Seeking Strangers vs Delighting Friends

Strangers usually won’t invest significantly with you or your mission.  They don’t know you well enough to trust you.

Friends, though, are much more apt to invest with you.  They know you well, are invested in their relationship with you, and they believe in you and your mission.

When institutions plan for ambitious campaigns or other major gift efforts, one point of conventional wisdom states that the advancement team will need to focus on identifying strangers and making them into friends.

The thinking here is simple:  The institution’s current and past major gift donors are too tired, too old, or simply “tapped out.”  The institution can’t count on them to make the proposed campaign a success.  Strangers with the capacity to make significant investments, therefore, will need to be identified and cultivated into friends if goals are to be achieved.

Within the context of this conventional thinking, it is not uncommon for a good amount of creative capital and other resources to be spent on the work of identifying strangers.  For instance, we ask Board members who they might introduce to us.  We search for new foundations who might fund our priorities. We talk with current major donors about their personal and professional networks.  We conduct electronic wealth screens.  All in an attempt to find our next big donor.

And this is important work.

The problem with conventional thinking, though, is that we often don’t pause to question its veracity.

What if we spent as much creative energy and resources on strategizing how to better engage and delight our current friends as we do seeking out strangers?  In most situations, characterizing your current and past major donors as too tired, too old, or “tapped out,” is inaccurate.  They may very well be bored and disinterested.  But you can change that.


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