Just ordering the crème brûlée, not saying “I do”

By August 21, 2012Donor Cultivation

More than a decade ago, I was leading the charge in a campaign to solicit annual gifts from our staff. A colleague of mine, Sherry, told me she found the concept of a staff campaign offensive.  She held up one of the women in our support staff as an example.

Consuela was a young, single mother. After years of saving she had just purchased a modest home. Sherry thought it shocking that we would be so bold as to ask Consuela to consider a gift to the organization she worked for on top of all of her other burdens.

Having been on staff for various nonprofits over the course of my career, I know asking fellow staff members to participate in your annual fund can be a delicate issue. Staff give of their time and resources beyond what they are compensated for. They draw their families in to their work and solicit their friends.

In this organization, in order to avoid any implications of coercion, staff commitments were kept confidential. Our group celebrated collectively when every member of the staff acknowledged they received a personal solicitation and opportunity to give. That’s why Sherry couldn’t know that Consuela had given one of the more substantial gifts that year and had for the past three years as compared to the rest of us.

Consuela is the daughter of immigrant agricultural workers. She had taken advantage of the programs my organization had to offer throughout her youth, and now her daughter did as well. Had she known about Sherry’s argument on her behalf, she would have been insulted and hurt.

Donors don’t ever need anyone to say no on their behalf.

In the process of determining who are our most likely fundraising prospects, we start with a long list and narrow it down by outlining what we know about each person on the list. What are they passionate about? What do they give to other organizations? Who are their peers?

We also may list clues that will lead us to believe this is not a good time to approach a particular donor: they’ve been struggling to care for a sick parent, child or spouse, for example, or the economy has been particularly hard on the family business. These are things to take into consideration and may move a prospect to a lower position on your list.

But before writing someone off completely, think about Consuela. Her passion for the organization that provided a lifeline for her in her youth fueled her decision to give. Many of the most generous per capita givers in this country are low income families. Furthermore, there are those who may give modestly now, but more as their passion for the organization and capacity grow in tandem. Young people or parents with dependent children are examples.

So how can one know whether it is appropriate or not to make an ask? We may not at the outset. This is why information gathering and cultivation are so important – and why we must engage in this process absolutely without guile.

I mean it absolutely that one must set up such an initial meeting with no expectations of making an ask. I was conducting a fundraising training at one point where I talked about introducing a project to a prospective donor and asking probing questions that would help expand our understanding of what the project could mean to them.

“Isn’t that disingenuous, to say ‘we won’t ask you for money, we just want to talk to you about our project and get your feedback,'” someone asked, “kind of like: bait and switch?”

Absolutely not, no more than saying yes to a date ever meant I expected a proposal of marriage, it just meant I was open to the prospect of spending time with the person, getting to know him better.  Things might progress in our relationship from that point, or not.

If you and your volunteers are failing to engage with prospective donors because you expect to ultimately be turned down when asking for money, remember that making an ask is only one in a series of steps you’re taking in building a relationship on behalf of the organization. Get out and make contact. You might still hear “no” eventually.

But probably fewer times than you’d expect.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge