DickersonBakker Blog

Fundraising is a Contact Sport

“Fundraising is a contact sport.”  A good friend of mine said this to me early in my fundraising career, and it stuck with me ever since.

I served in several sales jobs prior to securing my first fundraising job in 2008, and I knew this to be true of sales. Closing deals requires a lot of back and forth with the client – sometimes it can take as many as a dozen or more touches to close one big deal. Same is true in fundraising. Closing big gifts takes much more than a “one and done” visit, and the donor will rarely drive the momentum. It’s up to you – the fundraiser – to keep pushing the deal forward – politely, professionally, and persistently.

The skills I acquired in sales—prospect and lead generation, networking, building a dynamic sales funnel, getting appointments, and closing deals through solution based selling—served me well when I transitioned into a career in major gift fundraising. But the skill that served me best in sales was the same one that serves me well in fundraising – polite, professional persistence.

After 8 years of working in the fundraising space, now in a consulting role, my biggest disappointment is seeing too many fundraisers who give up too easily.

Fear of rejection and failure are palpable. Frankly too many fundraisers almost seem intimidated by major donors, and in my estimation approach them in an apologetic manner. They often make one sheepish ask and then don’t follow up to try to “close the deal”.

I also frequently encounter ownership issues, hearing something along the lines of, “these are my relationships, and I know them and because I know them I can tell you that they don’t want to be asked for money at this time.”  Rather than going out and trying to close deals with their donors, these staff members almost see themselves as “gatekeepers” to the relationship.

So what’s the solution?  I would suggest the following eight tips:

  1. Start by reading Henry Nouwen’s “A Spirituality of Fundraising.”  This book has had a powerful impact on the way I view fundraising.
  2. Discover the beauty in what you’re selling to the donor. Focus on the best in the organization that you represent, the people that you’re working with, and the donors. Even if you feel unappreciated and undervalued, remember that working as a development professional is a high honor.
  3. Approach fundraising from the biblical promise found in 2 Corinthians 9:6, “Remember this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” The number of strategic contacts that I make impacts the yield of the harvest. In fact, to not give my best in making contacts or strategic touches is to practice poor or lackluster stewardship.
  4. Understand that the decision to meet with you or to give money is the donor’s choice. As fundraisers we can influence that choice but we cannot control it. The only thing I can truly control is how many contacts (strategic touches) I make, and how much time and effort I pour into each deal.
  5. Don’t project your fears and feelings of doubt onto the donor and thereby refrain from challenging them to grow in their generosity.
  6. Instead of viewing yourself as a friend to the donor, view yourself as a philanthropic advisor.
  7. Understand that asking a donor for a gift is one of the best ways of getting to know their heart and for advancing the relationship. The belief that I can’t ask the donor if I don’t know the donor is ultimately a “cop-out” and a mask for covering one’s fears.  An ask done right is the best cultivation.
  8. View each “touch-channel” (phone call, email, note, appointment, social networking message, and home visits) as part of an occurrence. This means that when I communicate with a donor in whatever venue, channel, or context, it gives me the ability to reinforce the opportunity that I have or will be presenting via the other aforementioned touch channels.

Fundraising is a contact sport. It takes multiple contacts to close a gift. Each one might only move the ball down the field a few yards. But keep moving the ball forward, and you will cross the goal line.


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