The Four Selfs

I think donors like to qualify themselves, educate themselves, involve themselves, and solicit themselves. I call these the “four selfs” of Engagement Fundraising:

  • Self-qualification 
  • Self-education
  • Self-involvement
  • Self-solicitation


Just as you and I prefer to opt-in to receive emails from a marketer, donors prefer to opt-in to be in your caseload/portfolio. Engagement fundraisers recognize this truth and make their portfolios of major and legacy donors include people that have qualified themselves.

Of course, the Pareto principle applies here. Those you ask to opt-in should first have the capacity to give, as well as some passion and interest in your organization’s mission. 

But the thing to remember is that fundraising should always be permission-oriented. A donor should have the opportunity to decide whether they want to have a deeper relationship with you and your organization, when they’d like it to move forward, and at what pace.


I think most of us spend a ton of time on self-education and your major and legacy donor prospects are no different. They probably use Google just as much as you do every time they are curious about something, including your mission. 

Your job is to recognize that 99% of the time your supporters try to educate themselves about you, your organization, its mission and how they can realize the best version of themselves by supporting it, they do it online— without you. 

With that in mind, you need to consider how you are helping them. Are you making information available to them? Is it convenient? Is it entertaining? If not, you might want to take a moment to rethink your communication strategy because, if you won’t work hard to build relationships with your supporters by allowing them the opportunity to self-educate easily online, your competition probably will.


Are you providing your supporters with opportunities to immerse themselves more deeply in your mission? One of the best ways to generate major gifts is to invite high-capacity supporters to join your board or a committee so they can involve themselves more deeply. Why not ask them to become a volunteer? 

Volunteerism is the gateway drug leading to major giving and legacy gifts. Proof is offered by statistics from the 2016 U.S. Trust® Study of High Net Worth Philanthropy based on a survey of U.S. households with a net worth of $1 million or more (excluding the value of their primary home) and/or an annual household income of $200,000 or more:

  • 55.9 percent of high-net-worth individuals volunteer at two or more organizations. In other words, they’re testing you and comparing you to your competition.
  • 84.3 percent give to some, most, or all of the organizations for which they volunteer. They don’t just give their time; they give their money, too.
  • High-net-worth volunteers give 56 percent more dollars overall than non-volunteers with similar net worth.


Finally, I saved the best for last – self-solicitation. Engagement Fundraising helps create circumstances that lead your supporters to ask themselves to act, solve problems, and take stands. Oprah did that when she decided to build a school as she met with Nelson Mandela. John C. Harvard did that in 1638 when he made his deathbed bequest to create the first institution of higher education in the United States. 

In the private sector, we say, “People don’t like to be sold to, but they love to buy.” Similarly, people don’t like to be targets of fundraising, but they love to give. Your efforts need to provide opportunities for self-actualization among your high-capacity supporters so they’ll solicit themselves once they have belief and confidence in your mission and your ability to carry it out on their behalf.


Related Posts:

>>Introducing the Four Selfs of Engagement Fundraising
>>Engagement Fundraising in 7 Simple Bullet Points


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Stacy Pearson
5 years ago

I just heard your interview on sgENGAGE! This is so GOOD! Why is no one talking about this? I work with nonprofits and am shocked at how old some of their giving models are, but you are the first to address it! Likewise, I unsubscribe to any organization who abuses me with multiple emails all the time. And, case-in-point, I recently began donating to two organizations – neither of which solicited me but whose projects were so irresistible that I wanted in – – and you are correct, I have felt good all day long for doing so! THAT’S value!
You are really onto something here Greg. I purchased your book and will be watching for more from you!! I hope you change the world!


[…] I’m interested in self-navigating the decision-making process. I’m not interested in getting ‘assistance’ (and being sold). At least, not yet. I’ll want […]

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