Many years ago, I was taken on a tour at Venice Family Clinic, an organization that provides medical care for low-income, uninsured and homeless families and individuals. As we walked through the waiting room, I was told that when patients register, they are asked if they would like and are able to make a donation of one to three dollars. If they can—wonderful, they will help to ensure the clinic’s services for the community. If they can’t, no problem; they will still receive excellent medical care.
As I was being told this, one of the people waiting to be seen stood and, tapping her chest, informed me that she always gave whenever she came for care. She saved, she told me, so she would have something to give to “my clinic.”
Her pride in both Venice Family Clinic AND her part with the organization was very evident.
People often wonder if clients, especially low-income clients, should be asked to support an organization. Think about the woman at VFC. Would you deny her the opportunity to support someplace that matters greatly to her? Would you want to decide that she couldn’t afford to give when, so clearly, she so wanted to? Would you refuse to give her the pride she so clearly had for what she was able to do?
Too often, we think of donors as something separate from—and yet our donors can (and probably should) also be our staff, our volunteers, our clients.
Not all of these people can give large gifts, but they all will give from their hearts. And those are gifts to be cherished.
What matters when you ask staff, clients, volunteers to also become donors is that you first recognize all that they are already doing. And then you offer them an opportunity to do a bit more.
That opportunity must be of the right size. If, for example, you have a volunteer who gives generously of her time, but you know that she is surviving on a fixed income, the amount you ask for should be within her reach. Likewise, for your clients and staff.
But if you know that this prospect has capacity, don’t dis them by asking for too small a gift.
At one of the institutions where I was a fundraiser, there was a faculty member who came from a great deal of wealth. And yet, he alone in his department refused to join our monthly faculty and staff payroll deduction gift club. To be a member, faculty and staff gave us $10 or more a pay period, with the average gift $20 a month.
I asked his colleagues if he was unhappy with the institution and they all said. In fact, they all believed he had a deep love for the college.
So I asked him to lunch with our board president. And we asked him for a very large gift to support a project we thought he would be interested in.
His yes was very quick in coming, so I asked why he had never given before.
Simple, he told me. “No one before ever asked me for a gift of the right size.”
OK, so many of your staff, volunteers, and especially clients, are not in that gentleman’s financial range. But having them as supporters is important, for you and especially for them. Don’t let your concern for their financial well-being color your ability to give them the gift of being part of your community of donors and of helping to make a difference in an organization that has made a difference for them.