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Dealing with “The Ask”

in the age of Social Distance


Dealing with “The Ask” 

in the age of Social Distance

It doesn’t matter if you run a large foundation or a small business;

you inevitably get hit with “The Ask.” 

What do I mean by the “ask”?  When you give out money, or people just think you give out money, then people come to you asking for money. 

Whether they ask you to buy cookies or candles or to make a significant contribution to the latest fundraiser, you will have to deal with it. And like any other difficult task, dealing with it the wrong way creates more problems for you and your business down the road.

If you are trying to survive – or even thrive during self-distancing, that same lousy plan, will alienate the very same customer base you’re hoping will save your business. Yet, handle the ask properly, especially in these days of social distancing, and you will make a reputation for yourself as a champion in your community.

"If you aren't branding yourself, someone else will do it for you" - Lynda Weatherman, Brevard EDC

If you didn’t have a plan to deal with it before COVID-19 (and let’s be honest, you probably didn’t), the ask probably made you look like a jerk on more than one occasion! More to the point, the ask has definitely cost your salespeople time and productivity. Ask them yourself, they’ll tell you. Don’t add up the costs; it’ll just depress you.

For years the best of the best in philanthropy have handled the ask with “Hug and Release” philanthropy (their term, not mine). Big foundations have elevated it to an art form. And I suppose, if you are giving away thousands, or millions, a year, then you can afford to decline and walk away; there will always be more people applying for your grants. 

For the majority of us, however,  especially for small and medium-sized businesses, hug and release is a toxic plan that alienates customers and undermines our marketing.

The goal of Hug and Release is beautifully explained here by Patty Stonsiferi:

“Because most of these individuals and organizations are working extremely hard on important causes, we all want to see progress on: The “hug” should be a genuine acknowledgment of what they are trying to do and your appreciation for their efforts. The “release” needs to be equally genuine and should give them information that helps them understand their own failure to win your support.”

So, here is my recommended turn-down framework: “John, it’s great that you are working to support finding a cure for breast cancer. I have been reading about the many possibilities for improved treatment that are beginning to surface thanks to the research going on in this area …” (the genuine hug)—” But I have chosen to focus my giving on early childhood education—it’s an area I have interest and passion in and also needs whatever resources I can give” (the release).”

Hug and Release philanthropy works with the same nuance as slash and burn agriculture or shock and awe warfare. It “works” because the organizations that use it can afford to cherry-pick the best charities and leave the others to die on the vine without a second thought. They simply don’t feel the backlash, and they don’t see any value in these organizations’ current or potential impact in their community. If they did, foundations wouldn’t release, they’d invest in them.

The irony is that hug and release practitioners, the best foundations, can’t see any potential value in the charities they reject. They simply “release.” Why? Because they get paid to make the philanthropic purchases, not to find and develop long term investments or build their brand. 

Let’s face it, anyone with a whistle can coach an Olympic athlete, but it takes a real coach to turn average talent into a champion in any arena; but that’s a future blog post. The best of the best in philanthropy are too busy trading dollars for impact to test their ability as business mentors and community leaders by developing the charities they release to their highest potential.

And that’s your opportunity knocking. Can you hear it? If you’ve succeeded in business pre-COVID 19, you have what it takes to become a hero in your community, and the small charities that share your passion for the community, and that you hope will support your business, can help you. Make it happen now, or next week you’ll be askin’ “what just happened?”

Hug and Release Philanthropy is dead. COVID-19 killed it. Welcome to the world of Embrace and Empower Philanthropy. Are you looking for a return on your community investment? There is a better way, and it’s a lot easier than you probably think. (Next Week:  Embrace & Empower Philanthropy - A Better Way).

If you’ve used Hug and Release or had it used on you, let me know how it felt for you. Please leave a comment below. 


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