Philanthropy is experiential. You can't stimulate philanthropic giving with words. Talking to your board about giving doesn't work. You can't just ask your donors to be more philanthropic. Don't just invite staff to give.
Philanthropy works when you give first and make a large enough gift that you feel pinched. Why? Because then you understand. You understand what it's like to stand on the should-I-give-or-not bridge. You know the sound it makes in your soul when you hear your footsteps on the bridge. You imagine spending the money for your own needs or those of your family. You experience regret. As you give your money, you sense the loss of control and trust the promises the nonprofit's making about how they will use your gift. And, then you experience the joy of helping others.
Give until it pinches. Being pinched wakes you up. Awake you notice details. Details will prepare you to work with others standing back on the far side of the should-I-give-or-not bridge. Like a scout, go first and report back on trail conditions.
Some 70 percent of Americans give money. My conservative estimate is that 99.9 of us that work in the nonprofit sector give. We are philanthropists. We give from our own means to help others. Means includes time, belongings, and money. All are resources we might need that instead we share.
Yes, Your Staff
Even though we are already philanthropists, all of us who work in the nonprofit field hold the potential to develop into even greater ones. This includes all nonprofit staff. In your nonprofit, how many of your staff give? If you're serious about seeking individual donations, set a goal to make it 100 percent. Yes the money will help, but what will help more is the wisdom that giving provides. To reach this goal, develop two metrics, one to measure the frequency of your asks and the second to measure the response. Calculate each monthly and be accountable to someone about your progress.
Managers with low-paid staff who already work beyond the call of duty frequently hesitate to ask staff for cash donations. This thinking denies employees the opportunity to be philanthropic partners. It denies staff philanthropic joy. It denies them the insights they need to help others give. In other words, it stunts their ability to effectively invite others to donate.
Managers who don't ask often feel guilty. If this is you, replace your guilt with solutions. Find ways to improve wages and ease workloads by obtaining new resources or better managing those you have, such as time.
Besides replacing guilt with solutions, formulate ideas to reward giving. For instance, the Girls Scouts of Metro Atlanta brilliantly invites their staff to join their $1,000 a year giving circle. Membership in the circle generates privileges. For instance, circle members don't work at fundraising events. They attend as guests. (This also encourages more giving among non-staff donors. They love mixing with staff to learn "insider" stories.)
Stop trying to get others to give by using words. Go first. Cross the bridge. Give an amount that pinches or even scares you. Know the experience first hand. Then, help staff and others to follow.