Hesitation is a fundraiser’s worst enemy

Please understand – I am not an advocate of knee-jerk action-for-the-sake-of-action. Good cultivation and stewardship require deliberation and creativity. But there is a vast chasm between fruitful contemplation and procrastinating. Do you get stuck reaching for the phone when you are about to call a donor to set up an appointment or ask for a gift? If so, read on.

Paul Jolly Paul Jolly

Samantha Laprade of Gryphon Fundraising in Ontario talks about the 500 pound telephone. Some people persuade themselves that they don’t have the temperament for fundraising. Try to believe me: there is no special talent at work here. You can do it. Here are some tips.

1. Imagine failure. The worst thing that can happen really isn’t that bad, is it?

2. Prepare to listen to “no” and understand what it means. Remember, if the person at the other end of the phone line says no, it could mean one of a dozen things. Don’t get so tangled up in rejection that you forget to find out.

3. Imagine success. Conversely, you have no idea where a relationship that starts with that phone call could lead. Goodwill is an unlimited resource. Uncork it!

4. Remember that you are not responsible for the response. A lot of hesitation comes from trying to anticipate how the donor will react. You are only responsible for your job, which is putting out the request.

5. Be aware of whether the ask is incremental or dramatic. Asking for $1,200 from someone who gave $1,000 last year is very different from asking a non donor.

6. Set the stage. My friend and mentor Marianne Payne often prefaces an ask by saying, “I am going to ask you for more than what you probably have in mind.” That prepares the donor for what is about to come.

7. Remember the donor’s individuality. Wealthy people often feel isolated; it is easy for them to believe that everyone who approaches them wants money. On the other hand, according to a recent UBS survey, only 28% of those with $1 to 5 million of investible money don’t consider themselves wealthy. If you have preconceptions about affluence (and in this neurotic society, who doesn’t?) it’s best to lay them aside.

8. Make it a team effort. It is usually easier, more comfortable, and more successful to do solicitation with someone else.

9. Don’t focus on the solicitation. Focus instead on what you will tell the donor six months later. Philanthropy is played out when your organization has put the donor’s gift to use. That conversation when you are telling to donor what they accomplished is where the power is. So imagine that conversation, then work backwards to construct a solicitation that will support it.

10. Remember that you are giving the donor a chance to shine. When I first started doing development in the mid 1980’s, I heard an old timer say that when you ask someone for a gift, you are doing him or her a favor. “Self-serving nonsense” was my reaction. Now I am an old timer, and I will go further. I believe giving away money is a sacred and transformative privilege. Helping someone do it well is one of the greatest gifts you can offer.

11. Make your own gift first, and ask the donor to join you. If you are a solicitor for a non profit organization, make a gift you are proud of before you ask. It will give you confidence you can’t get any other way.

12. Start with a long enough list. In spite of everything, there will be some rejections. So make sure you have someone else to call, so you can move on and not dwell in disappointment.

Even the most seasoned fundraisers feel a surge of adrenaline before they ask for a gift. What makes them masters is that they use that adrenaline to sharpen their attention. It’s the difference between a novice actor who is paralyzed by stage-fright and a star who takes advantage of the extra energy. So step onto that stage and shine!

The preceding is a guest post by Paul Jolly, founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc. ( Paul worked as a fund raising professional for over 20 years before starting the consulting firm Jump Start Growth. He began his career serving various Quaker institutions, then moved to The Wilderness Society, and then the American Civil Liberties Union. In every instance, he has zeroed in on gifts from individuals at the top of the giving pyramid. The focus of Paul’s consulting work is bringing sophisticated major gifts fund raising practices to organizations that are outside of the philanthropic mainstream. His successes include leading three capital campaigns for organizations new to major gifts fund raising, securing millions of dollars in bequest and planned gift commitments, and bringing new life and laser-sharp focus to disheartened development departments.

Topics: Fundraising
  New call-to-action