Donor Cultivation

written by admin on May 22, 2014 in Articles with no comments

Small Business Samaritans Non-Profit Workshop Blog

Prepared by Kate St. Clair

Why is it that for-profit businesses have no problem pricing their products or services and expecting people to pay for them, while non-profit businesses are timid and reluctant to ask for funds and support?

Could it be that for-profit businesses recognize that they are providing a product or service that is of value to their customer in return for payment? They believe that the business is receiving legitimate compensation for satisfying a customer need. On the other hand, non-profit businesses perceive that they are not giving their donor anything of value in return for their cash outlay. They believe the business is receiving a needed but unearned handout, that they are at the mercy of and therefore indebted to their donors.

This unconscious mindset sabotages the donor-cultivation strategies of the most well-meaning and well-deserving non-profit missions. It reduces the confidence of fund-raisers to a mentality of begging. Because our socio-economic system labels lack of funds as a weakness or failure, those whose job it is to ask for money are actually embarrassed. And with that attitude, they shy away from asking at all, always ask for too little and accept far less than a donor might have been willing to contribute. It is no wonder that the start-up non-profit business with no history, no name recognition and no evidence of the results and benefits they intend to bring about, has such a difficult time just getting the initial capital to lay their foundation.

How do they stay ‘in business’? Moreover, how does an unknown non-profit business garner huge-sum donations from people you never heard of? How does a little previously undefined cause ‘suddenly’ become a world-wide effort raising millions of dollars?

It is paramount to understand why people give – or don’t give. Let’s address the latter first – Why don’t more people give? Countless studies have been conducted over decades of economic cycles that include lavish excess and debilitating depression. While the dollar volumes and the numbers of donors vary predictably between the peaks and valleys of each cycle, what is absolutely constant is the #1 reason why people don’t give. It is NOT because they do not have the funds. It is NOT because they do not believe in the cause or need. It is NOT because they do not trust the non-profit organization or its people. The NUMBER ONE reason people do not give is THEY ARE NEVER ASKED!

The correlation between the insufficient asking behavior and the insecure mindset is no surprise. Let’s get to the root cause of the problem. There are two parallel causes:

  1. A misunderstanding of the motivation that drives people to give – and give generously
  2. A lack of being convicted by the BIG Vision and Mission of the organization which drives the willingness to ask for what they REALLY want to bring that vision to reality.

What is the true motivation behind giving? Is it pure altruism “unselfish concern for the welfare of others”? What a ‘Camelot’ world that would be. However, it is far from reality. That is not to say that humankind is motivated only by selfishness. The truth is that our generosity in giving is motivated by our psychological needs, both conscious and unconscious. It is amazing how little attention is paid to the intentional effort of cultivating relationships with donor to discover and tap into those psychological needs. Once done, asking for a donation of any size empowers the donor to satisfy a need (just like the customer who buys and pays for a product). They value and enjoy what they have ’bought’. And as long as they continue to feel good about it, they will continue to ‘buy’, even pay more and bring their friends to buy as well.

Armed with a fresh perspective of the needs of the donor, let’s look at the organization and those doing the asking. The number one reason that non-profit enterprises either fail or struggle for years with an unfulfilled Mission, regardless of the magnitude of the need, the emotional appeal of their cause, or the passion of the founders, is a lack of CONVICTION. To quote Ralph Nader “When a leader has the vision and conviction that dream can be achieved, he (she) will inspire the power and energy to get it done.” The lifecycle of a non-profit founder begins with on-fire enthusiasm and commitment to change the world they see. They actually are convicted – in the beginning. Sadly, the challenges and struggles of the ‘business’ of setting up and running a non-profit begin to pour water on that initial fire and the conviction light soon fades away. Before long, the BIG picture has been reduced to a list of tasks and projects that need to be funded. The fund-raising efforts become increasingly frustrating and less appealing to the donors. More often than not – the light goes out altogether.

It does not have to be that way! The Non-Profit Division of Small Business Samaritans is CONVICTED! We want your light to shine brightly and eternally. We want you to be fully prepared to fulfill your Mission! In our next workshop, we will help you learn how to meet your potential donors and successfully obtain the funding and resources that you will need to achieve your program objectives. Join us on June 3rd at 9:30 at the Hamilton Mill Golf Club. Visit our website at for more information. Keep your light burning!