Recently, I have been receiving quite a few requests for donations. I have been telling my community of not-for-profits that indeed now seems a good time to call on people’s solidarity and ask for donations. What with the COVID-19 pandemic making everyone so much more aware of how rich and lucky some are compared to others. (and I do not mean only rich versus poor in terms of money). Despite this, I have not responded positively to any of the requests for donations I got. Let me tell you why.

Who are you talking to? – part 1

Believe it or not, none of the requests for donations I received by e-mail were actually addressed to me. That is, there was no ‘dear Suzanne’ or ‘dear Mrs Bakker’ or something like that at the top of the message. Nothing. Except that a person had gone to the trouble of typing in my e-mail address, there was no indication whatsoever they knew who they were writing to.

Tip: Make sure you address your message to a person by name.

Who are you?

While the requests for donations I received came from people that I did not know at all, they did not introduce themselves to me. They mentioned their names and titles, but that does not mean I know who they are. I did not get information about their team, their organization, their mission. About how they are aware of the needs in the community they serve, and what these needs are. And about how they are very much equipped or experienced in doing whatever it is they want me to contribute to, to answer those needs.

Tip: Make sure you include information about who you are (not just your name). Include some information about your organization, too. This should not be long, maybe one short paragraph in all. But you need to show who you are. What you are about.

What are you doing?

Most requests for donations of course mentioned that people needed certain items, like food items but also face masks, soap and hand gel. The persons writing the message would deliver these to an x number of families. In the coming weeks. No explanation about the process. The plan. Or the people involved from the team. No information about how maybe a selection would be made if there were too many families in need compared to items available. And no clarification how they might purchase the needed items.

Tip: Describe your plan. Hopefully the information about your organization will make clear that you are equipped to implement the plan successfully. Make your plan come alive for the reader. Say something about what you are already doing, if you have already started implementing the plan or part of it. Make clear you are aware of dilemmas you might face. Build credibility and trust that you will handle such dilemmas with the same care the reader would. You can do that by telling them about you and your organization but also by telling them about your way of working and your approach to this ‘project’ or activity. Again, you do not want to send a 50-page manual, but you can spend one or two short paragraphs on this.

What are you asking for?

Apart from asking me to donate, none of the requests was clear. The message did not say, for instance, We need USD 10,000 and we have raised already USD 7,500 so we are now looking for the final USD 2,500. It was not made clear that USD 10 can buy one family soap for a month (for instance).

No suggestion was done at all as to what amount I might donate, and what that would accomplish.

There was also no alternative: in case you cannot donate, can you please share this message with your friends on Facebook, using this link? (for instance).

Tip: Be clear about the overall budget needs. Show that you have also been asking others and have received some support. Be very clear about what a person is contributing in terms of outputs, results or impacts. For instance, with USD xxx you can help one family for a week. Make it concrete and personal. Also make it doable. Do not assume the person you write to has loads of money to spare. Make clear that even a small amount can achieve a lot (if that is the case in your activity). Offer an alternative: what else can a person do to help you? Do you have a post they can share? Share the link! Could they contribute in kind? How?

Who are you talking to? – part 2

None of the requests for donations I received took into consideration who I am. Some people soliciting me via Facebook even asked me where I am based and if I could tell something about myself. One message I received had a tone of voice that was totally disagreeable to me, and even ended in a half-veiled threat: We are all in this and if we don’t save the needy ones, who knows you might be the next. Maybe some people would be persuaded this way, but anyone who knows me would know this does not speak to me.

Tip: Spend some time considering the person you are writing to. Who are they? What could be their interest in your activity, where is the common interest, or the link? Which stories, quotes, pictures can speak to them? What tone of voice is appropriate in your communication with them? What could they realistically donate? Do they have skills or a network that they could ‘donate’ in kind instead of money? How could you ask them? (this is not so much different from making sure you are relevant to your potential funder, see my blog here)

Who are you talking to? – part 3

As I mentioned, none of the people asking me for money was known to me before I received the request for donations. Some people did send a few messages through Facebook or Instagram before putting their request to me. But all in a matter of hours. And without telling me anything about themselves and their team in relation to the request. I think they had learned from someone that fundraising requires building relationships. And I think they were trying to do that. But a relation is not built by sending a few messages to a hitherto unknown person over the course of a few hours before popping your request.

Tip: Take time to build relations. Be sensitive to what is needed. Do not go asking people for information about themselves only to then ask them for money. The person can feel you are not really interested in them, just in their wallet.

Pick the right platform

Some of the requests for donations I received were sent by e-mail, and some by Instagram or Facebook messaging. All to my business account, but none of them referred to any information they could have found out about me and my business through my website or my business accounts on Facebook or Instagram. The messages felt personal, while being received in a for me business environment. In this setting I would prefer e-mail over messaging platforms, as e-mail is much less in your face. On a messaging platform the sender creates an urgency, intrudes in your day in a platform that is not for me suited to that.

Tip: Do some research as to the best platform for your request for the targeted persons. Do they prefer private e-mails or messaging? Would an ad campaign be more effective in reaching them in a way that is agreeable to them? Think about this carefully.

Be courteous

As I wrote in the first paragraph, I did not respond positively to any of the requests for donations I received. I did reply, though. I explained that I could not donate as I am donating to several causes every year and had made my donation plan for the year already. To one of them, I explained what I missed in their request to me. My response was not met with a courteous reaction. Most people did not even respond. One person answered me that he was sure I could donate. Another unsubscribed from my newsletter. All these reactions made me sure I was right in not donating to these people. I did not find them to be professional, courteous or reliable.

Tip: Not everyone you address will be able or willing to contribute. You do not know their background. So do not judge their decision but respect it. They are good people, even if they do not give you money. Make this clear in your response. Make sure their ‘no’ does not yet close the door. Ask them if they might like your Facebook page or Instagram account. Ask them if you can keep them updated about your activity. Conclude for yourself that your request might have come too early in the relationship and just try to focus on building that. If they are open for that, of course. Leave the person be before you become a nuisance. Never make people feel the need to block you (yes, that happened).

So all this was why I could not answer positively to these requests for donations. Mainly, as I wrote, because I already donate quite a lot and have my plan for the year done. But I can honestly say, these requests did not even mobilize me to share the cause with my friends. They were simply put too spammy to really bear consideration. So the key tip is: do not be spam!