Making It Rain: The Role of Rainmaker
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The last of the three articles on the roles in soliciting, this week I take up the role that many people see as the sum total of the ask—the individual that actually does the asking. I call it the “rainmaker.”
What does the rainmaker do? In agriculturally based tribal societies, the role of the rainmaker, a shaman of sorts, was critical. Through him, rain was encouraged to fall to provide for crops and sustenance, and thus, life.
The rainmaker in fundraising, likewise, makes things happen. Given the proper preparation, the rainmaker can usually get a “yes” in response to the request for a gift.
It’s important to remember that even the shaman of old invoked help from others. For him, it was friendly spirits, opiates or other aids. Critical to his success, however, was the belief and confidence that others placed in him. So it is with the fundraising rainmaker.
The fundraising rainmaker has many to help him or her. He appears on the scene when all is ready—and not before. Remember, all three roles—bag carrier, authenticator and rainmaker—can be accomplished with one individual. It’s the role that appears when all is ready, not the person, per se.
Let’s quickly review the two roles we’ve already covered. The bag carrier, you’ll recall, is the person who makes ready. The individual who prepares collateral and sets the stage strategically. He or she is on the spot when and where documentation is needed.
The authenticator is the person that, as the name implies, makes the cause or appeal authentic, real and genuine. Genuine to the potential investor, that is. The point of view of the other is the critical condition—and the most difficult to achieve. This is Principle 2 of The Eight Principles™, Begin at the Beginning™, in force.
The rainmaker is the individual that builds upon the readiness of the bag carrier and the believability of the authenticator to bring the potential investor to the point of commitment. He or she knows that without proper preparation and a state of readiness in the mind of the investor, simply putting forth a proposal—asking—is unlikely to achieve the desired outcome.
So, what are the qualities that we look for in the effective rainmaker? First, and foremost, is a personal commitment to the cause being promoted. Having made their own investment—yes, gift—is critical in being persuasive. Whether or not the subject is ever broached, the investor knows instinctively if a commitment has been made by the rainmaker.
Call it “instinct,” “gut” or whatever, the aura is undeniable to the investor in its presence—and essential to success.
Second is the quality of what I’ll call directness. Properly prepared, potential investors want to know what is being pitched—directly. This is where those assigned the rainmaking task often go sideways. They begin to doubt—even unconsciously—the match between investor and cause. Mentally they go through a dance with "what ifs." Not a good thing.
When good rainmakers ask, they simply ask—and then wait for a response. They are careful never to interrupt a potential investor considering the request with inane comments designed to fill the silence and offer the solicitor some sort of false comfort.
You see, rainmakers know instinctively Principle 1 of The Eight Principles™, Donors are the Drivers®. Donors drive philanthropy through the realization of their values and visions. Rainmakers know how to stay in the passenger seat without losing their way.
Rainmakers are excellent listeners. You see, they are always listening—and watching, if they are in front of the potential investor. They are looking for cues that will guide them as to what the donor may be thinking. They know that much of what a donor may say is tempered by many outside influences that have nothing to do with the request at hand.
It’s the inexperienced or naive rainmaker that believes everything that a donor may say in the meeting is about them or their cause.
When selecting the rainmaker, charismatic personality traits, or marketing or sales expertise, is often seen as the criteria to use.
When someone asks me who should be the rainmaker, I respond, “The person most likely to get a ‘yes.'" Hmm.
Who might that be?
Certainly someone with the general qualities we’ve discussed is potentially a good choice. The best person to be rainmaker is that individual that through their personality, relationship to the cause, knowledge of the potential investor or relationship with her, is most likely to achieve success.
It’s that simple. And yet, it’s not.
Using these criteria makes the unlikely success of the custodian who successfully solicited a seven-figure gift from a top prospective donor look a lot less remarkable. Such was the real-life situation that I experienced several years back.
The key in choosing the rainmaker is to look beyond the conventional wisdom and surface trappings while focusing on the qualities I’ve mentioned.
The three roles mesh together to produce an unstoppable team in the pursuit of worthy investments in worthy causes.
Whether in one person or three, it’s in knowing the roles and executing them flawlessly that (almost) always achieves success.
When your A-team is in place, Principle 7 of The Eight Principles™, Renew & Refresh™, takes on its fullest embodiment. Whether seeking a gift for the first time, or seeking to renew a standing investment of thirty years, it amounts to the same thing. It’s how you prepare, communicate and execute that thing we fundraisers call “the ask.”
I extend my thanks to all those who have shared their concerns and frustrations on this all-important topic.
Let me hear from you. Please share your situation and the challenges you face in developing sustainable revenue streams. Email me and I’ll arrange a brief consult providing you with practical guidance. I’ll choose some of these thorny obstacles to share, along with my insights, in upcoming columns.
Success is waiting. Go out and achieve it.
Please note: I’ll be taking my summer hiatus over the next couple of weeks. My next article will be published on Thursday, Aug. 28. But—please keep those queries coming. I’ll respond and get a consult set as soon as possible!
Larry believes in the power of relationships and the power of philanthropy to create a better place and transform lives.
Larry is the founder of The Eight Principles. His mission is to give nonprofits and philanthropists alike the opportunity to achieve their shared visions. With more than 25 years of experience in charitable fundraising and philanthropy, Larry knows that financial sustainability and scalability is possible for any nonprofit organization or charitable cause and is dependent on neither size nor resources but instead with the commitment to create a shared vision.
Larry is the author of the award-wining book, "The Eight Principles of Sustainable Fundraising." He is the Association of Fundraising Professionals' 2010 Outstanding Development Executive and has ranked in the Top 15 Fundraising Consultants in the United States by the Wall Street Business Network.
Larry is the creator of the revolutionary online fundraising training platform, The Oracle League.
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