How to Approach the Wealthiest People for a Gift the Right Way
In our last post, we talked about the wrong ways to approach the richest folks in town for a gift. Now we’re going to look at the right ways.
Rich People: They’re Just Like You and Me
Rich people put on their pants one leg at a time just like you do. They have concerns like you do. They must juggle competing priorities like you do …
- Perhaps one of their children is having behavior problems or a parent has just been diagnosed with cancer.
- Chances are good that they wrestle with their weight and keep telling themselves to exercise more.
- Maybe they’re not so happy with their lives right now.
But in one way, they are different. Their wealth often creates uncomfortable expectations. Because many people think that someone who has lots money should give some to them! And that sense of expectation may make them guarded.
I often think of this sense of obligation when I feel myself becoming guarded in the subway when a poor person asks me for help. The sense of being wealthy in the face of need is uncomfortable. And, though at a different level, it’s no different from what wealthy people feel when asked for money from every organization in town.
2 Key Principles
Before you approach a wealthy individual for a major gift, remember these two key principles and keep them in at the top of your mind.
Principle 1: Your needs do not trump their needs.
Just because you need money isn’t a reason for a wealthy person to give to your cause.
Principle 2: Having wealth is no reason to give.
Just because someone has lots of money isn’t a reason he or she should give to your cause.
What Makes a Wealthy Person Give to a Cause Anyway?
Once you let go of your expectations and judgments, you’ll realize that a wealthy person is likely to give to your organization, if their gift to you will help them accomplish something that is important to them.
That’s right. People (wealthy or otherwise) give to help themselves! And in that idea is the key to how to approach a wealthy person.
Your job is to find out what your wealthy person cares about and to determine if what you do matters to them.
If it does, you have a way forward. If it doesn’t, you don’t.
3 Ways to Approach Wealthy People for a Gift
Here are three specific things to do once you have identified the wealthiest people in your community.
1. Learn about their real interests.
Do as much homework as possible to find out whether the interests of the wealthy people with whom you’re hoping to connect overlap with your cause. Find out who they already give to and whether those organizations are related to what you do.
Learn what you can about their interests and the community of people they associate with. Look for relationships you share.
Look beyond their money for areas of expertise or experience that might be helpful to you.
Most of this information is best found right in your community. When you start paying attention and asking questions, you’ll find that you can learn a huge amount about the wealthiest people in your town. Read the newspaper. Attend social events. Ask people about them.
2. Approach them from the perspective of their interests.
Once you have learned that a wealthy person in your town has an interest that overlaps with your mission, then you can get in touch with them.
They key here is that you’re not contacting them to talk about your needs. Rather, you’re contacting them to talk about your mutual interests.
3. Ask them for their advice.
Asking for advice is often a good idea. But don’t just use it as a ploy. You should only ask for advice that someone can credibly give. Your wealthy donors will know if you are “playing” them, so resist the temptation to do that.
You Probably Have More In Common Than You Think
Once you get over your misconceptions that rich people are so different and that they won’t want to talk with you, you’ll find that if you share common interests, you can bridge the wealth gap and build a relationship that may well lead to a gift.
Just remember, the key is to treat them like people and focus on your mutual interests. Do that, and you’ll be well on your way.
When you get to know your donors and ask them to do the things they want to do, you’ll start having a blast and so will they! But you have to be good at asking questions. This really is a skill. Here are some tips for asking great questions.
Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.