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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Really Bad Idea

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A well intentioned board member once suggested to jump start the major gifts program by getting a list of the wealthiest people in the community. With the list, someone (meaning staff) would be instructed to cold call the wealthy people, set up a meeting under the guise of "informing" them about the organization, and then spring a proposal on them at the end for a large gift.

If you have any fundraising experience, you'll recognize that this is an incredibly bad idea on many levels.

First, fundraising is not "cold calling." They call it "development" for a reason--it's about creating relationships for long term, sustainable support. You will immediately alienate your prospective supporters with your lack of knowledge about their interests.

Second, philanthropic relationships are based on mutual trust. The donor has to trust that your organization will respect their interests and properly steward their gift, and the organization has to trust that the donor supports the organization's mission. That cannot be developed in one meeting.

Third, doing what was proposed is akin to asking someone out for lunch for a first date, and proposing over dessert. Developing major gifts is not a one-night stand. While you might be able to get one gift this way, it's "go away money." You will have a tough time getting a second gift.

Identifying wealthy people is not bad, but you need to find a connection to those people. Why would they take your call? Who's the person who can make that connection?

If all this sounds a little too "touchy feely," here's how we explained it:

If you were asked to invest $5K, $10K or $15K in a company you had never heard of, would you? Sounds almost like a "get rich quick" scheme.

If someone came into your home under the guise of not asking you for anything, and then did, would you make a decision on the spot?

If you were being approached to invest in a company, would you want to know something about the company you are investing in? What would you want to know? How much time would you want to review that information?

Philanthropy is NOT about "hitting people up for money." It is about a voluntary exchange of value, and about donors investing in a company they value. Luckily, the board member took this to heart.

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