I love visiting with potential donors. Breakfast, lunch, drinks, dinner, their office, their house, the club, their boat (true story), doesn’t matter. My happy place is out of my office.
And my nightmare is a visitless week spent at my desk. Or in meetings.
But, for as much as I like being out, seeing people, I don’t always like asking for visits.
Makes sense, right? Fundraising is a lot like dating. And asking someone out (especially for the first time) is less fun than actually going out. All of the risk – the unknown – is in the asking.
Yet, regular and ongoing outreach is a must. New relationships are critical to keeping your major gifts pipeline full of prospects. Without them, you stagnate. And eventually die. Pretty dramatic stuff.
Now, I’m going to assume you have some prospects/donors in your portfolio you already know pretty well. In fundraising-speak, these are the folks in “cultivation” or “stewardship” mode. They’re easier to ask out because you already have a great relationship with them.
So, let’s talk about those you don’t know yet. They’re in “identification” or “qualification” mode. And if you’re new(ish) to your position, you probably have lots of them. Maybe you even call them “suspects” instead of “prospects.”
Regardless, you’re attracted to them. You think there’s a chance you could be compatible. It’s time to ask for a date.
But first – and as we always do here at Fearless Fundraising – we’re going to talk about the inner game. We need to tackle some of the mental barriers that can keep us from reaching out.
Part 1 – Mastering the Inner Game
Major gifts work is fertile ground for fear. Why? Because the stakes are so high!
We know big investments are crucial. These gifts allow us to get new programs off the ground, hire needed staff, etc. So, outreach can feel risky. And we can become less confident in our ability to succeed.
We’re also aware that a major gift from a new prospect is, on average, an 18-month ordeal. Yet we crave psychological benefits now! We’re wired to want instant gratification.
Fear, plus the desire for instant gratification, makes it easy to put off major gifts work – to procrastinate. When faced with a long “to do” list and competing priorities, human nature favors tasks offering the least risk and the most immediate psychological benefit.
In fundraising, I’ve found the combination of these forces to mean at least this: When deciding between new prospect outreach and anything else, we’ll almost always choose to do the other thing.
It’s far easier to write thank you notes, make website updates, plan an event, work on a new brochure, etc. The payoff is more immediate – we get to feel productive. And the stakes are lower – these tasks feel less risky.
But is outreach really that risky? Is there really that much uncertainty involved? No, not really.
I’ve talked about “invisible scripts” before. You’ll recall that they’re our assumptions (untested, for the most part) about the world around us. And they affect our behavior without us even noticing.
Here are some I’ve dealt with:
- “People hate cold calls. I don’t want to bother anyone.”
- “I need to be in the right frame of mind in order to reach out.”
- “With no giving history and very little connection, why would he even want to hear from me?
- “If she responds negatively or declines a meeting, it’s because I’m not doing my job well.”
Like most invisible scripts, mine were based on untested assumptions. They were hasty generalizations I used to avoid doing something uncomfortable.
Here are some replacement scripts that have helped me reframe my thinking about outreach:
- “Each phone call could be the first step toward a major gift.” Every gift starts somewhere. Your call has the power to get someone on the path toward making a personally fulfilling investment in a great cause.
- “Preparation will give me confidence.” This goes hand-in-hand with trusting the process. It’s always a good time to reach out if you’re prepared.
- “The process is proven.” Part of your success in major gift fundraising will come from staying committed to the process. This “science” of fundraising has been proven over and over again.
- “Disqualification helps with efficiency.” Some people won’t be immediately interested or able to support. Your cause is still worthy. If a prospect declines to meet with you, it helps you focus your efforts.
Take a moment to think of invisible scripts that might be holding you back when it comes to prospect outreach. Jot them down and look for untested assumptions.
Bringing your scripts out into the open like this is important. It will help you pin-point fears and develop replacement scripts to reframe your thinking.
We didn’t talk much about overcoming the desire for instant gratification in this post. The short answer is to recognize that major gifts is a process. Sometimes a long process. We need to break it down into pieces and learn to celebrate small wins along the way. We’ll talk more about that in next week’s post.
This was part one in a new three-part series on prospect outreach. We’ve covered the inner game and next up is the process. Per usual, we’ll wrap up with what to say.
For now, let me know if I can help you! Is there an invisible script slowing down your outreach? Write it in the comment box below and I’ll send you a replacement.