I was giving a fundraising seminar a couple of weeks ago. Most of the audience members were nonprofit CEOs, development directors, and Board members. A woman asked me, “So the other day I was sitting at Rotary with a man I knew had lots of money. But I couldn’t figure out, there at the breakfast table, how to ask him for a contribution.”
I told her that I was relieved that she hadn’t asked him for a contribution. He didn’t know the organization. He didn’t really know her. They were surrounded by other people. It was entirely the wrong setting, and he had not come to Rotary to be solicited. But the fortuitous seating arrangement was a great opportunity for her, one that she apparently hadn’t taken advantage of because she was so worried about how to ask him for a gift.
What could she have done? She could have asked him about his family, about his vacation plans, about last night’s baseball game. She could have found out that they have children the same age who were both majoring in the same field in neighboring colleges. She could have found out that they both like Tex-Mex cuisine, that they both like to vacation in cities, not resorts, and that they’re both fond of golden retrievers. She could have discovered that they had both run in the same 5k race last week and finished with almost the same time. They might even have slipped into political talk (dangerous territory, but often productive) and found out that they supported the same presidential candidate, and that they share concerns about the same state and national issues.
At some point she might have mentioned her organization and given the quick elevator speech. He may have expressed some interest and asked a bit about it. She could have responded with great enthusiasm about the mission and said it was the greatest place she’s ever worked. They might have talked about mutual friends who served on the Board of Directors, and a major new construction project that will double the organization’s capacity.
And she might have said, now that they knew one another and found that they enjoyed so many of the same things and one another’s company, that she’d love to have him over one day to show him the place – and could she email or call him to set that up?
A friend of mine is fond of saying, “The answer to all premature questions is ‘No’.” You shouldn’t ask people for a major gift to your organization until they know you and your cause well. Get to know them as individuals, as human beings, not as cash machines. Allow them to know you as a three-dimensional person who is more than simply a fundraiser. Share your interests. Show them the impact of your organization. Allow them to get excited about your work. In doing this you’re giving them the time and space to get enthusiastic so they will eventually, in essence, ask you what they can do to help.
The best asks are the ones the donors make of themselves. That’s never going to happen on a chance first meeting at a Rotary Club breakfast table. But that’s a good place to start the process.
Copyright Alan Cantor 2012. All rights reserved.