Kabuki Theater

I once had a client tell me that she felt development conversations (one on one meetings with donors, mostly, but everything that surrounds those, too) are a mysterious form of kabuki theater that no one has ever explained to her and she can’t quite figure out.

I’m guessing she’s not alone.

Many people have a general sense of things that happen to bring in a big gift, but they don’t have an intimate understanding of how those things happen, how they fit together, and how they might or might not progress.  For example, if we’re thinking about getting a brand new donor to make their first gift, even though they’re famous in the community for giving away lots of money to local or like-minded causes, someone might suggest that a good roadmap would be

  1. Reach out and make an introduction
  2. Meet with this person one on one
  3. Follow up
  4. Get this person to come to an event
  5. Ask them for a huge gift
  6. Celebrate finishing the year in the black thanks to your development savvy
Just one problem.  HOW???  HOW do you reach out?  If you manage to get a meeting, what do you need to say or do when you’ve got that opportunity?  HOW do you follow up?  And regardless of what the steps in between are (there could be a few, there could be many), HOW do you know when to ask them for that big gift?  And HOW do you do it?  (And what exactly do you do if they say yes?)
Raise your hand…is this how you feel about fundraising?
Raise your hand…is this how you feel about fundraising?
Fundraising isn’t rocket science.  Meet people.  Get them to have good feelings for your mission and organization.  Ask them for money.  Thank them.  Repeat.  But if it were so very easy, if all of this were intuitive…well, it’s not.  And anyone who doesn’t respect that (Board members? Fundraising consultants? Staff members?  Your friends and family?) is either misguided or mean.
This is also a huge concern for a lot of board members…they’ve been asked to take on fundraising responsibilities.  They’d love to.  But when it comes down to a transactional level, they’ve got no clue where to start or how to proceed.
For all of you who are worried that you’ve somehow landed in the audience of a very weird play with lots of rules and a language you don’t seem to speak, my next few posts are going to be devoted to some thoughts on filling in the connective tissue between some of these fundraising techniques.  How do you approach new potential donors?  What happens in a development meeting? How do you actually solicit a big gift?  We won’t cover all the bases, and your own situation will have nuances and extenuating circumstances that change the recommendations for what to do…but a primer on kabuki may be helpful.  Let’s start there.

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