Personal Note from Bob:  Are you involved in “Fundraising?”

Either personally, or perhaps as a board member of a non-profit organization?  Or do you have friends who work in or with ministries or non-profits that you would love to help?   For the past 42 years I have been personally involved in fundraising.  “Fundraising” is a topic that I frequently speak on.   I read extensively about “Fundraising.”  Recently I discovered Kent Stroman’s book, Asking about Asking.  I had read only a few paragraphs when I said to myself, “This is someone I can learn from!”  Kent has “Mastered the Art of Conversational Fundraising.”   If you are involved or associated with “Fundraising” in any capacity you must order Asking about Asking )

Excerpted with the permission of the author from Chapter 10 of Asking about Asking :

Assuming and Guessing

I have seen countless mistakes made in fundraising. Perhaps the most natural mistake would be for us to assume or to guess. The problem with assuming or guessing is that it is time consuming, counterproductive and eventually frustrates everyone involved.

The very act of asking is, in itself, a certain kind of discipline.  In a lot of ways it’s much easier to simply guess. It seems that we all have a natural inclination to guess about things we’re not certain of. But guessing is a very risky business.

When involved in a simple transaction it really doesn’t matter if we guess incorrectly. When you step up to the counter at your local hamburger joint the server may guess that you want ketchup, onions, pickles and mustard on your burger. And if he guesses wrong, the fix is rather simple. Not a big deal.  Right?

When the stakes are greater— as in the case of a major gift decision—why would we even consider not asking? Here are some of the excuses I have heard:

  • “It takes too much time.”
  • “I will look ignorant if I ask about something so elementary.”
  • “I already have a ‘pretty good idea’ without asking.”
  • “This topic seems a little too personal for me to be asking about.”
  • “If I ask it may seem like I don’t already know something I should.”
  • “I don’t want to seem as if I didn’t do my homework beforehand.”
  • Etc., etc.

These are some of the fears and concerns that will nag at the back of our mind, causing us to take the bigger risk of guessing.

How do people react when we ask the kind of questions recommended on these pages? My experience is that they realize and appreciate our genuine interest. They find a certain enjoyment in talking about themselves. Oftentimes they will learn something about themselves. Or organize their thoughts in ways they haven’t done before. Or recall a happy memory that seemed to have been long forgotten.

So let me offer my strongest recommendation: Never guess when you can ask.

Why not use some of the real questions we suggest throughout this book? Such as:

  • “How did you become so successful in your career?”
  • “How did you learn to give?”
  • “What would you like your gifts to accomplish?”
  • “How do you decide which projects to support with your own time and money?”
  • “What are your top three charitable interests this year?”
  • “What gift did you make that has brought you the most joy?”
  • “Why?”

Be ready to listen. Be ready to learn. And be ready for your relationship to grow. It’s inevitable.

If you’re particularly hesitant to ask an important question—simply ask for permission first. “Could I have your permission to ask how you learned to be so generous?”

Certainly the possibility exists that someone may respond negatively to such a request for permission. But that has never happened to me. My experience is: When a polite request is made, with a genuine interest, and sincerity of purpose—people are happy to grant their consent. And they often will respond in a way that answers other questions that you might not even think to ask.

Sometimes the consequences of assuming and guessing are minimal. Other times they are enormous.

Pete Alonzo was one of those persons described in the book, The Millionaire Next Door. He maintained a very modest lifestyle and had acquired his wealth by years of hard work and extreme frugality. Harley Drummond was an aggressive fundraiser, but was much better at telling than asking. He had been calling on Pete for many years, and was frustrated at his seeming lack of progress toward securing a large gift that Pete could easily make.

When I was brought into the solicitation process, I wanted to understand the background as fully as possible. So, I began to ask. I asked about the prospect; his giving history, his preferences and priorities, his family and his plans for the future. Then I asked about the previous attempts Harley had made to engage Pete.  After some time I discovered several problems with the solicitation efforts. Rather than cover all of them at this time, let me illuminate the most serious.

Harley was aware that Pete’s children were married and had families of their own, and that Pete lived by himself. Assuming that Pete’s wife was deceased, Harley had repeatedly approached Pete with the proposition that he might make a sizeable gift to memorialize the mother of Pete’s children. The sad reality was that the woman was not dead. They were divorced!

Needless to say, the naming gift never materialized. The fact that a gift of several hundred thousand dollars did transpire is almost miraculous. But there was a long season of ‘repair work’ necessary before a successful ‘ask’ could ever be made. Of course it’s easy to see the problem now: one mammoth-sized assumption that could easily have been avoided with one or two simple questions.

Always ask. You’ll save yourself immeasurable embarrassment and difficulty.

M. Kent Stroman teaches passionately, consults wisely, writes creatively, speaks inspirationally and helps willingly.  He is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE) whose counsel has been honed by more than thirty years’ experience in nonprofit leadership, fundraising, strategic planning, capital campaigns, major donor solicitation and financial management. Kent loves learning, reading, traveling, singing, cooking, eating and fun!

You can connect with Kent at:   Stroman Consulting  or on Twitter @kentstroman

You can order your book at :  Asking about Asking

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