The master fundraiser Steve Haddad once said to a development novice, “Your job as a fundraiser is to ask for the gift. The donor’s job is to decide how to respond. Don’t try to do the donor’s job.” That simple distinction, if taken to heart, is very liberating.
On one hand, it is important to synthesize everything you know about the donor to try to understand the right amount to ask for, the right project, the right time, and the right solicitor to make the ask.
But if you spend too much time asking yourself, “Is this the right time?” you will leak into mind reading without a license, which is usually a manifestation of procrastination. I have heard so many people say, “This isn’t a good time to ask X for a gift because he has a kid in college.” Or, “We shouldn’t ask Y for a gift because she just retired.” Or, “We shouldn’t ask Z for a gift because she just made a big pledge to the hospital campaign.” All of those MIGHT be a reason a donor might decline to make a gift. But none of them is a reason not to ask. X, Y, or Z might have an independent source of wealth that he or she could dip into. Or might be willing to introduce you to people capable of making a gift. Or might say, “Not now, but maybe in six months.”
When you review your list of potential donors, if you find yourself repeatedly skipping a name, train your brain to pause. Ask yourself: is this hesitation motivated by fear? Am I trying to do the donor’s job? Am I closing doors before I even reach them?
Remember the division of labor: one person asks. The other decides how to respond.
Paul Jolly is the founder of Jump Start Growth, Inc., and, as of March 2016, major gifts officer for Earthworks. His clients include advocacy and religious organizations, social services, community arts, and education nonprofits.