I remember the first time I asked someone to donate to one of my projects. I’ll never forget how it felt to make that ask: the nervousness, the worry, the hope I wasn’t offending. And I’ll never forget the answer. My friend Tim said yes, but his reply went beyond that––he thanked me for the opportunity to be a part of what I was creating.
That floored me. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t really thought about it like that. I was thinking of the need and the possible impact behind my request, but not really about what it would mean for him. How that would pull him closer, not just to the work, but to me. Our friendship deepened in a way that, before that moment, I couldn’t have imagined.
I spent many years as a nonprofit leader thinking that the more powerfully I described our work and its impacts, the more money I’d raise. And that’s important, of course. It’s just not the most important thing.
Giving and receiving money is deeply personal. It’s about who’s asking, and why they’re asking––and about who’s giving, and why they’re giving. Fundraising is about real relationships, and its true power is the possibility of real (and deeper) community.
For me, it took many years and many asks to truly understand how powerful it is to invite someone to be closer to you and your organization by making a financial contribution. To think not just about what their money means for your work, but about what your invitation means to them. Because asking someone to contribute money––whether it’s $20 or $20,000––isn’t just about the money itself. It’s about connection and purpose. It’s about relationships and community. It’s about belonging.
Once, while visiting my father, he showed me an email he’d received from a nonprofit I was involved with. They’d sent him a normal (generic) fundraising ask. The only thing personal to him was his name at the top. He told me that he’d received a number of nearly identical emails from the organization. He wanted to know if I thought he should keep giving to them. As we discussed it, he asked me a question that I’ll never forget: after all these years, don’t they know me?
A retired educator, he meticulously managed his budget and had a very specific amount allotted to what he could donate to the causes he believed in. He’d built this nonprofit into his modest annual budget for nearly a decade, but the answer was no, they didn’t know him. They’d never replied personally to any of his donations. They’d never asked if he wanted to get more involved; if he wanted to volunteer or host something on their behalf. They’d never once called him. And as a result, they didn’t know how much it would have meant to him to be able to contribute more.
Giving Tuesday is not just about donors giving to incredible organizations, it’s about incredible organizations giving thousands of people the chance to be pulled closer, to be a part of something. To be part of a community.
This moment, when people around the world are hurting, is the time to pull your community close. Find those 5 or 10 or 50 people who are your biggest supporters––and recognize that you may not know who they are. Find out. #GivingTuesdayNow is a powerful moment to deepen relationships, to reach out in all the ways you can, including picking up the phone and calling your supporters personally. Ask them if they can help.
And when you do, know that you’re asking something so much bigger than if they can donate. You’re asking them to be closer to you. You’re giving them a chance to contribute and to be a deeper part of your community when it matters most. And most importantly, you’re offering them a chance to give––and to receive.