There.  Now I have your attention.

Money.  A topic more difficult to discuss than sex.  And yet, for those of us who are (or were) fundraisers, an important topic, and one on which we need to get a handle.

Recently, I was at a conference where participants were sharing success stories.  One group told about a solicitation meeting they felt went really, really well.

After recognizing the donor for all he had done, they mentioned the initiative they were raising funds for—and before they could ask for anything, the donor said, “Yes.  I’ve been hearing about this and I would like to make a gift of….” mentioning a number three and a half times higher than what they were going to ask for.

Success? I don’t think so. To me, this was a real failure.  A failure of the development team to do its job.

Warren Buffet, a man who knows something about money, says that you should never “waste time…..by talking, even preliminarily, abut a transaction when price is unknown.”

This is no differen for a fundraiser.

  • Money is too important to be left to the last minute. Indeed, since fundraising is all about money, it is something that should be discussed from the start.  From the very first meeting, you should be testing the waters to see what is that right price for the particular project for which you are fundraising.  And if the project you toss out doesn‘t resonate, you‘ll have to find the right price for a different project.

I think this is where good fundraisers part ways with those who really don‘t understand the process of relational fundraising.

It is NOT to become friends with your donors.  It is NOT to create a strong connection between you and the donor.  Both these things can and often do happen, but the purpose is to create a strong relationship for the donor with the organization.

As you build that relationship, you need to learn what matters—philanthropically—to your donor.  And you need to know what they love about you, feel lukewarm about, and yes, even what disappoints them.

This means asking open-ended questions.  But don‘t do what one development director I know would do—he would meet with prospects and, armed with his list of questions, shoot them out, rapid fire, jotting the answers as they were given.

  • Tell me, he would ask, how you became involved with us.
  • What do  you know about our programs?
  • Do you think we do a good job?
  • What other organizations do you support?

It was a grilling, and donors were not thrilled. Conversation did not occur.  By the end of his sessions, he reported that—finally—people gave short and to the point answers!

This is an example of a man without a clue.

The questions should be posed as part of a conversation. We didn‘t have much money when I was growing up, I sometimes would tell prospects. But my mother really instilled in us that we  had a duty to give back.  To this day, the best gift I every made was when I was in 5th grade, and donated my allowance to the national Multiple Sclerosis Society in honor of a friend‘s father.

I never had to ask them to tell me about their best gift—they offered stories and in that way, I learned what mattered to them.

Money, of course, always needs to be part of the conversation. It might be that you suggest an amount you hope that they will consider giving as they learn more about this opportunity;  you might show a gift range chart and ask where they see themselves on it; you could tell them what others have done and ask if they think they might do the same.

The point is that by the time you are having a formal solicitation meeting, there should be no surprises.  You should be pretty certain that you will get a yes for an amount that has been in discussed.  You show know if this is a current or deferred gift; given in one lump sum or over a period of years…and if the latter, how many years.  And you should have a pretty clear understanding of what donor recognition for this gift the donor desires.

Of course, it won‘t always go exactly as scripted, but when that happens, you should have enough information to walk it back until you can get the conversation heading in the right direction.

And the right direction means that money has always been part of the conversation and you know that you have asked for the right amount.


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