“In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12 BSB)
The Golden Rule teaches us to actively treat others the way we would like to be treated.
This principle applies to fundraising—you want to be treated with kindness and respect; so do your donors. You appreciate good communication; so do your donors. You want your time and money to be stewarded well; so do your donors.
While each major donor has individual giving interests and should be approached in a personal way, there are some basic golden rule principles that apply to every donor. Here are four of these principles shared with me by a foundation director:
1. Define the Problem
What problem are you trying to solve?
Donors want to make an eternal difference, but they must first understand the need or the problem your school is trying to solve.
Are you raising scholarship money to help underprivileged students receive a Christian education? Are you launching a new academic program? Are you facing a budget shortfall that will severely impact your institution? Clarence “Kelly” Johnson, the former lead engineer at Lockheed Skunk Works responsible for the S-71 Blackbird spy plane, coined the phrase “keep it simple stupid.”
Your job is to communicate a complex problem in a way your donors can grasp.
2. Share Your Achievable Solution
Your problem needs to be solvable.
Donors respond when you present a problem that can be solved today.
For example, reaching the remaining five billion unreached people is an incredible vision but a complex problem. A donor will see their gift as just a drop in the bucket that won’t make a meaningful difference. However, if you frame your solution in small achievable steps, their gift becomes relevant. Both your problem and your solution must be easy to understand.
3. Show Data to Prove Your Plan Works
Great storytelling creates donor empathy, but storytelling is not enough. You must share relevant data to support your plan.
Foundations are particularly interested in outcomes. Like your high school algebra teacher, they want you to “prove your work.”
A major donor responded to a feasibility study by saying, “I don’t know what you accomplished with my last gift.” He was not interested in the new facility that was built with donor money; he wanted to know how many lives were impacted by the programs because of the new facility.
4. Ask for a Specific Gift
Your donors don’t know as much about the problem as you do because you’ve been studying it for years. So, don’t make the mistake of asking a donor, “How much would you like to give to solve this problem?”
A foundation board chair answered this question by saying, “You are the expert, not me. Don’t make me guess what my gift should be to help solve your problem. We may or may not give that amount, but we want a number.”
Asking for a specific gift is a kindness because it lets your donor know what level of support they should consider.
Think about the Golden Rule: Ask yourself how you would like to be asked and apply those standards to your fundraising. Share the problem, your solution, the supporting data, and ask for a specific gift amount