The Beauty of Nudginess

My clients will tell you—I am a nudge.  Some of them might even call me a nag.  I try not to cross that line, but have determined better to nag occasionally than to let things go.  After all, they did hire me to help them accomplish something. But you, you fundraiser you, perhaps you feel that your prospects and donors didn’t hire you to nudge, nag or bug them in any way.  And here I will say that you have found the one way to take donor-centered fundraising too far!

Your bosses have hired you to raise funds so that your organization can excel at what it does.  So, when you reach out, hoping for an appointment and it doesn’t happen right away—reach out again.  And again.  Until you get that appointment OR the person tells you cease and desist.

Of course, just being a nudge won’t get you very far—you have to do with panache.  More to the point, you have to have a purpose to your nudginess—one that clearly benefits the nudgee in some way.

That, said one of my clients as we were discussing this very issue, is the rub.  She couldn’t fathom what purpose she could propose that would benefit the person with whom she wanted to meet.  And that, frankly, astounded and concerned—concerns--me.

All interactions bring something to the involved parties.   If I am basically philanthropic—and not everyone is—and if what you do is of more than a passing interest to me, I very well may want to learn more about your organization.  Understand, this may not translate into “I want to give you a gift.”  It may never translate that way.  Or, it might.  But it is unlikely—unless I have already been courted and won over—that I will be willing to reach into my pocket at our first meeting.  Too many nonprofit leaders and fundraisers don’t seem to get this.

A former client called me in a panic.  She had bought a list and sent out a direct mail appeal.  Surprise!  No one responded with a check or a credit card number.  She had resorted to buying a list because no one she had asked to support her organization in the past nine months had agreed to do so.

Tell me, I asked her, what—exactly—you’ve saying to the people you’ve approached and what was in your mail appeal.

Both activities kind of went like this: “Hi—give me money.”

You know, every one of those folks could have used a little nudge.  A nudge that says, “I’d like to give you an opportunity to get to know us, to see if we have a fit.  For you to discover if what we are doing is aligned in any way with your hopes, dreams, aspirations.”

And then you keep nudging—to bring them closer; to get them more involved.

Yes, often, there is no commonality.  They don’t care what you do; or they care but they are not enamored with the way you do it.  Or you are located in the wrong place; serving the wrong population; trying to involve them in the wrong thing at the wrong time.

But when you get a no—which you will get often—you need to nudge to find out which no it is.  And then you may have to continue nudging to see if you can turn that no into a yes.  Not today, but maybe tomorrow—or the day after.

How often do you nudge? As with so many things, the only possible answer is:  It depends.  On where you are in the relationship; on what expectations they’ve put out for you; on the signals you get from them.

It’s a fine dance.  Still, more people will be offended if you simply drop them—“he called me once, and then I never heard from him again”—or send one appeal out of the blue, and then never contact them again, than you could ever offend by prodding them to get to know you and your organization.

Do ask, and ask again—but be mindful of what you are asking for.  The right ask can be an impetus to a strong(er) relationship; the wrong one can derail something even before it starts.

Or as my husband recently commented, I’m nagging when I ask him to clean up the piles of papers and books that seem to creep from his office to every other room in our house;  I’m nudging him when it’s about something he wants to do, but needs some help to get over his inertia.


Janet Levine works with nonprofit organizations, nudging them toward building greater capacity and raising a lot more money.  Learn more at, and while you visit, sign up for our free monthly newsletter.