Think of the last time a friend or colleague “hit you up” for a donation. You may have experienced that sinking feeling that you had just been had. You knew very little about the organization, yet because of your relationship with the person who asked you, you could not say "no." You had to give. Of course, you knew the same friend or colleague would be there to reciprocate when you asked him to support your favorite charitable organization.
In the old reality, that was individual giving at its best. I call it the "strong-arming the Rolodex" approach. And back then, in the old reality, it was the right way to raise money. The board members we cherished as "good fundraisers" were those who could use their clout and the network of people listed in their Rolodex to raise money.
A good friend used to ask me regularly to give to an organization he was involved with. But as soon as my friend went off the board and stopped hitting me up every year, I stopped giving there. Did that reflect badly on the organization? No. They were undoubtedly doing wonderful work. Yet, because they never took the time to win me over directly, because they never gave me the opportunity to fall in love with them directly, I stopped giving to them as soon as I felt I could. Instead of becoming a lifelong donor for the right reasons, I was a short-term donor who left feeling resentful. If anyone within the organization had invited me out to see the place or tell me their story directly, I might still be a donor there. But they knew it was Bill who, as a board member, had been assigned to ask me for my gift, and they certainly did not want to interfere in any way.
In the old reality, that was the way it was done. No one gave it a second thought. People even bragged about how much they raised. Prizes, plaques, and certificates flowed freely. Annual reports abounded. No one would have thought to even question it.
In the new reality, by the time you are ready to ask a donor for a gift, you need to be certain that the donor is ready to be asked. You have established a relationship, you have told your story to the donor. They have heard the facts about your program, listened to the first-hand testimonials, and gotten teary-eyed a time or two. You have asked them enough open-ended questions to help you understand what most inspires them about your program. Perhaps they have even invited some of their friends to check you out, given some of their time to work on a project, donated some used clothing or computers. They are beginning to wonder when you are going to ask them to give. That is the new reality scenario.
In the new reality, rather than "strong-arming the Rolodex," asking is nothing more than "nudging the inevitable." Donors are ready to give. If you even have the thought that they are not ready to be asked, you should wait. Why would you jeopardize a lifelong relationship for one presumptuous, untimely blunder? Better to wait and cultivate, involve, and customize some more, until you are sure they're ready.
Terry Axelrod is the founder and CEO of Benevon and author of The Benevon Model: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting it Right and Missionizing Your Special Events. Benevon is a Seattle-based organization that has trained and coached more than 4,000 nonprofit teams to build sustainable funding from individual donors. www.benevon.com