By Jane Jordan

Out of the World of F/R and Into the World of O/O!

Many years ago, when I was a fledgling consultant to nonprofits, I met and befriended one of the legends of the fundraising consulting world. Doug Lawson became a friend and mentor and he taught me a simple little trick that I still promote today whenever I find someone who will listen to my (his!) words of wisdom.

But first. . .

Over the years I have collected real-life comments I have heard from NPO professionals, board members and volunteers about fundraising. I offer a few of them here with my brief comments; perhaps you have heard them in your travels through the world of nonprofits.

• “I’d rather die than raise money!” (Seriously?)

• “Nobody told me I’d have to do this!” (Probably true)

• “I don’t know anybody!” (Anybody you’d ask for a gift)

• “I have a conflict of interest!” (More like, I’m not interested!)

• “This is a waste of my time!” (This is just sad.)

Approached with the right mindset, however, donor development can be a real bonding experience for both donor and solicitor. Doug taught me that we should think in terms of offering opportunities (O/O) rather than asking for money, or fundraising (F/R).

Think about it this way: How would you like to be asked for a gift? As the donor, what would be most important to you? Would you prefer to be valued as a person or a piggy bank? A valued asset and friend of your organization or an ATM machine? In most cases, the prospects and donors you interact with likely feel the same way you do.

The O/O Approach

There are distinct and valuable advantages to the O/O approach. For example, if your prospect declines to make a gift, under the O/O umbrella you have an excellent opportunity to continue the conversation, to talk about what might motivate your prospect.  Perhaps more information? A better understanding of how your organization meets the prospect’s interests? A chance to volunteer and experience your organization from the inside? In most cases, even though the answer is no (for now), the relationship with your prospective donor remains and, in all likelihood, grows as a result of your more inclusive approach.

Asking someone to support your cause is not an action, it’s a process with several steps, whether you are approaching a first-time donor or one who has been supporting your organization for years.

  1. Research: Gather information that will help you to set the appropriate goals for your donor/prospect.
  2. Cultivation: Inform and educate your donor/prospect. This involves face-to-face meetings where you listen as often as you speak. Listening to your donor/prospect provides information you might not get any other way. Use “investment language,” talking about the benefits to the donor, the impact on the community. Tell stories about real-life successes.
  3. Gift acknowledgment and stewardship following the gift: Think of stewardship as actions you take to tee up the next gift from this donor. Your goal is to strengthen your relationship with the donor and provide an avenue for the next gift. Stewardship involves all the same actions and outreach as cultivation of new donors: communication, involvement, feedback.

Just so you know, none of this will work without one vital element: your sincerity. You must believe that the donor is more important to you and your organization than the dollar. Believe it strongly enough and you will change your entire mindset about how to approach, engage and involve donors and prospects. And you will raise more money, I guarantee it.

Making the Ask

The day has finally arrived: you are making an ask visit. Coming in the door to your prospect’s office or home, say thank you . . . for taking the time to meet with you, for the support of your organization, for caring about your work, etc. You cannot say thank you enough.

Once settled and past the exchange of greetings, begin by re-stating the case for support of your project or campaign. Talk about the benefits that will be realized and how much the project means to “our” community. Ask leading questions to elicit responses and information from your prospect. Listen a lot, especially for objections, which you must respond to in positive ways.

Then state the hoped-for amount.: ”We are hopeful you will consider an investment in XYZ project of $500,000”. . .and be quiet. This is critically important. A lot goes on during that silent period as the donor processes your request and considers whether and how the gift will be made. Regardless of the outcome, thank the donor for his or her time and interest and agree to follow-up steps. If at all possible, take the initiative to follow up rather than relying on your donor or prospect.

Oh, and as you leave, say thank you one more time.