Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO) Conference, and one of the participants asked me, “When do you know that you have asked someone for a donation enough times? When should you stop approaching the person, even though you know she has the ability to make a significant contribution?” Today let’s look at the right time to ask for a donation from a potential or current donor.
There are two aspects to this issue: knowing when it is the right time to solicit a contribution and knowing when it is the right time to stop asking for a donation. Unfortunately, there are no simple, hard and fast guidelines that can be given to you as a professional or volunteer solicitor. The best way to approach this issue is through the lens of the relationship between the donor and you.
I am sure you have used or are familiar with the phrase, “cultivating the relationship with the donor.” Indeed the key to a successful solicitation is developing a meaningful connection with the potential or current donor. It means that there is mutuality about the relationship and a feeling of closeness that goes beyond asking for a contribution.
Yet, what kind of mutuality can there possibly be between you as the solicitor asking for a contribution and the person donating the funds to the organization? Often you are on different economic levels and have different forms of involvement with the organization.
Indeed, your relationship with the donor does have an important financial aspect: The donor knows that you as the solicitor want a contribution, and you are well aware that your primary reason for speaking with the donor is to encourage him or her to give you a donation. At the same time there is a connection being built between the two of you, which I would like to focus on now.
Just because you are asking someone to part with his or her money and give it to the cause you represent as either a volunteer or professional does not mean you do not have a relationship that supersedes the financial aspects of what brings you together. Often when working with donors your conversation is focused on their connection to the Jewish community, their thoughts and feelings about Israel, their children’s relationship to Judaism and the Jewish community, and other aspects of their Jewish identity.
When I meet with donors, I often feel that they value the opportunity to speak with someone who is committed to the Jewish community and the Jewish people without imposing a set of values upon them. The open nature of the communication between us provides them with the opportunity to explore their thoughts and feelings about their connection to Judaism without feeling pressured to adopt a particular form of Jewish observance or lifestyle. The discussions almost always create a safe space, and they are very happy to have the opportunity to engage in conversations that are filled with both intellectual and emotional content.
Once the relationship is well established and both of us feel comfortable with each other, the solicitation follows as a natural part of our speaking together. Whenever I have made a solicitation, there was never a doubt in the donor’s mind that I was meeting with him or her as part of my work for a nonprofit organization. We were both aware of the framework within which we met for breakfast or lunch or sometimes over a cup of coffee. However, it allowed both of us to share aspects of who we were as people, which was not always possible in other formal situations.
Often I solicited donors after two meetings, but sometimes I had to meet 10 or more times with donors before the time was right to make a solicitation. There is no set formula or timetable: It all depends on the relationship with the donor and how the groundwork has been put in place for a meaningful request for a contribution. I have always felt that when I did ask for the contribution I was providing the donors with an opportunity to do something important and meaningful. The programs and services they were supporting with their donations were accomplishing great things, and I had no trouble representing the organization and asking for their money.
However, even after you have formed a strong connection with the donor, it is not always clear when to ask for a donation: Should you solicit the person now or wait a little longer? Then when you finally decide to make the ask, the donor says he would like to give, but now is not the right time and you should contact him again in another few months. A few months later you call, and the donor says he is still not ready to make a commitment and would like to think about it some more.
Next week I explore how to handle this difficult aspect of the solicitation process. In the meantime I welcome your suggestions and thoughts on how to secure a commitment in this situation. Please feel free to comment below.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Nonprofit Management and Leadership Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening nonprofit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.