You’ve done your homework. You’ve cultivated her and her husband. You understand what drives their philanthropic decisions and you have a data-driven, clear sense of their capacity.
You’ve crafted a proposal that highlights the meaningful intersection between their values and interests and your institution’s work. You’ve engaged a key Board member – one of their close friends – to go on the ask with you. You’ve scripted the call and rehearsed with the Board member. You’ve got a date set to make the call, about a month away.
And then. . .
And then you see the couple at a reception for another organization in your community and the wife casually says:
I know we talked about you coming for a visit, but my husband and I have talked about what we are going to do for the campaign. We are thinking about $100,000.
Ahh, geeze! Of course, this is a nice gift. But, you were planning to ask for $1 million – and they have that kind of capacity. You are frustrated and disappointed. You have just been preempted.
What to do?
In my experience, you really have only two choices in these circumstances: You can, 1) accept the gift with gratitude or, 2) you can ignore what they say. Let me explain a bit about each option.
- Accept the preemptive gift – sometimes we simply have no choice. We either know that the amount of the preemptive gift is rather close to their capacity (or what we were planning to ask for), or they have so plainly and clearly articulated their wishes we are left with no real wiggle room. There is little to do save smile, accept the gift, and let them know how grateful we are.
- Ignore the preemptive gift – in many instances, we can choose to ignore the preemption. For instance, in the case above, a response might be,
“Well, one of the primary purposes of our meeting next month was to give you and your husband a much clearer understanding of the project. We’ve had a lot of progress in the planning and we’d like to share that with you. We can talk more about a gift amount at a later date.”
The goal with this strategy is to move the prospect away from thinking about a gift amount. Since the amount mentioned to you is far below the expectations you have for these prospects, you never want to mention the actual amount they have offered. That simply reinforces and legitimizes their lower, preemptive number.
So, you delay. You put the gift process on hold and ramp up the cultivation process. You listen and re-craft a proposal (for a later date) that is even more aligned with their interests. You change your plans on when (and maybe how) to ask.
Just because a donor is hinting that she is ready to make a gift, doesn’t mean you always take it. Sometimes, ignoring the gift conversation today can mean a much larger gift tomorrow.