Could Face-to-Face Fundraising Be Flawed?
If you’re an experienced fundraiser, you’ve been taught that in-person, face-to-face solicitation is the most effective way to solicit gifts.
But is it?
A New Take on a Fundraising Basic
You know the drill: Want to ask someone for a large gift? Schedule an appointment to meet with the donor to ask for the gift face to face.
You’ve probably noticed that most people are uncomfortable asking for gifts that way. Executive directors, board members and even fundraising staffers seldom enjoy the process and often find one excuse after another to avoid face-to-face, in-person solicitations.
Often, even when the solicitor is willing, the process goes awry.
Sometimes the donor declines the visit, saying that they’ll just send a check.
Sometimes the “solicitation” luncheon goes from start to end without ever getting to the solicitation course. (The asker just couldn’t muster the courage to ask.)
Sometimes the best planned solicitation comes out like this: Joe, you know I’m here to hit you up for a gift. Just send what you can. Okay?
Rethinking a Sacred Cow
Know this! I’m 100 percent in favor of asking people for money in personal and specific ways.
I believe that asking for help—monetary or otherwise—draws us closer. It enables us to acknowledge that we need help and in doing so, it empowers the people you are asking for it.
But, I’m no longer convinced that face to face, eyeball to eyeball, is always the best way.
I prefer side by side, shoulder to shoulder or even email to email!
In-Person Solicitation Can Come in a Variety of Styles
Sitting across from someone creates an immediate, direct and often uncomfortable interaction. By its very nature, it can easily set up a sense of confrontation—asker versus giver. The intensity can be uncomfortable for both parties.
Though some people can create a positive and warm communication while looking at someone head on, many people—myself included—feel safer and more comfortable when we are side by side.
Talking and Walking
I’m a big fan of walking and talking. Want to ask someone you know about something important? Suggest talking a walk to discuss it. So why not ask for gifts that way too?
The Donor Engagement Tool
Or, if taking a walk doesn’t suit the situation, try using the Nick Fellers’ Donor Engagement Tool approach.
Nick uses oversized pieces of paper that graphically outline your project and how the donor might help. You and the donor sit side by side and look at the big document together. It becomes the focus of the conversation about the project and naturally leads to asking how the donor might help.
With this approach, you and your donor are partners in the conversation rather than combatants.
Don’t Rule Out Email
Sometimes you don’t have to meet in person to do a great job of asking for a gift.
Consider, for example, asking someone who has a long history with your organization. They know it well and know you well. While it might be fun to go for a walk or meet in person, you might begin the conversation (and perhaps finish it too) via email. Email is easy and immediate.
When used well, email can feel extremely personal and caring. You can use it to ask for a meeting or ask for the gift. You can follow up easily as can your donor.
But there are some downsides to email solicitation, even at its most personal.
Unless the donor responds, you’re never sure that they actually saw your email. So you have to be careful not to assume that no response means no interest and no gift. And you are sometimes in an awkward situation, not knowing whether to ask again.
The key to getting someone to open an email is the subject line. Be careful that your the subject lines you use will motivate your donor to open the email. Don’t say, “Asking for a gift.” Instead, you might say, “I have a personal favor…” Which of those emails would you open?
And remember that people skim rather than read emails, and you’ve got to write them accordingly. Long, dense paragraphs don’t work. If your ask requires lots of explanation, then email probably isn’t a good way for you to ask for a gift.
But if you know that your donor is already committed and all that’s left to be done is to ask for the gift, you may be able to do that in a short two or three line email. Then, consider following up with a phone call.
How Do You Feel About Face-to-Face Solicitation?
I suspect that I’m opening a big and controversial topic here. And I’m very interested in your thoughts on this subject.
How do you feel about face-to-face solicitation? If you have strong feelings on the subject, please do share them in the comments below, or find me on Twitter.
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.