Experienced fundraisers will consistently tell you, “This is a relationship business.” Their point is that giving to a cause represents an intensely personal decision on the part of the prospect/donor, and it is a choice that must be nurtured and cultivated, not rushed or forced.
In the first meeting with a prospect, the watchword is, “listen.” Rather than conducting extensive research on your cause so that you can present compelling information to the person with whom you are conversing, try to learn as much about him or her as possible before and during the meeting. Ask questions and see if you can find out what they care about, both philanthropically and in other areas of life.
Motivation is the key to a person’s giving. What moves them to give their hard-earned money to a cause? Why do they have a passion for a college, an art museum, or an animal shelter? Important though it may be, motivation cannot be seen or touched, since it takes place within a prospect’s mind. While you cannot read someone’s mind and know what motivates them, you can find out a lot about the topic simply by asking them or by doing research on the nonprofits who have received gifts from them in the past.
“Cultivating” a prospect until they become a donor is an appropriate metaphor, because the process is very much like planting seeds and then helping them to grow. Just as a seed, having received water and nutrients becomes a growing plant, a prospect becomes a donor at the right moment.
Remember, too, that an existing donor is your most valuable prospect for a future gift. If someone has already given to your cause, it means that they believe in your mission and want to help you succeed. This means that your relationship with them, carefully cultivated until you make the “ask,” does not end with a gift, but should continue for years afterward. Through careful stewardship, you will reinforce their good feelings about becoming a donor, and they will be far more likely to give again.
The experienced fundraisers are right: it is a relationship business!
Frank White, Instructor, Boston University Professional Fundraising Program