Money Is The Root Of All

I awoke this morning thinking about money.  For once, I wasn’t thinking about my money, or the fact that there was clearly something wrong in a world where I seem to be in better fiscal shape than the government.  No, I was thinking about money as a difficult topic in the fundraising field. You’d think that in an arena that is actually all about money, it would be an easy topic.  My experience tells me otherwise.  Money is the one area where too many people charged with raising it fear to tread.

Years ago, on my first ever individual major gift cultivation meeting, my prospective donor took me to task for not doing my job.  We had met for lunch, and from the entrée through dessert, we talked about her remodel.  Finally, she put down her spoon.

“Janet,” she said sternly, “clearly you haven’t done this much.  We’re here to talk about a possible gift, not about my remodel.  I can talk with my friends about that.   In the future, 10 minutes on chitchat, and then get on with it.”

Okay, so maybe those weren’t her exact words (it was 23 years ago!), but the gist is there:  Keep on topic, and for fundraisers the topic is raising money.

There’s that word again.  The one fundraisers often have trouble with.

Another story:  A colleague was recounting a failed solicitation meeting.

“I had practiced for hours saying ‘we’re requesting that you consider a one million dollar gift,’” he told me bemoaning the fact that practice did not help.  I was floored.

“Wait a minute,” I said.  “Hadn’t you spoken about a million dollar gift with him before?”

He looked at me strangely.  “I would never discuss money except at a solicitation meeting,” he said, as if money were something dirty, to be hidden beneath the covers.

Let’s get real here.  Money is what we are all about.  It’s why we meet with people in the first place. It’s why we write appeal letters.  And, sidebar here: How many direct mail appeals fail because the letter is such a soft sell that the recipient never gets that it IS an appeal? The ask is buried, not just in space but also under soft words.  There is no urgency; no reason to write a check or fill in your credit card information.

When you call a prospect and ask for a meeting, trust me, that prospect knows the topic is money.  He or she is expecting to talk about it.  By saying yes, the door is being opened to at least give you the opportunity to talk to them about…yes! money.  Their money.  To be used as a gift to your organization.

Go forth, knowing what you think the gift should ultimately be—both in size and purpose—but with your ears open in case you learn something germane.  And yes, tell the prospect why you are visiting—not to get a gift today, but to begin the conversation and to discover what else that prospect needs in order to commit.

By the time you get to the solicitation meeting, you should have had plenty of practice in saying the number, whatever it is.  At this meeting, you are narrowing the range to a specific number, talking concretely about the method in which the gift will be made, and agreeing upon donor recognition for the donor’s generosity.


Janet Levine works with educational organizations and nonprofits, helping them to build fundraising capacity.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.