Friday, May 24, 2013

How NOT to Stalk Donors AND How to get a Fundraiser to STOP Calling

The meeting has been held and sponsorship materials have been reviewed and left with the potential sponsor.  The individual you met with appears interested in supporting your cause, but indicated the need to discuss it with others before making a commitment and requested that you follow up in a few weeks.  You do so, no response.  You wait a week or longer and reach out again, no response.  You wait another week to ten days and give it a third try thanking them for meeting with you and asking for a response one way or the other so that you do not continue to bother them.  Again, no response.  They are not saying yes or no, just not responding at all.  At what point do you call it quits?  And if you call it quits for the current year, do you meet with them again for the following year or are they telling you by not responding at all that they are not interested? 
An askAPB question from D.H. in Porter County, Indiana

D.H., this is a great question that many fundraisers worry about. First let me commend you for having the courage to personally visit with your donors and to be persistent in your follow-up. You are doing your job. To answer your question, I usually recommend following-up on proposals 3-4 times. But unfortunately, there's no science and no magic. 

Remember that you don't know what is going on with your donor: death in the family, divorce, problems with children, exotic vacations, weddings, graduations--all the amazing and painful and joyful life experiences that will always be a priority over your proposal (and should be!). So, when you've left your third or fourth voicemail and your donor still has not responded, why don't you write a nice, personal note to them.

Dear Jimmy, I really enjoyed our meeting to talk about Project Fantastic. I know you wanted to get consensus with your team before you confirm the gift. It seems like my follow-up calls haven't come at the most convenient times for you. I want you to know that your gift would be amazing, and my door is always open to talk about the project. But, out of respect for our relationship, I'll put the ball in your court to initiate the conversation. I hope that things are going really well for you, and I can't wait to see you at the next Business After Hours. Sincerely, ...

Remember, and remind your boss, "fundraising occurs on the donor's timetable, not yours." What you CAN control is the nature and character of your long-term relationship.

So let's flip your question and imagine that your prospective donor is not really interested your proposal, or he is not able to get consensus with his team (or family) to confirm the gift, or "something suddenly came up." Is there something that he can do to stop your worry and to stop you from calling (again). Of course! He can say "no, thank you" honestly and politely.

Here's how I've done it. A friend and business client asked me last winter if I'd be interested in supporting a summer event for a non-profit where she serves on the board. I was, and I still am definitely interested. But, between then and now, however, a couple of unexpected business circumstances emerged for me, and the timing just isn't working for a summer gift. Secretly, I had hoped that she'd forget my interest, but she's too good at fundraising for that. When she emailed me with the sponsorship information, here's how I replied:

Hi, L! Thanks for remembering my interest in this. I would like to support this cool event, but the timing is all wrong for me right now. I’m sorry I can’t commit to it this summer. Hopefully I will be in a better place support this group later in the fall. 

It is always best to be honest and authentic, even when that means no, not now, or not ever. Your saying "no" is also a gift to the fundraiser. It gives her back her time and focus. It lifts any anxiety she feels about calling you again. Momentary disappointment is always better than prolonged anxiety. 

So, to sum it all up, if you are feeling some kind of anxiety about calling a donor or about returning a fundraiser's phone call, respect that relationship with an honest statement (by phone or by personal note) about the situation and your discernment process. That's all we can ask of one another as human beings in pursuit of a common good.

If others of our colleagues and friends have different responses, I welcome any and all enhancements and positive, shared advice in the comments below.

If you have a burning, nagging, or "I'll look into that later" question about philanthropy, fundraising, or the wonderfully complicated world of nonprofits, click here to askAPB.

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