When it comes to soliciting friends or family for gifts, is close ever too close? It is a regretful, but well established observation that we tend to underestimate those people to whom we are the closest. We are more keenly aware of their strengths (publicly exhibited) and their weakness (often hidden). We know more of the full story about them than most.
Familiarity can be a double edged sword when it comes to our fundraising efforts. Our organizations rely on staff and volunteers to build and maintain external relationships with those that can provide necessary assistance. With family members or close friends, we are accustomed to and expect informal meetings and discussions. As fundraisers, we need to create more formality to strengthen presentations, requests, follow-up meetings, and deadlines. Otherwise, our major projects are relegated into the same category of discussion as daily events and conversation—not the kind of conversation that leads to the funding of multi-million dollar projects. Our informal discussions should be used to support formal requests.
Problems Associated with Familiar Relationships:
- The decision to accept a friend or relative as your prospect assignment can be intimidating or problematic for the solicitor. They might think: “How will the prospect respond?” “Will it damage our relationship? Will they take me seriously? How will it effect other business we have?” Are there too many agendas?”
- Setting a formal meeting can be challenging. A close friend or family member will naturally expect conversation to remain casual, light, and informal. For example a solicitor asking for an appointment might receive the following response from a prospect who is also a close cousin: “Sure, we can meet. We’ll be down at the pool Sunday. Why don’t you bring the kids and join us. We can talk about it then.”
- Making the ask can be difficult. “Will they be annoyed with me if I ask for too much or push too hard?” “We already have plans to go to Vail in March, I wouldn’t want there to be any awkwardness between us.”
As a CEO or Development Officer should you be weary of solicitors volunteering to call on their friends or relatives? Absolutely not! We are in the business of building and nurturing networks of people that will in turn nurture and develop our organization. An effective solicitation can be made if specific precautions are taken. People support institutions, but they give to people. The solution lies in applying more formal practices to our informal relationships. This is done by carefully observing and practicing the following Rules.
- Make a Personal Commitment to Set the Appointment.
- Always Ask for a Formal Appointment.
- Do Not Discuss Giving or Requests Over the Phone!!!
- Always Have a Co-Solicitor.
The following true story illustrates the importance of adhering to the Rules:
Bob calls Edward to set up an appointment to present plans and solicit a $250,000 gift. Bob and Edward are old friends and talk regularly. When Bob calls, Edward treats the call as any other. Bob on the other hand is trying to request a formal appointment. Edward dodges the issue with questions regarding friends and vacation plans. Finally, Edward responds to Bob’s persistent question saying “yeah I know, you want to meet to discuss the campaign. You know I support the organization. I’ll give you $10,000. Okay?”
Bob does not acknowledge the offer and says “this is too important to me to discuss over the phone. Can we meet next Tuesday?” He refuses to allow himself to be pulled into a discussion about the gift. Edward changes the subject. The call ends in a stalemate.
Jack, Bob’s co-solicitor, knows Edward too, but more as an acquaintance. Their relationship is more distant and formal. He writes a letter to Edward asking for 20-30 minutes of his time for a formal meeting to present plans and explore some ways he might be able to help. “All I ask is that you hear us out and you can tell us what you can help us with and what you can’t.” Jack follows-up with a call, holds firm, and gets the appointment.
Jack and Bob meet with Edward. Bob presents the plan in detail and tells Edward what the project means to the organization and to him. He also explains why he is giving generously. Jack asks Edward to consider a gift of $250,000 and offers a naming opportunity. Edward laughs, but agrees to consider the request. Jack and Bob confirm a formal follow-up meeting for the same time next week.
In the follow-up meeting, Edward committed $250,000 to the project. He explained that he was laughing at how he tried to dissuade Bob with his $10,000 gift. He told them both he was impressed with their commitment and professionalism.
Reflect on each of the Rules and find where and how they are applied in the scenario above:
- Make a Personal Commitment to Set the Appointment. Both Bob and Jack could have given up, but they pressed on until a formal appointment was made.
- Always Ask for a Formal Appointment. Otherwise, Bob would have had no option but to discuss the gift over the phone, resulting in a $10,000 commitment, or enven not gift.
- Do Not Discuss Giving or Requests Over the Phone. If this had occurred, there would not have been a formal presentation and corresponding $250,000 gift.
- Always Have a Co-Solicitor. The example illustrates how a two person team is more flexible in dealing with challenges. Jack was able to do what Bob could not. Yet Jack needed Bob to influence Edward.
If the rules had not been followed closely, a $10,000 offer over the phone would likely be the end of the story and Edward’s full commitment. Because the rules were observed the story had a very happy ending for Bob, Jack, and Edward.
Edward wanted to help the organization but he was not about to consider making a major financial investment, unless he was convinced it was absolutely essential. He had to be sure the organization and its representatives were serious, prepared, and credible.
Why was Jack successful in setting up the appointment where Bob was not? It is more natural to set up a formal appointment with an acquaintance. Edward agreed to meet because his friend Bob would be there and he has good associations with the organization.
The Rules presented in this article are particularly important in creating a formal structure and context to the solicitation process. Though the Rules apply to all solicitations, they are critical in overcoming the natural and informal nature of discussions among close friends and family. In the story above, there were several places where the process could have broken down, but didn't. Instilling a formal process and context to your meetings may mean the difference between your friends or family giving $10,000 or $250,000. Would you like to review those Rules one more time before calling Uncle Raymond?
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.