Recently, I visited with one of our newest consultants at Gonser Gerber, Robert Driver. Robert has a long history of both healthcare and higher education experience in development and he made an interesting point as we were talking about how we can help development leaders become more effective. He said:
“I think a lot of experienced professionals fail to solicit major donors as often as they should or for as much as they should because they listen to the bad recordings in their heads.”
Now, before you are wondering what in the world he was talking about, let me explain. He wasn’t suggesting that folks are mentally unstable. His point was that the more experience you have at an institution, the more intelligence you gather. And overwhelmingly, the intelligence we gather that sticks most permanently in our memory banks is negative.
We recall more negative experiences or thoughts than we do either neutral or positive ones. For instance, we remember bad performance reviews much more than positive ones. We recall the one person who complained at an event more than we recall than 10 who said it was wonderful. As Time magazine stated, “You remember where you were on the morning of 9/11, but you have no recollection of what you had for lunch last Thursday.” And not only do we remember negative experiences or thoughts more readily, there is a growing body of research suggesting that we recall negative experiences with more clarity and accuracy.
For us in the development field, these “bad recordings” as Robert called them come in the form of statements like the following:
- They won’t give any more because they are tapped out, or
- She wouldn’t be interested in this project because its not what she’s supported in the past, or
- The timing for an ask is just not right for him.
We’ve all been in those prospect management meetings where we talk ourselves out of gifts before we even ask. It’s the bad recordings at work! We behave as though the bad recordings are fact – when they really are only our perceptions and opinions.
The more we play our bad recordings the more clear, believable, and ingrained they become. If we listen long enough, we never find the right time or the right project for which to solicit our donors. So, how do erase the bad recordings? While you probably can’t completely erase them, you can stop listening so intently when they play. Here are 3 ways:
- In every prospect management meeting, never allow yourself or others to talk about “how much we think they will give.” Instead, make sure you focus on “how much they could give if they were fully engaged and excited.” By focusing on how much they could give, we turn attention away from any bad recordings and begin to address their financial capacity.
- When someone suggests something negative about the timing or amount of an ask, or questions the interests of a donor, probe as to why they are saying that. Is there fact-driven information to support the dour prediction? Or, is it just an opinion? More times than not, you will find it is just an opinion.
- Here it from the horse’s mouth. Go talk to the donor. “We’d like to visit with you at a future date about your support, but we are unsure of the right timing. When would be a good time to talk with you?” Or, “Our president would like to talk with you about making a gift to the campaign. But, candidly, she’s not convinced she knows the right ask amount. We certainly don’t want to offend you by asking for too much or too little. We have been thinking about a gift in this range. Is that an amount you would consider is she asked?”
The reason that “bad recordings” are bad is not because they are negative. It’s because, in many instances, we don’t recognize they are directing our behaviors and decisions.