Sunday, December 02, 2007

New column every Monday: "The Fundraising Guru"--Dec. 3, 2007

Fundraisers: Eschew Technology, Robots, and Voicemail
By Stephen Goldstein
author of the bestseller 30 Days to Successful Fundraising

We live in an instant-tech world. With one click of a mouse, would-be entrepreneurs think they can conduct a thriving global business. We fall for pitches to buy ever-faster machines to replace more and more people. Today, moving at the speed of sound is considered ho-hum. We want the world at our fingertips as fast and impersonally as possible.

Successful fundraising is no tech or low tech, however. Of course, technology is crucial for maintaining fundraising records, accessing information, and mass-producing materials, but it has no place in soliciting large gifts. Don't let the Howard Dean money-raising juggernaut fool you. Some Internet fundraising for small gifts from large numbers of people for political candidates and causes with broad public appeal have been wildy successful. But no one will give you the $1 million donation you covet, just because you sent an e-mail or posted a web site which they happened to find. Major donors regard their contributions as investments in worthy causes and efforts. Circumspect, they only build trust eye-to-eye, over time, and expect to be dealt with personally.

In today's breathless, throwaway, give-it-to-me-quick world, seasoned fundraisers don't expect overnight success or think that they can somehow produce major results without investing energy in the people whom they solicit for funds. Fundraising is personal, labor-intensive, time-consuming, long-term, unpredictable, quirky--even frustrating. It is not cookie-cutter. No two donors are the same. Fundraising depends upon people, can't possibly do without them, doesn't replace one-on-one meetings with e-mail.

So, true professionals want donors to get to them as quickly as possible. They make sure their phones are answered the old-fashioned way--on no later than the second ring, by people with excellent phone etiquette, who know the ins and outs of their organization. They would never program their phones to tell potential donors to listen carefully as our menu of options has changed, or make them listen a robot to find out what number to press. They don't hide behind voicemail, would never insult callers with a boilerplate message like "I'm either on the phone or away from my desk.

The best fundraisers care about people, want to talk with them, and are willing to spend time to get to know them. They consider contributors part of their extended family, take the time to know their likes and dislikes and how they think. They treat all people warmly--big contributor, small contributor--especially after they've made a donation.

The best fundraisers don't know about the five-day work week or the eight-hour day. They are always working--but not in front of a computer. They meet face-to-face or are on the phone with donors and potential donors. They know that they've got to talk to people, listen for the telling nuances in their voices and choice of words. They may send e-mail for a quick follow-up, but they also send handwritten notes. They almost never eat a meal without a contributor.
Fundraising is a person-to-person adventure, not a computer simulation. It is wonderful to feel strongly about a cause and to be willing to go through the hassle of convincing others to support it. It is also the best way to learn about people and to bring out the best in others. But those fundraisers will be most successful who understand that their success depends upon their willingness to extend their palm in a handshake, one donor at a time, rather than upon reaching for their Palm Pilot.
E-mail your comments and questions to Stephen Goldstein at