Development Dialogue: The Reasons Are Many

Editor’s note: From the Green Room continues its regular series exploring issues relevant to the needs of non-profit development directors and fundraisers. If you have issues you would like to see explored here, please email We look forward to hearing your ideas. 

By Ron Fredman

People give to your dance company for many reasons, from appreciation to guilt, from impact to status. With research — including one recently released by Gallup — suggesting almost half of our nation’s donors will give to just one organization this year (and about a quarter will contribute to just two), it is more critical than ever to tap into their motivations.

Just remember: One size never fits all. It’s up to us as development professionals to ensure we provide the full range of rewarding opportunities and experiences for all donors; the closer they feel, the deeper they will give — for whatever reason it might be.

Below are a few of the motivators for philanthropy. Some surfaced during discussions with fellow development and marketing professionals attending the recent Dance/USA Annual Conference in Austin, Texas. Others come from the collective wisdom of fundraisers in many fields across the country. For a more thorough (but by no means complete) list, follow this link. And if you can think of others, please share in the comments section below!

  • Whether cliché or truth, the number one reason people give makes good simple sense: “Because they are asked.” Obvious? Yes. But surprisingly a step ignored way too often. Whether because of timidity, fear, discomfort or something altogether different, there are fundraisers (professional and volunteers) who are great at identifying, cultivating and appreciating their prospects, yet drop the ball when it’s time to close the gift. That’s not to say every point of contact must include a solicitation — in fact, I would argue most should not — but if it never occurs, opportunity is lost.
  • You give them the chance to “belong” to something as a member, friend or supporter of your dance organization. There is power in community, that sense of “you plus me equals something greater,” which people find quite compelling. Certainly, for those whose gifts elevate them to such special experiences as exclusive intermission receptions, sneak peeks or peer-event invitations, the sense of belonging is evident. But even in a direct-mail piece to the masses, language such as “join a special group of others who share your passion for (fill in the blank)” can motivate support.
  • Your prospects know you are well managed and fiscally sound. Though rarely the prime motivator for a gift, it is nonetheless critical to ensure a donor’s confidence their investment is secure. Posting or sharing IRS 990s or annual reports is becoming a baseline expectation of donors. But even for those not comfortable wading through pages of accounting minutia, a basic overview of the company’s fiscal health, tied to a summary of programs and their impact, gives great comfort, especially to new donors.  
  • Your organization makes promises that matter to the donor, and, most important, keeps those promises. Nothing frustrates a patron more than the gap between expectation and experiences. Those experiences, from start to finish, define your brand. And if the sum of experiences is the brand, reputation is experience expressed. 
  • Your stories are compelling and point to direct, personal impact rather than broad statistics. In fact, an article in The Guardian (March 2015), cited research that suggested too much talk about the big need can have a negative impact on giving. For example, a personal story about (or better yet, from) a dancer and the ties between quality footwear and her excellence on stage will draw a much greater response than simply saying the company needs $360,000 a year for pointe shoes.
  • You seek the donor’s advice or input. There’s an old saw that says, “If you want money, ask first for advice; if you want advice, ask first for money.” Focus groups, online surveys, one-on-one conversations, and advisory groups all serve a purpose for non-profits beyond gathering information: They also increase engagement. The more someone is engaged, the more likely they are to invest. There is a trap to this, however. You are creating the notion you are listening, that you hear, and that, in some way, you will act upon a donor’s advice (or at least give reasons why you chose a different path).  

On the flip side, of course, are reasons why people don’t give — or stop giving. Certainly, economic realities can take their toll in the short term or permanently. But others are much more controllable. They are, to some extent, the dark opposites of the reasons people do give. Many are related to an organization’s lack of attention, lack of priority, questionable values, group or individual dynamics, dissatisfaction with artistic choices or performance quality, the wrong ask (or asker), or failure to appreciate.

The key to all of this, of course, is to listen to the interests of your donors and prospects. Let them tell you what motivates their involvement and spurs their giving. Make assumptions at your own risk about which reason — or reasons — matter to them.

Ron Fredman

Ron Fredman, chief development officer at Kansas City Ballet, is well known for beyond-the-horizon thinking, deceptively tough questions, nurtured expectations and enthusiastic partnership. He is a passionate fundraiser and dedicated relationship builder. He has enjoyed many years in arts fundraising, including record-breaking seasons as the chief fundraiser for the Kansas City Symphony and Houston Symphony. He joined the Kansas City Ballet as chief development officer in the fall of 2012 and has continued the string of fundraising successes. His background includes more than a decade as a national fundraising consultant with Hartsook Companies, where he last served as executive vice president. He has guided arts and cultural organizations, social services, youth organizations, schools, religious institutions, health care, professional and trade associations, foundations and more. Beyond solid fundraising leadership, he also provides senior-level expertise in management, strategic planning and marketing. 

Ron is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local fundraising and business conferences, where his energy, interactive style and common sense draw strong reviews. He has designed and taught business courses at the corporate and community-college level, and has written for many publications. He began his career as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. Ron studied political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and served as an adjunct faculty at Lansing (Mich.) Community College. Ron is chair of Dance/USA’s Development Directors & Staff Affinity Group.


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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Dance/USA.

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