Wall Street investors famously coined the phrase, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” referring to the hundred dollar bill that bears Benjamin Franklin’s likeness. As it turns out, Franklin can give us a few tips about how to maximize fundraising dollars.
Franklin was born one of 17 children to parents who were poor—a difficult station—but he achieved the status of scientist, scholar and politician later in life. To compensate for his humble origin, Franklin developed sophisticated social skills and became “a master of the game of personal politics,” to quote a biographer.
Early in his political career, he had a peer who attempted to smear him and tarnish his reputation. He shrewdly set out to turn his political opponent into an ally. To do so, he wrote a letter to the man, asking if he could borrow a specific book from his library. His rival complied with his request, and Franklin returned the book a week later with a “thank you” note.
The next time the legislature met, the man approached Franklin personally and greeted him warmly. According to Franklin’s autobiography, the man “ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death.”
Two centuries later, psychologists would label this the Ben Franklin Effect—the idea that doing a favor for someone enhances the favorable attitude towards that individual. It works like this: we only do favors for people we like. Ergo, if we are doing a favor for someone, it must be because we like him or her. And we now know that this bias is powerful. It turns out that doing a favor for someone makes you like that person more than if they had done a favor for you.
Two hundred plus years later, enter peer-to-peer fundraising.
Often heard conventional wisdom about our organizations’ volunteers is that they’ve done “enough” and shouldn’t be approached to fundraise, recruit others, donate, etc. Too many asks will run them off is the sentiment.
But if we accept the wisdom of one of the Founding Fathers, every time we ask for a “favor,” we position our supporters to develop even greater affinity to our cause. And yet, we are reluctant to embrace “the power of the ask.”
Data from the 2016 National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study tells the story. The study surveyed 98,000 donors who had previously given between $250 and $2,500 annually to cultural institutions (museums, symphonies, etc.), but then stopped donating.
Image via National Awareness, Attitudes and Usage Study
The two most common reasons for discontinuing donations were:
Not acknowledged/thanked for previous gift.
Not asked to donate again.
The last reason given was “asked too often.” Many more people stopped giving because they weren’t asked to donate again, compared to those who were asked too often after a previous gift. These people wanted the nonprofit to ask for a favor/donation, and we were scared to do so.
What is Franklin’s lesson to us? Our requests to supporters isn’t a zero-sum game. It is actually the case that every act of support can increase their positive attitudes about our organizations, as long as we acknowledge them appropriately.
So, ask away—your supporters are waiting. Just remember to say thanks.