Mailbag: Donors at Parties (part 1)

Q: I’m about to go through the annual December holiday party marathon.  13 of them this year, and I already feel unlucky.  I’m a development officer for an organization in a pretty small town, and there are only so many major donors, so I’m going to run into a lot of folks that I have urgent donor business with…what’s the etiquette here?  I don’t want to upset my hosts or my prospects, but I don’t want to pretend that I don’t need to talk to these people about giving my organization money.  I don’t know how to talk to MY donors at someone else’s party, and it’s sort of a separate question, but I don’t really know how to balance the party we’re throwing between a nice thank you celebration for the folks who support us year round and reminding some donors that we want their money before the end of the month.

A: Two good questions.  Let’s take them separately…First, Other People’s Parties.

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Mailbag: Using a Donor Ladder

Q: I have a new boss, and even though I’ve been on the job for three years, she’s tossing around terms I’ve never heard.  She’s always talking about donor lifecycle and awareness ladders.  Now she wants us to go through our entire database and categorize people according to their solicitation readiness.  She’s terrifying and judgmental and I’m scared to ask her to explain what she wants.  What does she want???

A: First things first, let’s talk about your fear of asking for further direction.  You have to.  I’ve got your back, and I’m going to explain the concepts that she’s talking about, but I want to be really clear: Development isn’t a science.  There’s no universally agreed set of terminology, and there’s no single way to format or categorize or rank or parse anything.  If you want to give your boss what she wants, you have to ask her about it.

But we can make sure that you’re asking intelligent, informed questions.  Here’s MY version of thinking through donor evolution (which is a modification of the marketing concept of an “awareness ladder.”) Read more

Mailbag: Tired of pretending

Q: I’ve been cultivating this one prospect for a few months, and I can’t figure out where we are.   I thought I was clear about my interest in getting her to support my organization, but I think she thinks we’re friends.  We’re about the same age, and I really do like spending time with her…but I can’t afford to spend all this time on a prospect who’s not going to pan out, you know?  I feel like I’m wasting company time on a personal relationship.  But I’m afraid that she’ll hate me if I tell her that the only reason I’ve been having lunch with her is that I want her money.

A: In amicitia nihil fictum est, nihil simulatum, et quidquid est, in est verum et voluntarium.  In friendship, nothing is fiction, nothing is fake, and whatever it is, is true and voluntary. (Cicero)

I ran across that quote a week ago and knew there was a reason I wrote it down.  These are good words to live by for cultivating friendships, and good words to live by for cultivating donors.   Read more

Back to Basics: What is Cultivation?

When I was thinking of starting this blog, I asked friends and clients for questions that they’d like me to answer – anonymously (for them) so no one would think they were stupid.  This is the second most frequent question I got.  And since I put up some posts describing the very basics of major gift fundraising, I’ve been getting variations on this theme – now that I’ve met with a prospective donor, I know that I’m supposed to “cultivate” them and then “solicit” them…but what does cultivation really mean?  What am I supposed to be doing???  How will I know when I’m done cultivating and it’s time to solicit?

So let’s pick up where we left off: You get a meeting, you psych yourself up, you go, and you rock it out with confidence and good listening skills.  Congrats!  You are now in the cultivation phase. Read more

Mailbag: Glorified Panhandling

Q: How do I not feel like I’m just a glorified panhandler when I’m asking for money?

A: Oh, boy have you come to the right place.  However you want to phrase it, it’s a VERY common hangup for people in fundraising (volunteer and professional alike).  Let’s start with some praise: you clearly know how fundraising works.  You have to ask for money.
Does that seem too obvious?   Read more

Mailbag: I think my biggest donor hates me

A very edited version of a question received from a friend/reader:

Q: It’s my first year in a new position, and we’re working on launching a capital campaign.  We really really need a huge new gift from my organization’s biggest donor…but I think she hates me.  It’s messing with my head, paralyzing me with fear, and making it hard to think about anything else.  I don’t think the campaign will succeed without her, and what if it’s my fault she turns us down?

A: OK, so the stakes seem high here, but I don’t know if you’re making an honest assessment, or whether your fear is leading you to obsess about a worst case scenario. Read more

First Dates part 3 – But Enough About Me, Tell Me About You

You don’t want to waste a meeting by not telling your prospect about your organization and its programs and needs.  But that’s not really why you’re there.

Your biggest goal is to be alluring.  You’re trying to provoke an emotional response, spark an intense connection.  You want your prospect to be completely smitten with you by the time you part ways…all the better to want to see you again, want to know more about your organization, want to help you change the world (or make great art or fight for justice or whatever you’re working to do, in its most grandiose terms).

This is really really hard to wrap your head around unless you’re a narcissist or one of those blessed people whose charm can’t be turned off. Read more