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Quick Questions Asked and Answered

Throughout my week, working with clients, working on volunteer activities or just moving through my day at the gym or Giant Eagle, board members, leaders, staff, former colleagues, neighbors and others have questions on fundraising. I think I must be an easy target for these "questions on the fly." So this week I am going to answer some of the most frequent questions that people ask me about their work.

At the movies last week when I was buying popcorn: Gayle, Sue Jones is one of my prospects—you know everyone. How much should I ask Sue to give? Well, I never answer such a question. I have no idea about the relationship that Sue might have with the organization, what she is doing currently with her philanthropy budget, or what else might be going on in her family. Sometimes, I am not really sure about the mission of the organization. Sorry (and moving on). I always feel that these situations can compare with accosting a foundation officer or someone who is known in the community for their wealth and asking them for a gift in the worst of situations.

Hey, Gayle, our board is ready to go out on a major $2 million campaign and we have about 350 people on our list. Next week we are going to send them a letter asking for their support. What should we expect to receive from something like this? Well, I hardly knew where to start with this. I learned that they had no development counsel, but they surely had some strong board members who had genuine experience. By the time we were done talking, the executive director was going back to the board with a new game plan that included constructing a gift chart, developing a strong case statement, sitting with the board and determining how much each of them could give, reaching out to others in the community to have individual discussions, and progressing a little more logically with all of the remaining tasks that needed to be completed sequentially.

We are in the midst of a major campaign and none of our board members want to ask anyone for money. What should we do? Well, there are other things that your board can do to help you. They must give a gift themselves at a level reflective of their feelings about the mission. And they must participate otherwise. They can identify people who can be asked, they can open doors for a visit, they can accompany staff or other board members on a visit, buy tickets and bring someone to an event, they could host an event in their home and anything else that the staff or the board can suggest. But most of all, each board member needs to be involved.

We would like to ask some of our donors for a gift, but we don't know what to ask for—how do we handle this one? Of course, the biggest piece of information you have is what the donor has already given, so start there. Whether there will be a major campaign underway or your ask is simply for an annual fund or a special project, the key is not to ask for too much (and perhaps embarrass your donor and yourself in the process), but not to ask for too little (which can also cause embarrassment). This so often is a delicate balance. While not everyone has access to a prospect research team, you can certainly do some of your own research through the internet—what is the value of their home? What have they given to some other organizations? Which events have they attended lately? And, finally, following these steps and gaining information, the best opportunity is to meet with the donor, talk about the project, gauge interest, and respectfully make a request. (Would it be possible for you to consider $_____?) Perhaps you could discuss several levels for consideration. That allows participation at a level that is comfortable, but not too high and not too low.

Recently I heard a board member of a significant organization talk about a prospect and he said: The prospect doesn't have much money, so shouldn't be asked to give to this campaign. Is that right? Well, that is really the prospect's or donor's decision. I have watched those with very little money give a gift each week to the church and still do something else for a special initiative. Don't assume anything. When someone is committed to an organization, he/she wants to support a good program at a level at which he/she is comfortable.

Along the same lines: We have a gala coming up, but these people don't have the money to attend. They won't want to come. Is it okay if we don't invite them? How do you know they won't want to come? Whether they want to come or not is their decision. I would not want to make someone uncomfortable by NOT asking them.

From a young development officer: I have been given the names of a number of prospects and as I have looked at them, they are all just about 25 years old—they are not good prospects, they don't have any money. Really? Just because they are young doesn't mean they don't have money. Philanthropy is increasingly on the minds of many millennials. In addition, while many are just getting started in their careers, many of them have the time to participate in events, to give smaller gifts. This is where patience is a virtue—those who are in school or just beginning in their careers will be building for the future. You can, too, by maintaining a long-term, respectful relationship. Your investment of time and enthusiasm will go a long way as the years progress.

We would love to have you work with us...since this is a non-profit, would you consult with us just on a volunteer basis? Our organization just doesn't have the money to pay you and we have a great mission. I try to be very clear that there are organizations for which I will volunteer, but all consultants like to be paid for their expertise in the field. I always extricate myself from such a situation, and I hope that those exits have been graceful enough. And I always remind the individual that all of my clients are non-profits.

Gayle, I have called a donor several times and he, or his wife, hasn't returned my call. When should I simply give up? Well, one of my trade secrets is that I almost never give up. That's why some people cross the street when they see me coming! I always have felt that I owed it to my organization to keep trying. When the donor is reluctant, I really understand, but I don't just give up if I believe that the donor will have interest in the area of focus or could be cultivated over time. When a donor doesn't immediately answer, I assume it is not a good time, that they have other things on which they are currently focused or that something could be going on at home or the office. I always try to stay in touch in a meaningful way by forwarding information in which they might be interested or inviting them to an event where they can meet people of interest to them, If this technique didn't work, I wouldn't still be doing it.


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