If the first three rules of fund raising are:
The fourth is -- be nice about it. An organization should develop a true conviction of its worth and the services provided to others. Fund raisers should never solicit "hat in hand." However, they should also never presume that a donor has any obligation to give.
Never emotionally strong arm prospects.
The relationship between a prospect and a fund raiser is very unique. It has elements of a business transaction -- written agreements, financial appropriations and income tax ramifications. At the same time, it has emotional and even spiritual components that distinguish it from any form of sales.
Trust, confidentiality and integrity are essential ingredients to a healthy and prosperous donor relationship. No matter how carefully a fund raiser may try to mask manipulation, donors will see right through the facade to the genuine article. Trying to force a gift will always back fire. A donor who feels they have given under mild-mannered duress will not be anxious to give again, or even be willing to meet again.
There are times when prospects just say no. Maybe they are not completely sold on the organization. Maybe they are not excited about the current project. Or...maybe they must say no.
Solicitation should always be preceded with ample research and a clear-cut agenda. By the time a fund raiser is ready to solicit a prospect, he should already know more about that person than many of their friends. Facts concerning finances and giving history, casual interests and lifetime passions, what they have already accomplished in their lifetime and what they still dream of achieving -- a good fund raiser knows their prospect, well beyond the basic demographics.
And still, armed with this arsenal of information, even the best fund raiser cannot risk making a fallacious assumption: The prospect must say yes.
Never forget that the donor still has the prerogative and sometimes even the responsibility to say no. The best identification will never uncover every detail and nuance of a donor's life. Solicitors can sometimes allow the donor's financial capacity to overshadow their true humanity.
Donors, despite significant assets, are people dealing with their own trials and tribulations -- family members in need, the sickness or death of a loved one, a downturn in their business or in the stock market, a concern about their own health or issues involving their marriage, their children, their grandchildren. These and a litany of other circumstances may force donors to offer a qualified, "No." Discretion may hinder them from sharing the details.
Learn to take no as the answer they must make at the time. Respect their decision and make the process as comfortable and pleasant as possible.
Do not hesitate to ask. Ask with conviction. But if a donor says, "No," leave them remembering the organization with fondness. Solicitation is never a waste of time. Cultivation has occurred. Stay in contact. Continue to communicate. Send publications. Chances are, if the interest is there, when circumstances take a turn, so will their answer.
Robert Swanson is the president of Essential Philanthropic Services of Wichita, Kansas. He also served as CEO and president of the $36 million organization, Emporia State University Foundation, prior to starting EPS.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada. If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to email@example.com.