Following Up: A Story I Hate to Tell

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Written by Alex Comfort, CFRE

I was hired to run a search for a development director and found a fabulous person. She already had great skills before taking my Fundraising Boot Camp four-day training. She hit the ground running and quickly began producing great results.

Then her agency decided to conduct a capital campaign, and I was hired to direct both the feasibility study as well as the campaign. All was going well. During the quiet phase, she got an invitation to attend a party the agency’s biggest prospect was giving. She met the big prospect and told her where she worked, the person said: “Really, I’d like to hear more about your work.”

And then…nothing. My superfundraiser was convinced she had to have a more influential person go with her to call the prospect. Weeks went by. I went from cajoling to nagging. During a campaign meeting, the fundraiser looked at me and said: “I have a very good feel for what to do with a prospect, and I am convinced that I need a major player in the community to go with me!”

Well, that was direct! The exchange made me wonder why fundraisers get so nervous around rich people? Why can we not just take their lead, believe in ourselves, and make the call? 

During my career I have occasionally been labelled as “too aggressive.” It has always been in a situation when everyone was too nervous to visit a major prospect who was prickly or just too wealthy for a “normal person” to relate to.  Now, to be honest, I had some of those feelings when I was in my 30s, and I remember them well.

But I have now gotten to know a large group of super-wealthy people and know how isolated they sometimes feel. Let’s put it this way. If they are philanthropic and if they have a connection to an organization or if they express a desire to know more, they are probably not the kind of wealthy person who is “too good” to deal with the likes of us.

When I was in seminary, a grizzled older priest (who was then what my age is now!) told us that any time we had an instinct to visit or phone or reach out in any way, to just DO IT! It was good advice, and I always tried to follow it.

That’s why I implore all of us to ALLOW OUR MAJOR PROSPECTS TO LEAD AND COACH US IN OUR WORK. If they invite us, they mean it. If we do not follow up, they wonder where we are and wonder why we do not think they are worthy of our time.  We always need to THINK LIKE A DONOR.

Finally, I will end this particular rant by saying one of my most frequent sayings: Never let someone else say “no” for a person. Allow that person to say “no” for themselves.

I have a personal “in” with the prospect mentioned above, and I may need to use it although I hate to do so. (The consultant is supposed to stay detached and force the client to do the work.) We’ll see if it is now too late.


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