As a frequent trainer, I know that in order to share information we often simplify. We make things that are going every which way appear to be linear, and act as if one size could possibly fit all. We trust that those we are training will take the information, process it through their specific lens and somehow make it theirs. And to greater or lesser degrees that works.
But sometimes, in an effort to make information accessible, I think we create a monster that is somehow taken as the King and it becomes THE way we do things. So, I think, it is with fundraising.
We’ve broken it down into linear steps—whether you talk of the “five I’s,” the four basic steps, the continuous circle—we pretend that things fall neatly into little boxes labeled “Prospecting,” “Cultivation,” “Solicitation,” and “Stewardship.”
I’m not much of a believer in neat progressions. Things have always been messier in my life. Especially in my fundraising life.
When I ask a donor to help identify others who might support our organization, am I only prospecting? Or am I, in truth, also stewarding the donor—which, truth to tell, is also cultivating her for a follow-on gift. And by asking for some names, an opinion, for a visit just to catch up, aren’t I engaging in solicitation. For every ask has two purposes, and one is to get the person used to saying yes.
This is not to suggest that we scrap our ways of talking about fundraising, just that we understand that it is not so clear-cut. This is one arena where you do have to color outside the boxes.
Which brings me to my second-biggest pet peeve: thinking about fundraising strictly as a march to a solicitation (“the Ask”—always with a capital A) where you, the solicitor, pitch to the prospect and wait for a yes.
When you pitch something, you throw or toss it (or if it has been one of those days, you can really hurl the thing). In this scenario, the other person either catches or fumbles. Or the pitch goes totally wide of the mark.
While I think that if you are doing a mass solicitation, such as a direct mail piece, or using your newsletter to make an ask, then yes, pitching may be the only thing you can do. But then, we don’t expect our direct mail or the like to be terribly effective, measuring effectiveness by the number of yes answers compared to the number of asks.
If I’ve taken the time to meet with someone face to face, I have undoubtedly done so because I have reason to believe a bigger gift is possible. That being the case, I want to ensure that when an ask is made it is welcomed. More, it is the right ask. That means I know, really know, what is of interest. I should have a sense of the right range and a timeframe that would make sense. If I am so busy talking, I can’t find out the answers to these truly burning questions.
Leave the pitching to the baseball players. Engage, rather, in a dialog. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Be prepared to answer questions asked of you. Don’t rush things, take it slow. The Ask needn’t be a one-night stand. It can take a number of meetings, sometimes involving additional people.
Handled correctly, and looked at as one step in a long series of steps that culminate in a relationship, you will find that instead of a donation you have a donor, who will support your organization for a long time with many different gifts.
Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, helping them to build their resource development capacity. To learn more go to http://janetlevineconsulting.com.