Asking for Advice and Gaining Far More

by Doris Feinberg, CFRE

There’s a saying in the world of philanthropy: “If you ask for money, you’ll get advice. But if you ask for advice, you’ll get money.” It sounds clever, but what does it really mean? And how can we use its good sense in our work supporting non-profit organizations? The key is in developing meaningful relationships with donors who become invested in the mission of the organization.

Imagine the following scenarios: In the first, a solicitor visits a major donor prospect and shares with her the organization’s plans for a new center for abused children (or cardiac center, or independent school – you get the idea). The solicitor then asks for a gift. In the second, the solicitor is a trustee who knows the prospect personally. The trustee shares the organization’s plans, then says, “We know you care about child abuse (or cardiac health, or education) as much as we do. Having seen our plans at this early stage, what do you think the impact is likely to be? I hope you are willing to participate in a working group to help us flesh these out more fully.”

Which scenario is more likely to help the prospect feel personally invested and committed to the cause? Of course, we all recognize that it’s the second scenario – if the organization follows through, forms the working group, and values the ideas that come from it. Many kinds of gatherings can be used to form these connections, such as visits to the organization, meetings with key leaders, volunteer opportunities, or social events – but it’s critical to think of them as relationship builders and not solicitation opportunities.

Why is asking for advice so effective? There are several reasons:

  • The prospect feels valued by the organization, instead of as just a potential source of income;
  • Interaction with trustees and agency staff is energizing;
  • Seeing the organization’s work in action, and being invited to give input, helps individuals develop a personal stake in the organization’s work.

Any kind of development effort, such as a capital campaign, an annual fund, or even grant seeking, depends in the long run on relationship building for success. When you seek advice from donors, your investment in those relationships will pay off both financially and in other, less tangible – but equally important – forms of support.

Doris Feinberg, CFRE, is President of The Prospero Group and President of the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island. This piece was originally printed in the Prospero Group’s December newsletter.