Author: Kent Vanderwood

If you've been involved in development work for long, you've probably had a situation where you made the “ask” of a donor before he/she was ready. How did you know they weren’t ready? A couple ways, probably – either he/she was offended, said “no” or gave a significantly smaller amount than you hoped for. No worries, we have all been there a time or two. Maybe a better question is - how would you know (for next time)? The relationship between a donor, the development staff person or volunteer assigned to him/her and the institution in need of support is a tricky one. There are guidelines of when a donor is ultimately “ready” for solicitation, but no hard, fast rules. Every donor, every organization and every campaign is different.

I recently read an article written by Jim Mathis and produced by the Christian Businessmen’s Committee. In his introduction, he stated:  When I was about 12 years old, my father took me to a hardware store to buy my first set of real tools. Among the first items I acquired were needle-nose pliers. They came with a lecture from my dad that he had already given me many times about the importance of having good tools, knowing how to use them, and taking care of them. He always concluded with the admonition, “Take care of your tools and they will take care of you."

I'm sure you've heard this expression, "There are no small dreams"… maybe in a leadership class… or maybe from a motivational speaker … or perhaps in a good article on business best practices? One of the more famous quotes in this vein reads, “Dream no small dreams for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” That was penned by German poet, Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe. I’m not sure exactly when he said it, but I believe it was in the late 1700’s.

Recently, I was privileged to conduct Pre-Campaign Study interviews on behalf of a client. Essentially, these interviews are one-on-one meetings with their key stakeholders. This capital campaign would be the single largest fundraising effort ever entered into by this organization - the total needs exceeding $5 million. When we conduct these interviews, we ask the stakeholders several questions to gather their perception of the need. These are confidential conversations. We end each interview by asking if they would consider supporting the campaign as described and to estimate what their three-year giving level might look like. These are not pledge commitments, but they do help us to evaluate what the total dollars might project to.