When Fundraising isn’t Sales

March 29, 2019

Many people have stated that fundraising is just like sales, but with a conscience. The same principles apply and that good salespeople often make good fundraisers. I, too, have echoed that sentiment in the past and have even written a post or two about it.

In the post, I said that one of the main differences between sales and fundraising is that while people may need to buy a new car (and then the salesperson’s job is to make the case for all-wheel drive versus two-wheel drive or autonomous features versus not having them) I contended that nobody needs to give to charity. I further asserted that you might need to buy a car now because your older car was in an accident, but nobody needs to give to charity NOW.

What I would like to explore in this post is the amount (or price in the sales world). At some point, there is a floor that the salesperson will not go below. You cannot buy a brand new, tricked-out Lincoln Continental for $25,000. It just will not happen. It is a $60,000 CDN (base) vehicle. What happens in the fundraising world? Let us imagine you ask Mrs. Jones for a $60,000 gift (not a sponsorship that would have a specific ‘price list’ benefit) and she, in turn, offers you $25,000. 

The $25,000 is still a magnanimous gift. Nevertheless, the fundraiser feels deflated. In the fundraising world, we accept the gift and steward the donor appropriately. There is never thought of politely turning down the gift. I would surmise that the reason $25,000 was offered instead of the $60,000 that was asked for (note that a specific amount was asked for) is due to a lack of prospect research. Perhaps you asked too soon. Perhaps you did not explain the needs appropriately. Perhaps the donor has other priorities. The possibilities are endless.

But do you have to accept the gift as is? Sometimes the best batters swing for the fence and strike out. To be honest, I don’t know the answer as it would be impossible to test in a controlled experiment. Maybe a route to go would be to ask the donor to park that $25,000 in the back of their minds and together you can establish under what circumstances that $25,000 may turn into $60,000 (as originally requested). 

This is a tricky dilemma – our first instinct is to say that the fundraiser has not done their job properly and more research needed to happen. Perhaps the person is having some manner of private struggles and is just not able to make the size of a gift that you were hoping. Unfortunately, sometimes people use chutzpah – I remember a volunteer replying to a donor who had pledged $5,000 when $10,000 was asked for saying, “Sam, I didn’t realize times were so tough for you. I’ll give the extra $5,000 since you obviously cannot.” That was guilt at its worst and the volunteer needlessly embarrassed the donor. I would not recommend that course of action. 

At the end of the day, graciousness and appreciation should never be forgotten, but there does, however, need to be some way of politely pushing back.

When I figure it out, I will write about it.