The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks: And the Answers All Donors Crave, by Harvey McKinnon is a short, commonsense book that will appeal to fundraisers and perhaps to advisors as well who want to know how fundraisers think. The questions donors ask include:
- Why me?
- Why are you asking me?
- Do I respect you?
- How much do you want?
- Why your organization?
Anyone in financial sales will see in this book a familiar approach to building relationship quickly, making a pitch, anticipating and defusing misunderstanding, asking for the check, and answering objections. In sales, some salespeople become process-driven advisors, who position the sale as the final step of a process that goes from rapport building, to discovery and agreement on client goals and objections, to strategic solutions, to tactical implementation and service. In that spirit, a wealthy donor might have questions that he or she does not ask a fundraiser, about the whole transactional process and its premises. These might include:
- How can you tell me your story before you have listened to mine?
- How can you ask for such a large gift without knowing or caring how it fits with my priorities and current arrangements?
- Don't you know that I do not control the family finances? I can give only from a small giving budget; my spouse controls the big dollars. Why don't you include my spouse in our conversation?
- A gift this large will come at the expense of my children's inheritance. Why should I favor you over them?
- Do you know if I can afford this without it affecting my lifestyle going forward or my other priorities? I don't know either.
- Have you structured this gift so it has maximum benefit for your oganization and minimum effect on my other financial goals?
- Don't you know that I will have to talk to my tax, legal and financial advisors before agreeing to such a large gift?
- Why do you always ask for the money rather than asking to meet with me and my advisors?
- Don't you know my advisors always say "No" when they are brought into a process late? ("Not invented here." "If this was a good idea, we would already have recommended it.")
The 11 questions in McKinnon's book epitomize fundraising for small dollars on a short quota driven sales cycle, much as in middle market investment or insurance sales. The longer process of transformational philanthropy requires donor engagement, and will result in fewer, larger gifts per fundraiser per year. The high engagement process will be seen as more caring and humane and may turn donors into fans and advocates. At least clarifying donor goals and engaging advisors in developing gift strategies is worth considering in your "moves management."
Consider as your major gift "ask" something like this: "I know Mr. and Mrs. Lyons that you will want to discuss the gift with your advisors as you weigh the possibilities. May I contact your lead advisor and lay out for her the options we have been discussing? Your advisor can then give you her advice and counsel privately; or, if you wish, I can sit in on that meeting to answer any further questions." Given permission to make that call, you might say to the advisor: "Mr. and Mrs. Lyons are considering a major gift to our institution. They asked me to contact you to see if such a gift is feasible and if so how it might best be structured. May I share with you what they and I have discussed to date? They and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions on how best to meet their goals, which as they have explained them to me are as follows...."
The advisor may still kill the deal, but your odds are better because you have entered the advisor's world as a professional colleague. You have positioned your gift in the light of the client's goals, and have shown deference to the advisor's expertise and trusted position. In short, you have anticipated and warded off the automatic "No" that a gift idea might receive if the advisor feels left out. Of course, you might try to sneak a big one past the advisors. I know a lot of broke, small dollar insurance agents who operate on that self-defeating philosophy.
In making allies of advisors your key leverage point would be vision, values, aspirations for self, family and society, goals and objectives - how the gift fits in the client's sense of a life well lived and a legacy well made. If you get to that vision level, the advisor can only test, come up with strategies, and ultimately serve the vision that you have elicited. The nonprofit person may be as well positioned as any advisor to elicit that highest vision. I hope you will for your organization's sake, the sake of the donor and family, and for the sake of society.