The Fine Line between ‘Guessing’ and ‘Getting’ in Fundraising

September 17, 2015

For fundraisers, it’s often hard to avoid doing: we talk with a promising prospect for our organization, do as much research as we can, line up everything we think we know about the prospect against our organization’s needs, and create what we believe the prospect would respond well to in a solicitation proposal.

Read that last piece of the sentence again this way: …create what we guess the prospect would respond well to in a solicitation proposal. “Guess” is a very different word than “believe.” So when is “guessing” the more accurate description of our approach in our solicitation strategy development?

We guess we when have avoided getting another appointment with a prospect because we just don’t feel comfortable (or ready, or certain, or…) about initiating a conversation that draws out what really matters to the prospect. We guess when we use the prospect’s previous giving behavior as a signal for what he or she will give to again in the future without the benefit of a discussion first. We guess when we apply our own assumptions about the prospect’s financial capabilities. We’re guessing when we use the “multiple choice” approach to soliciting – placing a menu of needs with dollar signs in front of the prospect, expecting the prospect to joyfully pick the one he or she is most eager to support (which, of course, may not be the “right answer” we were hoping for…).

The risks are obvious with guessing, and they go beyond not securing the optimal gift. By guessing, the prospect can feel more like an ATM than a real person…may wonder if your organization really knows how fundraising works…might decide to let your Board know he or she was less than impressed with the whole experience. With guessing, the prospect is less inclined to speak highly of your organization to others or, worse, wants to warn them about your sketchy approach to asking.

Yes, it’s a fine line between guessing what a prospect will positively respond to and crafting a proposal you believe the prospect is likely to accept. And yes, there are prickly prospects who refuse a third or fourth visit, or clam up when they are encouraged to speak honestly, or change their minds like the wind…and then making your best guess on a proposal appears to be all you’ve got to work with. But we owe it to our organizations and to our reputation as fundraisers – and to the prospect – to ask ourselves: what more can I do to eliminate the guesswork to get this gift?

– Patricia House, Senior Vice President


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