In the second part of the Urban Legends of Fundraising, I talked about how asking for a major gift was similar to asking a girl to marry. In both instances you have the best opportunity for an affirming response when:
- you don’t ask too soon in the relationship;
- you both know the ask is coming – the ask serves as more of a confirmation of past conversations, rather than as a surprise.
In short, while the details of the arrangements may still need confirming, you should always be relatively certain that the answer will be “yes.”
It also is important to remember that the “courtship” of the donor (to continue the analogy) is more important than the ask itself. While we may focus on how to make the ask, the truth is that what we’ve done to prepare for the ask is much more important. And in many cases, expressions of care don’t have to be significant to build and strengthen relationships during courtship.
For instance here is a simple thing to do which has lasting impact: Call (don’t send a card) your major donors on their birthdays/anniversaries/etc. Recently, I was visiting with a university president and she said to me, “Sending a card is nice, but I’ve gotten so much better feedback over the years from a simple call on those important days. Invariably the donor will ask, ‘well, what are you doing today?’ And I can say I am on the road or doing whatever, and they are flattered that I would take time out of my schedule to call them.”
Makes sense, right? But I find very few development professionals who do this. And it’s not like it is difficult. If you use Outlook or most any other calendaring system you can easily set these call reminders for yourself. And, at least for me and my schedule, making a quick call is by far easier than finding the time to write a note and find a mailbox a week in advance.
So, why don’t more development professionals do simple things like this? I think part of the reason lies in the fact that many believe that major gift work is somehow different than building relationships in our private lives. But really it isn’t. If you do the courtship right, the proposal goes a lot more smoothly.