When The Donor Isn't Ready

When The Donor Isn’t Ready

How do you know when the donor isn’t ready? 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 they’re weren’t ready. How so? A couple of differing ways, probably – either they were 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 can you know (for next time)? The relationship between a donor, the development staff person or volunteer assigned to the donor, 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.

Here are some situations we’ve encountered.

We were recently conducting a pre-campaign study for a large educational institution in the western US. In the study, we asked donors what they might “estimate” their giving to be if a campaign were launched on behalf of the client. In a personal meeting, a donor’s response to that question was, “it all depends on whether or not I believe in the project, and at this point I still do not.” This donor needed to be sold; he needed to be convinced that the project was both necessary and worthwhile; he needed to “catch the vision” before he was ready to review a specific funding proposal from the client. My response to him was, “OK, what question(s) do you need answered, or what information do you need, before you can “believe in it?’” I then passed along that advice to the school’s leadership for their follow-up. To my knowledge, they are still cultivating the donor and answering his questions. No “ask” has been made yet.

In the same study, we had a donor answer the question this way, “That all depends on when they need the gift. If they need it in 30 days, my response would be around $10,000; if they can wait until the end of the calendar year, then potentially $100,000.” This donor’s need was different than the first one. He already believed, but he needed time. So, what do you think the organization did? You are correct, if you said wait. They met with the donor 60 days later and asked if he and his wife could make a significant pledge to be given at the end of the year. That was good timing – the right timing. And it will result in a maximized gift to their campaign.

Best advice? Don’t make the mistake of hurrying or rushing a donor to meet some calendar or campaign timeline. Wait until they are ready. You will know when that time is, and so will they.

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