My uncle Russell once said to his wife, "You must admit men have better judgment than women." Annie replied, "That's certainly true. You married me, and I married you."
Whether women have better judgment isn't a discussion I'll entertain here. For that, wait for my next book, Putting Your Foot in It.
But one thing I do know is this: the first thing prospective donors judge, even before your proposal or your cause, is y-o-u.
They take your full measure, which typically means any or all of the following:
"Who are you?"
"What's in it for you?"
"Have you given?"
"Who else has given?" And, "Do you genuinely believe in this cause?"
Who Are You?
A friend? A peer? A stranger? A volunteer? Staff? All things being equal, the closer you are to the prospect, the better your odds are of securing a gift.
Sure, at times it's easier for a friend to say no. But my experience (and that of many fundraisers) is that it's painfully hard to turn away a close acquaintance or someone you love, who's passionate about a good cause. Too much is at stake emotionally.
Besides friendship, what else helps? Titles. The individual who has CEO on his or her business card will open more doors (and wallets) than an Assistant Manager for Small Dollar Gifts. Unfair, perhaps, but undeniable. The fact that your campaign chair or board president is asking underscores the importance of the gift.
Also, local or national standing plays a role. A highly respected community leader or an Olympic medalist will open doors—and checkbooks as well.
Then there's the matter of business relationships. If the person asking is in a position to benefit the donor's company or career, he or she is harder to refuse.
Last, if the solicitor is someone known for impeccable integrity (think Nelson Mandela or someone of equal caliber in your area of concern), then the chances for success increase measurably.
What's in It for You?
When a donor thinks, "What's your particular interest in asking me for money?" the underlying question is "What are your motives?" And motives mean everything.
If the person you're asking feels you're sacrificing your time for the cause, that your passion is genuine, and you truly care how the gift will be used, then the question "What's in it for you?" will be laid to rest.
If on the other hand donors feel you're deriving some personal benefit, they're less likely to be interested.
David Dunlop, one of the cocreators of Moves Management and a truly great fundraiser, sums it up this way: "If we are really skillful in our work, we'll have people asking who are so deeply committed to our cause that the answer to why are you asking will be obvious."
A worthy goal indeed.
Have You Given?
One of the first lessons I learned in fundraising is that it's difficult to ask if you haven't given yourself.
Imagine if a donor asks the solicitor, "What have you given?"
Does the solicitor inspire a gift by replying, "Hey, I'm giving my time—that's my gift."
That's when the would-be donor stows his or her wallet and says, "Sign me up for a few hours Saturday morning."
There are no inspiring or successful answers if you haven't given generously yourself.
Understand, the solicitor's gift needn't match what you hope the prospect will give. In fact, the amount is often less. You may be asking for $5 million while your own stretch gift is $500. That's okay. What matters is that your giving is proportionate to your means.
Donors have every right to be suspicious if the person asking hasn't given. Why? Because the asker should care enough about the cause to be its advocate—rationally, emotionally, and financially.
Do You Really Believe in This Cause?
Ever notice how the best salespeople are those who truly believe in their products? Their enthusiasm is real—and contagious.
In the same way, a person asking for a gift must convey his or her own passion. A fundraiser needn't be flamboyant or a skilled salesperson. But the person asking does have to communicate his or her belief that this is a wonderful and worthy cause.
Even better is the solicitor who's personally touched by the cause. If, for instance, someone is approached for a gift by a cancer survivor whose life has been saved by laboratory research, it's immensely powerful.
The same would be true if the asker is a businesswoman who grew up in poverty. Then, thanks to a summer camp program funded by this organization, her life was turned around. How could you not be inspired to give?
Another Excerpt from This Book
The preceding is a guest post by Harvey McKinnon, one of North America's leading fundraising experts and president of the Vancouver/Toronto-based fundraising consultancy Harvey McKinnon Associates. In addition to The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave, his works include Hidden Gold (Taylor); the audio CD How Today's Rich Give (Jossey-Bass); Tiny Essentials of Monthly Committed Giving (White Lion Press); and (as co-author) the international bestseller The Power of Giving (Tarcher/Penguin), which was selected as an Amazon Best Book for 2005.