Nothing To Be Afraid Of

I became much more comfortable with public speaking when I realized that the audience was rooting for me.

Think about it. Someone stands up to address a group. It may be professional conference or a Rotary Club or a high school graduation. The people in the audience take a deep breath and say to themselves, “I sure hope this speaker is decent. Funny. Interesting. Worth my time!” They want the presenter to be good, because the alternative is too painful. They dread the dull and nervous speaker.

So the audience tends to laugh at the speaker’s jokes and enthusiastically nod at the major points. In this way they both encourage the presenter and convince themselves that this event is worthy. They are doing all they can to reach the happy conclusion that the speaker is terrific.

If you’re the person at the podium, realizing that the audience is on your side makes public speaking far less intimidating. (I know, I know — they say that to calm down you should imagine the audience naked. I never understood that idea. I get flustered even thinking about it. Why would that calm me down? No: I simply think of everyone in the group — fully clothed! — pulling for me.)

I feel the same way about fundraising visits. They’re really not that difficult, because your donors want to like you.

Say that you’re visiting a woman named Marcia at her home. Marcia has been a loyal $1,000-a-year donor to your organization for the past decade. You’ve never met before.

Marcia comes into the meeting fully prepared to like you. After all, she’s been giving generously to your organization for years. She’s inclined to think that her funds have been left in good hands. She’s eager to connect, to get verification that she’s been smart about her charitable giving all along.

Think about that dynamic the next time you pull into a donor’s driveway or knock on a donor’s door. The person you’re meeting with is predisposed to like you and your organization. That should set your mind at ease.

But there’s something else about these encounters, which is of greater importance: you and your organization are providing the donor with a sense of significance.

I remember a few years ago when I was talking with my then-organization’s most important donor.  A few days before, after a visit from our CEO, this individual had committed to the single largest gift in our history. I was calling to arrange for how the funds were going to be transferred to our accounts. I of course thanked the donor. I also mentioned that, above and beyond the gift, our CEO had been touched by their remarkably warm welcome. The donor chuckled and said, “Goodness! The day your boss visits us is always the most interesting day in our year! We can’t wait to catch up with her! You folks do such remarkable things. We’re so excited to be a part! It makes us so proud!”

This was an extremely wealthy individual. The donor’s family had great inherited wealth, and working was purely optional for all family members. Within this context, our organization gave the donor significance. More than his several homes or expensive sailboat or trips to Paris, the gift to our nonprofit gave his wealth meaning, context, and purpose.

To one degree or another, all donations give a sense of meaning to the people making the contribution. To write a check for $10, $100, $1,000, $10,000, or $100,000 is a way of taking a stand, making a statement, and combating a problem the donor cares deeply about. Paying the electric bill or going to the grocery store doesn’t give that sense of purpose. There’s no spiritual glow from buying a new dishwasher. But making a charitable gift to a worthy cause can be deeply satisfying.

So when you go to visit a donor, don’t feel as though you’re putting the squeeze on them. You’re asking them for money, sure, either directly or indirectly, but that’s only a small part of what you’re doing. What’s really happening is that you’re giving them the opportunity to make a difference, to be significant, to change the world.

Copyright Alan Cantor 2013. All rights reserved.

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5 thoughts on “Nothing To Be Afraid Of”

  1. Love your last line Al – “What’s really happening is that you’re giving them the opportunity to make a difference, to be significant, to change the world.”

  2. Great piece, Al. It should be in every solicitor’s packet. An additional thought: You focus on the important things these visits do for the donor. Another blog could be written on what they do for the solicitor. I find that there is a real satisfaction (and significance) for those doing the asking when the prospect says yes and gives a significant gift. You make a special new friend who shares your values. Even though it is often hard to start the process, a successful result gives a great lift to the solicitor as well as the donor.
    Dick

    1. Well put, Dick — so true! I think of so many times when I’ve been on the soliciting side of such visits, and I couldn’t believe that I was getting paid to have so enjoyable and meaningful an exchange. Thanks!

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