Don't Skip Steps in the Sequence of a Proper Ask
In these columns I address real-life obstacles and challenges that nonprofits face in creating sustainable funding to deliver their missions and achieve their goals. Readers write via email to receive a quick consultation and perhaps have their particular problem addressed in these columns.
As a thank-you to my readers, from now through the end of the year, I am sending a complimentary copy of my book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," to the reader whose situation is used in each week's article.
Tom, a young nonprofit executive reached out to me last week a bit frustrated. New to fundraising, he began his work with what could be called a text-book approach. He had worked to engage his board first. Each board member was now stepping up and making an appropriate gift. Board members were also extending themselves to introduce him to members of their networks.
Sounds promising, doesn't it? Well, it should be but it wasn't. As I continued to read the energetic exec's email, I searched for what might be missing. I couldn't find it. Seemed to me as though he was doing everything right. And yet, at the time of his first communication with me, he was 0-6 in solicitations of those to whom board members had referred him even with the board member being present for the solicitation. Yes, he was making face-to-face calls on each of these potential investors as they all had four-figure cash gift potential.
Since I couldn't immediately pinpoint the problem, I responded with a few more questions. Specifically, asking him to describe to me, in detail, the sequence of one of these meetings with potential donors. After I read a couple of these synopses, the picture began to come into focus.
This young man is a likeable person. He represents a worthy social-service organization with a good track record and powerful case for those philanthropists who share it. His youth — age 26 — is a slight disadvantage in approaching potential investors who, for the most part, were at least twice his age. You know, the "old man" syndrome that someone who doesn't have any gray hair can't have possibly seen enough of life to be taken seriously. But that really isn't the central issue.
After a couple of email exchanges with more details of these meetings, it became clear why his success record was so abysmal. It wasn't a lack of sincerity or winsomeness. It wasn't that the individuals he was seeing lacked the disposition to invest in this worthy cause. It was simply that he was skipping a critical step on the path to success.
When we live and breathe a cause or project each and every day, it becomes a part of us. We develop a great deal of knowledge and understanding. Over time, much of that knowledge becomes second nature. There's no longer a need to consciously remind ourselves. When commitment and knowledge become instinct, that's not a bad thing. It makes us even more productive and expert in our efforts for the common good.
It becomes a serious liability, however, when we start reaching out to others to enlist their support. I mean any who do not share our insider knowledge or experience. When we connect with these individuals we naturally begin our efforts to enlist or convince with this innate understanding firmly packed into our psyches. We start at a place that assumes all that we already know. We don't stop to remind ourselves that the person with whom we are speaking knows little more than our names, what we do in general terms, and the name of the board member siting with us at the meeting.
In his eagerness to succeed, this well-meaning young man forgot to step outside of himself and begin at the same place as the person sitting in front of him. Making a potential investor acutely aware of what we do and why we do it — in terms that they will understand and appreciate — is essential to the donor education that must precede any financial investment in our cause, no matter how worthy.
I asked the nonprofit exec to do a lot of listening in his next several meetings with potential donors. Perhaps not even ask them for a gift at all — at least this time. Listen for the cues that tell you what the individual is thinking, what he knows and, more importantly, what he doesn't know. Once you know where the gaps in the potential donor's understanding are, you can adroitly bridge them and move the donor to an emotional commitment, which is the precursor for a financial investment.
I haven't yet heard back from Tom, but I'm eagerly awaiting a progress report. I extend my thanks to him for reaching out and being wiling to honestly explore how he can become a more effective advocate and fundraiser for his worthy organization. A copy of "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising" is on it's way to Tom as my thank you.
Please let me hear from you concerning your particular situation and the difficulties you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me. and I'll give you a quick response. I'll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
An internationally recognized philanthropy and fundraising thought leader, Larry C. Johnson trains the staff and volunteers of worthy causes to achieve real impact through the creation of reliable, growing revenue streams. He emphasizes principles before methods as the key to long-lasting success. He stresses the simple, the practical and the joyful.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles, the premier brand for educational products and services in relational fundraising and philanthropy. The Eight Principles provides digital education, live workshops and structured coaching to nonprofit organizations.
Author of the award-winning book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising," AFP named Larry Outstanding Development Executive in 2010. The Wall Street Business Network ranks him in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the USA. Larry is a graduate of Yale University. Larry speaks widely and serves on numerous nonprofit and corporate boards, including The Philanthropy Council of The Carter Center, the philanthropy of the 39th President of the U.S.