If You Don't Ask....

It never ceases to amaze me when the Executive or Development Director says, “Oh, they’ll never be a donor.” They, in this case, can be a specific individual or organization or they can also refer to a specific group of people—volunteers, alumni, whatever. My response is always something along of the lines of, “And you know this because you asked? “

Which almost always get a response that indicates that I am some crayons short of a full box.

Of course we didn’t ask! Why would we? We know they won’t give.

Me, being stubborn: HOW do you know? Because, of course, if you don’t ask, you don’t know. And more to the point—it is not actually your job, or the job of your board members, to decide who will and will not give. It is your job to open a door and invite these people and organizations inside. It is their choice whether or not they will accept your invitation.

Of course it is a bit more complicated than that. But not a whole lot. Prospects are people or organizations you have reason to believe have the ability to give you a gift, the interest in your organization to consider a gift, and a link to your organization that allows you to actually open that door. Which of those traits do you think is most important? Linkage, of course. As long as I can get someone’s attention, I have good enough reason to ask them to enter inside. For those already inside—those volunteers, alumni, lapsed donors, etc—I want to invite them to get even closer. Become a supporter (again, perhaps, or with greater commitment). Your job is simply to offer the connection and to help them accept your offer.

This is where cultivation takes over. Instead of deciding for them, figure out the ways you can find out from them what excites them.

Finding out means having conversations. It does not meant spewing out your carefully crafted elevator speech or trotting out that adorable story about one of your clients. It does mean talking with them about their interests, their concerns, what they want to accomplish and how they would like to accomplish it.

It means asking open ended questions, and then asking them to tell you more about whatever it is they are telling you.

Cultivation is also the way you find out how to bring them closer. What is your organization doing that interests them? What ways would they like to get involved?

As you think about potential donors, think how you would bring them closer. Make a simple table

cultivation plan


and think carefully about what would entice this person, what would interest him or her, and how might you get them to say yes when you ask if they would consider making a gift to your organization.

Janet Levine works with nonprofits, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity.  Learn how she can help you and motivate your board by emailing her at janet@janetlevineconsulting.com. Visit her website at www.janetlevineconsulting.com