When is the right time to ask? This is an age old fundraising question that has taken on particular significance in 2020 and 2021.
Many nonprofits have experienced a fundraising hit over the past 18 months, largely due to loss of fundraising event revenue. In discussions about how they compensated for that by trying other methods of raising money, such as direct mail and asking directly for gifts, I heard from several nonprofits that they didn’t feel comfortable asking for contributions right now because “It’s been a tough time. A lot of people are hurting. It’s just not a good time to ask.”
While I appreciate their compassion and empathy, there are some downsides to making the assumption that it is not a good time to ask.
As a rule of thumb, we should never jump to the conclusion that because economic times are challenging for many people, all people are unable to give. We don’t really know what anyone’s personal financial situation is until we ask. And that is particularly true in the current economic landscape.
Consider who was hurt economically during the pandemic, the burden fell heavily on low wage, hourly employees. These asset limited income constrained employed (A.L.I.C.E.) individuals are the very people who depend on social service agencies the most. Salaried employees were much less likely to be furloughed or have their hours cut, and as result maintained their income stream, while at the same time had fewer opportunities to spend money and ended up actually accumulating cash during the pandemic.
By assuming that because times were tough for some meant they were a challenge for all, some organizations were projecting their clients’ issues onto their donors.
On the other hand, one agency Executive Director said, “The need is now, if donors won’t give now, when will they give?” And he’s exactly right. The right time to ask is when you need funds.
And those who did were rewarded. Individual giving accounts for 69% of all giving, according to Giving USA, and individual giving increased by 2.2% in 2020. Furthermore, giving to Human Services increased by 9.7% and giving to Public Society Benefit organizations increased by a whopping 15.7%. Those who failed to ask missed the boat.
It is our job as fundraisers to provide opportunities for donors to contribute. It is always the donors prerogative to give or not, and to decide how much and when. We should never make that decision for them by not asking.