Value Relationship Over time, I realized that I was running my meetings into the ground. Prospects were reticent until I finally cleared my head one evening and went to meet a new couple. I simply sat in front of them and asked them:
What would you like to talk about this evening?
And it all came pouring out. Their expectations, their concerns and their fears about the future. They wanted reassurance that I could help them. I realized I was not able to guarantee their portfolio’s performance, or even curb their spending habits but I could take the time to get to know them, and find out if I even wanted to work with them as clients.
The Trust Journey Oddly enough, I initially thought that I was building trust leading up to the initial transaction. But trust with clients was really fueled after they had signed on with me. What we in fundraising refer to as stewardship. Those prescient moments when we create consistency in messaging, in relationship building, and in educating our donors about how their desires can financially support our organization. Yes, their desires. Because one of the key things in working with financial clients was to first give them what they wanted, and once we had their trust to guide them into what they needed in order build financial security for their families.
In the fundraising world, we often talk about what our organization does, how we help, who we are, why we exist. It’s really all about us but we’re not so good at allowing donors and prospects to identify how they want to contribute.
Working in a competitive, commission based environment in the for-profit world taught me to aggressively prospect in a way that I would never have learned in a fundraising shop. My learning curve was intense, especially in dealing with constant failure and rejection. But the thing I learned the most was to not be afraid to ask. For without asking, nothing comes.
Rejection leads to Success The ability to prospect and ask is key to building a strong fundraising program. As crazy as it sounds, the more “no’s” you get, the more you’re likely to build a stronger program. It means that you’re talking to more people and having stronger outreach.
Let’s face it. No one in their right mind wants to be rejected and deal with failure. That’s what makes people who work successfully in direct fundraising and sales unique. They can bear the drops because they believe in what they’re doing and they have the tolerance to get to the finish line.
A Final Secret I eventually left working in financial services because the work did not offer me the creativity I desired in my career. In no way was the work any less challenging or dynamic that working in the charitable sector. I have a deep respect and admiration for my former colleagues who brought a technical expertise, resilience and courage into the office every day. I’ve never seen anything like it and doubt I’ll ever see that level of self-motivation again in my career.
The final secret. It doesn’t matter how your organization markets itself, what marketing materials you have or often don’t. At the end of the day, you ultimately sell who you are. If you are fulfilled and feel good about yourself as a human being, you will experience success.
Every charity at some levels works to bring acceptance into the lives of people. If we want donors to accept what we’re telling them, then it’s incumbent upon us as fundraisers to accept the stories our donors and prospects have to tell us. And the only way we’re going to do that is by talking to them instead of avoiding them out of fear.
Adrian Fernandes, previously consulted on launching annual giving programs. He currently works as a staff fundraiser in the healthcare sector and believes in the power of the crucial second gift to build donor loyalty.