During the planning phase of a fund raising campaign I was working on for a small church outside Phoenix back in 1998, I was trying to explain the difference between my approach to fund raising and others. Then as now, I didn’t think that sales or marketing explanations really got at the more meaningful aspects of philanthropy. I don’t twist arms, rely on advertising or take advantage on mutual reciprocity. Sure, you can raise money using those tactics but in the end, I don’t think it’s sustainable. My approach is significantly different. Especially when you think of it in terms of advancing the mission of the organization.
Much of our conversation with the leadership of the church had centered around how to get more people involved in the heart of the fundraising process, the “asking” part. This many years later I’m not sure who had the idea, but someone said: “What if we used the term inviting instead of soliciting.” It was a revelation. This lead to a bunch of ideas about how to create the strategies we’d use, but the most important was that we would be INVITING people to join us in the campaign, not soliciting them to write a check. It changed everything.
When you say you’re going to solicit someone, it usually means your going to ask them for money. And along with that comes a whole lot of baggage. People don’t liked being asked for money. Day in and day out we’re bombarded with appeals for this or that charity, this or that benevolent organization, and this or that school fundraiser. This weekend I got four calls on Saturday alone.
Plus, it usually never happens that way. In my experience, very few volunteers would ever say “Can you give the Arts Center $25 to help pay the bills?” More often, the request is never verbalized and the volunteer relies on a brochure with suggested giving levels.
And who wants to ask someone for money? Most people don’t like doing that. One of the things I hear the most is: I don’t like to ask for money. Or, I’m not good at fund raising. Or, I’d rather do just about anything than ask for money. Sound familiar? I hear it ALL the time.
But if you change the word solicit to invite (or solicitation to invitation), you start creating a whole different way of looking at it, a whole different way of explaining it, and a whole different way of acting.
In the end, it may seem like just a different word that means exactly the same thing. But I’ve found that the words we choose to use, our language, is an integral part of the culture we can create around our fundraising activities. Whether it’s a small annual membership campaign or the largest capital campaign, inviting people to your cause is more polite, creates a more equitable relationship, takes the volunteer out of the middle, and eases the fears of your fund raising volunteers helping them be more successful.
Back to the small church campaign: we ended up having nearly a dozen volunteers inviting other members and their families to join them in making a contribution to the capital campaign. We reached very close to 100 percent participation from the congregation and raised just over $700,000 from just 53 giving units (individuals, couples, or families). All based on the art of the invitation.