COVID-19 and Unrestricted Giving, Part 3: Making the Case

In part one of this three-part series, we explained why the time is right to pursue an ambitious donor education and solicitation effort around unrestricted major giving.

In part two of the series, we discussed the ways both nonprofits and donors alike can learn if they’re ready to embrace unrestricted philanthropy.

Now in part three, we will share the ways to build or reframe your case with a new focus on unrestricted support.

It’s clear that unrestricted giving is a fundamental need, and it’s also clear that during a crisis like COVID-19, it’s priority number one. But how do we break the habit of restricted giving? What do we need to do?

Harness Your Why

What is the why in your mission?

When framing your case for support, it is critical to focus inspirationally on your core “why” – your purpose.

When it comes to general operating support (or unrestricted gifts), we’ve all heard the phrase “keeping the lights on” – but let’s take a beat and consider that statement. Without lights, what happens? We stumble around in the dark; there can be fear and confusion. When it comes to general operating support, we must weave in our fundamental “why” to how we think, speak, and write.  Instead of lightbulbs, let’s imagine, instead, we are lighting up the world.

For greater detail (and a dose of inspiration), watch Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why.”

It’s about Becoming

We must be creative and ask for stretch gifts by focusing on the imagination: what can be, what can become.

We are all guilty of looking myopically at our operations – how many people we serve, the number of programs we offer, where our programs take place. In short, our Who, What, Where. Stop the granular digging. It’s not about people or programs, but rather, transformation. Working together, we become.

There’s no better example than today’s “we’re in it together.” We are all asking each other to unite and be focused on one mission, one goal: be safe and stay home. In it together. We are imagining our world safe and healthy through purpose-driven action. That is what our asking must accomplish.

Transformational action based on giving. The lightbulb is a lifeline.

Your why is inevitably wrapped up in change. Because human nature can be both resilient and entrepreneurial, our why is the spark.

Keep the Faith

Foundations and corporations are already on board with this shift and are actively lessening current gift restrictions and looking to give in ways that will make the most significant difference. Internally – in our hearts and minds – we need to understand and believe in our missions more than ever.

I hear people say all the time, “Oh, I’d be too afraid to ask someone for money!” But here’s the secret:  When you ask someone for help (be it time, money, etc.), you are giving that person a chance to practice generosity.

That’s right. It’s practice, and it’s an essential aspect of living in community. Now more than ever, we need to be present for one another and give how and what we can, remembering this takes our ego out of the equation and lets us focus on the purest reason we ask – because we must transform. We must be better, do more.

Ask boldly. Be the light!

The Nuts and Bolts of Unrestricted Asking

If you cannot succinctly understand your why, work with your leadership to figure out that spark. Conduct focus groups with stakeholders. Send surveys to audiences. Test. You might find you have to alter your vision and mission to match your real purpose. Many organizations struggle with this, so if you’re struggling, you’re not alone. Here are a few reminders:

    • Vision is what can be
    • Purpose is why it needs to be done
    • Mission is what needs to be done

Weigh your spark against a stark contrast. Create your own if/because proposition:

    • Big statistics or problem
    • Remember you exist to solve a problem, so tackle it head-on
    • Speak and write bluntly
    • Be precise yet concise

If it’s an in-person ask:

    • Take your donor on a journey
    • Tell a story about transformation
    • Let your donor be the light at the end of the tunnel

Don’t hide behind hyperbole:

    • If you’re writing, edit ruthlessly
    • If you’re speaking, be direct and sincere

Here’s what we know: People give because they want to make a difference and because they are personally compelled or influenced by your mission.

It does not need to be more complicated.

Jennifer Harris, Ph.D., is Senior Vice President at Graham-Pelton. Contact her by email or by calling 1-800-608-7955.

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