My first fundraising job was for a university. For three hours each night (during dinner time) I called university alumni and asked them for money. Sometimes it was difficult, but I was pretty good at it, and I learned a lot about why people give and how to successfully ask for that gift - skills that are essential now that I'm the Executive Director of a nonprofit.
The year I started making those calls, the university set the goal of increasing the alumni giving rate from a tiny 7% to a more respectable 13%. It didn't matter how big the gifts were, we just needed to get more alumni to become donors. (Most people don't know this, but the US New and World Report rankings of universities include alumni giving rates. Increasing our rate wasn't so much a goal for increasing income, but rather a goal for improving our national ranking).
Our campaign was ingenious, and a concept I have used since. One alumnus conceived of and paid for the whole campaign, and it went something like this:
Share a Cup of Coffee with Your University
Think of how much you spend on those fancy coffees. Would you be willing to share a cup of coffee each month with your university? Save the money you spend on one cup of coffee each month, and at the end of the year that's a substantial $25 gift. Share a cup of coffee with the university by making a $25 contribution to support our annual fund.
It worked. In about 18 months we had nearly doubled our annual giving rate to 13%.
There's something I really like about this campaign. It presents the idea of simple sacrifice as a way to give. You don't have to have extra money laying around to make a gift (who does!?), you just have to reallocate some of the money you're already spending. It subtly shows that we actually do have extra money laying around! If you spend $3 on a cup of coffee, when you could make that coffee at home? That's extra money. If you buy a soda with your meals out when you could get water for free? That's extra money. If you are having meals out at all! That's extra money, and you can afford to give to charity.
When I volunteered to do training for a chapter of my sorority, I put it to the test. Speaking to 70 college women attending a state school, I showed that they had money to give to our philanthropy using the coffee example. Instead of falling on deaf ears, the sorority engaged in a lively discussion about where else they could make cuts in their budget in order to make meaningful gifts to charity. Designer bags, weekly manicures, alcohol, everything was on the table. Rather than feeling put out at the suggestion they should give up something they enjoy to give to charity, they felt empowered. As "poor" (I use the term loosely) college students, they had more money than they knew to help an important cause.
When you feel like to you don't have money to give to charity, remember this example. There are things you buy - yearly, monthly, maybe daily? - that are extras. They are luxuries. And when set against the backdrop of our world, where children die because they don't have enough food or clean water, those luxuries are selfish.
Here's a stagering figure that Peter Singer presents: for $125 billion, we could cut world poverty in half. $116 billion is what American's spend on booze annually.
What are you willing to give up to save a life?