Sometimes you wish you could say yes, but you simply have to say "no."
I received a call recently that I really enjoyed as an important organizational lesson. The question: We discovered a donor who gave significantly to us about 10 years ago and through a major change in development staff, this man was lost to follow-up. I am advising that we not call him because I am sure that he is angry and disappointed in us. Do you agree?
Emphatically, my answer is NO! While it takes a little planning and role playing coupled with discussions with your colleagues and then your leadership, the emotionally intelligent thing to do is call this gentleman, apologize, let him know about the progress in the last years and then continue to follow-up. You will need some courage to do this, but if you didn't have courage, you wouldn't be a development professional. Begin to rebuild your relationship. Clearly he loved the organization once and made significant contributions. Life evolves...he will learn about the important impact being made and about the impact his own dollars made over time. With dedication, at some point there will be a relationship that exists that is sufficient to dip your toe into the water and ask once again.
I am on a committee to raise money to develop a park in a local well-to-do community neighborhood. It was clear that some people were inclined to support the park and some people were not. Then the pandemic hit. The chair of the board asked me if we could still go ahead and ask for contributions.
Emphatically, my answer was NO! In the midst of these discussions, the lines for the food bank were a mile and a half long...people without food...people without jobs or losing part of their income. People getting sick and some dying...lock-downs...lack of food availability in supermarkets....economic hardship all around. Psychological challenges. It seems appropriate to postpone such a campaign for another time while putting available philanthropic dollars to a more compelling need. In the next years there will be ample time to create great living spaces for the people of this community.
Now that the virus has let up to a large extent, can I stop wearing my mask?
Unequivocally and emphatically, NO! This question has nothing to do with fundraising, but it is important enough to raise it here and anywhere. To maintain your own health and that of others, please have respect and wear a mask. You will never regret it--you are tough enough. You will be helping to save lives and if that's not a good enough reason I cannot imagine what is.
This question came to me from a physician with whom I used to work. He is meeting with a couple who he thinks may consider a major gift. The development officer with whom he is working has scripted one scenario for how the meeting could go. And, surprise, in the script she has asked the physician to request $1 million paid over five years. The physician told me "I can't ask for that amount. These people are my friends and I can't be specific like that, it's insulting."
Well, looking at the situation from a different perspective, if the solicitor doesn't ask for something specific, how will the prospect know what the expectations might be? The prospect presumably is very familiar with the organization, has given multiple gifts to the program previously, understands that the physician will make an ask and has agreed to talk about it. A donor understands that it takes a specific amount to achieve a specific goal.
Some people are more comfortable providing a range of request. An old and true story that was related to me was when a solicitor asked a very wealthy donor: Would you consider a gift to name the facility? The donor asked, yes, well, how much? The solicitor said: for $10-15 million? Yes, said the donor--I will give you $10 million. What a generous gift! The lesson here is that a donor will always choose the lower gift of the gift range, regardless of capacity.
I believe in asking for a specific amount for a specific purpose--not asking receives a definite "NO" from me.
Last one. A very dear friend asked if I would consult with a nonprofit that was having a problem raising money. After further discussions, some months of work to help them get started, development of a work plan, and ultimately two months after a signed contract approved by their board and many hours into the job they had not yet paid their bill. Several requests for payment and emails to provide notice that payment was overdue. My friend is now back and asked if I would give them another chance, working with them now on the heels of the pandemic.
Unequivocally, my answer is NO! Simply put, I will only work within a respectful relationship.