Franks, Dawn

Dawn Franks

Remember "phone a friend" on the hit TV show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” Well, it’s a donor hack I recommend to anyone who wants to make a better, smarter, more impactful (put your favorite word here) gift.

When it’s time to do giving well, phone a friend.

Imagine this scenario: You’re having coffee with your best friend. Or you’re on the golf course waiting to tee off. Your friend mentions they’re going to a fundraiser event tonight. You’ve heard a lot about this organization and would like to know more.

But who do you ask? You ask the friend you’re with who seems to have an interest in the organization. Or, phone a friend.

It’s a golden opportunity to learn more. The time you invest in learning more about the organization will improve your gift-making. It’s good for you, and it’s very good for the organization. Nonprofit organizations love to answer your questions.

For most organizations our donations are the life blood of what keeps the doors open and the services delivered. That’s not a surprise to you since you read the same fundraising letters and newsletters that I do. But do you know how critical you are to the organization? Of course, the size of your donation is relative.

A $100 check to an organization that raises $100,000 per year is just as critical as the $1,000 check to an organization that raises $1 million every year. The size of the check may be less important than the right information to help you decide how much to give. And many $25 checks add up.

Let’s go back to questions you can ask your friend while having coffee, on the golf course or when you phone a friend.

— How long have you been involved with the organization?

— What is it about this organization that makes you want to contribute your money, time or wisdom? (Customize this question depending on your friend’s involvement.)

— What do you know about the organization’s mission? Or, what are they working to accomplish?

— How transparent is the organization about their finances?

— Have you met anyone in leadership? Or, have you read or heard the leadership talk about their services and future?

These questions are not sophisticated, mostly open-ended. They allow your friend to share whatever is on their mind. There’s no perfect list. So, make up your own list of questions.

In the best situation, your friend’s eyes light up and you can hear the excitement and passion in their voice as they describe something they care about and where they invest their donations.

For me, this is the bottom line: Don’t duck conversation opportunities like this. Don’t be afraid you’re setting yourself up for the ask from the fundraiser. You have the power to say no, not now, not this year.

Be more afraid you might miss the opportunity to join your friend in a giving venture that makes a difference, maybe even changes the world.

Too often we shy away from discussions about giving. They seem too private since they’re about money. Novelist Ayn Rand said, “Money is a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”

Giving conversations can bloom into greatness. They change the world. Explore giving with those around you. Be the driver behind your giving decisions, not just a rider.

Oh, and one last tip: Be sure to include at least one millennial on your phone-a-friend list. They are poised to become the most generous generation in history. In 2014, 84 percent of millennial employees gave to charity, and 70 percent of them donated more than an hour to a charitable cause according to the “Millennial Impact Report: 2015.”

They will tell you, like the Farmers Insurance TV commercial says, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” Millennials will have a different perspective on many organizations, and you might learn about something new and exciting to add to your donation list.

I suspect your friends love to be asked about their favorite causes. Be curious. Gather information, trust your instincts and give well.

Dawn Franks, CEO of Your Philanthropy, offers advising services to families, businesses and foundations to enhance the giving experience and maximize impact. She writes a blog, the YP Journal, at Comments and questions are welcome. Send to


Recent Stories You Might Have Missed