When I talk to people who are new to the profession, they often want to know the same thing. “I work in a small shop,” they say. “Which activities will give me the most bang for my buck, no pun intended?” I am paraphrasing, but this discussion is definitely the #1 topic that I run across. And my answer is always the same: court your major donors.
When I first started, I wouldn’t have believed it were true. I wanted to get as many people excited about our cause as possible (which is important). I also wanted to create systems that were easy to maintain and monitor (also important). I wanted to design newsletters (keeping people informed is important) and hold (eek) special events (I won’t go there). I wanted to write grants (also helpful and important). But one thing I didn’t want to do was talk to major donors. I was afraid of them, didn’t feel that I had an rapport with them, and was scared to death of messing up, so I filled my time with other important—but not necessarily as important—activities.
“Magic Monday” posts help you start the week off right. Monday is a great day to review and regroup; if you set your mind to it, you can make this your best week yet. Thank gosh it’s Monday!
When I first started in development, I was a bit cowed when dealing with people of means. I always made enough to get by, but for some reason I thought that affluent people were otherworldly, that I somehow couldn’t communicate with them the same way that I could with those that I considered to be my peers. Even when I became more used to it, I still felt like I had to be a chameleon and change my personality to accommodate those to whom I was communicating.
Some sandwiches and a bag of chips changed my outlook on things. I was hosting the first meeting of our planning study task force for our capital campaign, and I had mentioned that lunch would be available. I bought a variety of sandwiches, chips and soda and waited for our guests to arrive. As they showed up in their suits and wool coats, stockings and heels, they began to mingle and get settled.
About halfway through the meeting, while I advanced slides for one of our other presenters, I looked around the room and noticed that everyone was eating sandwiches and chips. This shouldn’t have been a surprise, but I had convinced myself that these otherwordly beings would somehow have transformed their sandwiches and chips into something tidier, or that fancy silverware would have come out of their coat pockets. But there they were, with paper plates and napkins, drinking soda from cans, and I made an important realization: they were just like me in some ways.
I know I have mentioned Asking Matters previously (check them out; I love their site and their ideas). Co-founder Andrea Kihlstedt has written a great article on how to be yourself as a fundraiser. Let me know what you think. If you have any stories about your own donor a-ha! moments, I’d love to hear those, too!
I won’t lie. Face-to-face fundraising can be scary at first. I am an introvert, and I avoided asking people for a long time, preferring instead to write grants and fill out paperwork and send appeal letters. But, as the cloying cliche goes, practice makes perfect. And thus it was with me.
It took me a long time to realize what my problem was. I knew lots of people who asked, and had been asking for years. They were dynamic, they were successful—what was my problem? With a little introspection, I analyzed my situation and discovered the culprit:
I have a different personality type than the other askers I knew.
Most of them were outgoing, gregarious, vibrant and confident. On the contrary, I am a relatively quiet person, who can seem bubbly amongst people I know well, or when I am “fak(ing) it until I make it.” I am at my best among my colleagues, or among people who put forth the vibe of being even more scared or inexperienced than I am. But I am also a person who needs a ton of information to act and make the right decision. I often decided based on instinct, but my instincts are formed by learning as much as I can about a topic before presenting it.