We Never Really Know
Last week I had lunch with an incredible lady. She is bright, caring, vivacious—a great leader. She also happens to enjoy significant wealth.
We had great fun—and some challenges—when she co-chaired a very successful campaign. The biggest challenge was a CEO who would not listen and who was impressed with prominent individuals and burdened her with a co-chair that we protested against choosing up to the day the CEO recruited him.
Finding the proper leadership is a reason that you conduct a feasibility study, and we knew going in that the gift level of the co-chair and his family would not be sufficient, and that he would be a huge distraction. They did not come in at the desired level, and he was a distraction and a source of great frustration to my friend. That campaign could have ended a year early and with probably a million dollars more in gifts, but we hit the goal—overachieved it, and on time. Thanks largely to this incredible lady.
At lunch she said, "Jeff, I will never forget during the campaign when we received a gift less that we had hoped for, that you said this planted the seed for a major gift in a future campaign. That was very comforting to me.”
I believe this. We put campaign timelines in donors’ lives and never know their circumstances, and in some cases we just haven’t done our work to cultivate them enough. And now we have the pressures of a campaign—goal and deadline.
Some of the best fundraising advice comes from Ben Franklin and John D. Rockefeller. Rockefeller said:
“Another suggestion I like to have made to me by a solicitor is how much it is hoped I will give. Of course, such a suggestion can be made in a way that might be most annoying. I do not like to have anyone tell me what it is my duty to give. There is just one man who is going to decide that question ... who has the responsibility of deciding it ... and that is myself. But I do like a man to say to me, 'We are trying to raise $4 million, and are hoping you may be desirous of giving blank dollars. If you see your way clear to do so, it will be an enormous help and encouragement. You may have it in your mind to give more; if so, we shall be glad. On the other hand, you may feel you cannot give as much, in view of other responsibilities. If that is the case, we shall understand. Whatever you give after thinking the matter over carefully in the light of the need, your other obligations and your desire to do your full share as a citizen will be gratefully received and deeply appreciated.' When you talk to a man like that, he is glad to meet you again, and will not take the other elevator when he sees you in the corridor because you backed him to the wall and forced him to give.”
We conduct feasibility studies to provide the research on what we will face in a campaign. It is invaluable.
When it comes to someone’s potential, life happens and other commitments and priorities are in play. Someone may have a health or family situation that no one knows about that is impacting their giving. They may be in a very different position in a few months—or a few years.
Let’s keep honoring our donors and prospective donors, and building long-term relationships that transcend campaign timeframes.
Looking for Jeff? You'll find him either on the lake, laughing with good friends, or helping nonprofits develop to their full potential.
Jeff believes that successful fundraising is built on a bedrock of relevant, consistent messaging; sound practices; the nurturing of relationships; and impeccable stewardship. And that organizations that adhere to those standards serve as beacons to others that aspire to them. The Bedrocks & Beacons blog will provide strategic information to help nonprofits be both.
Jeff has more than 25 years of nonprofit leadership experience and is a member of the NonProfit PRO Editorial Advisory Board.