At a national conference for advancement leaders yesterday, I listened to a keynote presentation given by Patrick F. Bassett, president of the National Association of Independent Schools, regarding key trends and predictions for advancement. One statement he made struck a chord with me, “We are learning from surveys that major donors are reporting an increase in an unfortunate activity – asking prematurely.”
I have thought as much and have been working with clients specifically on strategies to deal with this issue. What does it mean to ask prematurely? Simply put, it means that we have not informed the donor properly, we’ve not involved the donor appropriately, and we’ve not gauged her interest sufficiently.
When we ask donors too early in the cultivation process, we shortchange and short circuit the cultivation process and run the risk of alienating donors or even insulting them. Further, we run the risk of asking for the wrong projects, and, ultimately, receiving a smaller gift.
Development officers operate with ambitious goals, performance metrics, and real deadlines. If we aren’t careful, urgency to meet these goals and deadlines can dominate the development of donor strategy. Instead of thinking, “what I can do next to strengthen the donor-institution relationship?” there may be misplaced incentive to think, “what can I do next to get the gift?”
When done properly, donor cultivation is a process that includes: listening, informing, involving, and inspiring. Only when the development officer (and others) and the donor have thoroughly explored this process together can the most successful solicitation occur. It takes time. And when we ask donors at the appropriate time, we have allowed the cultivation to ‘breathe’ adequately and given the solicitation the best possible chance for success.
There is a saying that is helpful here: “We should only ask when we are reasonably sure we know the answer.” Or as I say to clients regularly, “solicitation without inspiration equals frustration.” Frustration for both you and your donors that can easily be avoiding by applying just a little patience.