarcity or hardship. To be clear, I’m not saying you weren’t essential before – rather this is in today’s talk of an “essential business” and how get perceived to be on that list!

Maslow Hierarchy

So, if you want to move from non-essential to essential or even indispensable, you have to take your messaging down the pyramid and serve an immediate, top-of-mind need.

Let me put this into a giving example for you.

My client, Nancy Gerard at Georgia-Cumberland Academy faced the real concerns we are all feeling now about their future.  All the students are gone from the dorms and learning is virtual. Although we are completing the final $1M of a successful first-ever $15M building campaign, we shifted and ask “What is most needed right NOW?”  The answer – funding to cover tuition help for both current students AND those who will be enrolling this summer as entering freshman next year. Tuition is CORE to the future of a small private school. We determined that $200,000 would be needed to help the families impacted financially by COVID. We put an appeal together that first ask 4 major donor couples to consider an additional gift of $25k, above their campaign support, to create a challenge.  Our message to them was that this money was needed to keep the kids in ‘school’ where they were safe, had their home in the dorms, were part of a community and where they fostered a relationship with God.  All very true, but also different than asking for scholarship support based on a legacy with the school, being part of a group of major supporters to the school or transforming their success into something significant.  While all these messages are still valid, the basic need – the ability for the students to stay in the safe and loving “family” of the school, was important NOW – different values. In addition, we told these 4 donor couples that throughout the year, we would work to match their gifts with an additional $100k from all alumni and friends.

The results? All four couples said, “yes” the same day and we are over $120,000 in less than 5 weeks from remarkable new giving from alumni and friends. Now we are shifting back to writing building asks (Marcy’s intention-setting process).

For my clients who are involved with any type of senior-living work, the messaging now is keeping families connected with immediate giving for ‘conversation stations’, technology that allows real-time virtual meetings and protection gear to keep residents safe.  Do you hear the messaging shift?  Instead of thriving and living life to the fullest as seniors (self-fulfillment needs and certainly important) the appeal is made using more basic and psychological needs. The results – giving is up.

Can you see how you can use this in your messaging right now?  Supporting basic needs in our major donor conversations (zoom, phone or outside across a table) is key.  Including how giving provides impact in the top 5 basic values right now will generate better results.

Finally, think about YOU. Are you focusing now more on being safe, spending as much time as you can (with social distancing) with family, and being sure you have toilet paper? (Trying to be abit light here!) You are probably not thinking as much about your long-term career path or how you can have a life full of excitement, novelty or challenge, though these are still worthy considerations.

As we move through this time together, and we will get to the other side, know that you are a valued member of my “family.” Let me share what my dear friend, Kristi Shepard, United Way of Dane County, said to me, “Stay safe. Stay sane. Stay tuned. Stay appreciated by me.”  

You belong.

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