Can we all please agree that ambushing donors needs to stop?

ambushWell, it happened to me and my husband again just the other day. We were asked to dinner by a non-profit friend. It was a simple dinner invitation, and one that we’ve been working on setting up for more than a year. We weren’t in the restaurant for more than 15 minutes and the pre-meal cocktails had just arrived, when our friend was asking us to give some consideration to making a contribution to their organization’s endowment fund.
There isn’t any other way to characterize a situation like this other than it was an old fashion…


The inexplicable thing I still cannot wrap my head around is that we would’ve happily accepted this dinner invitation if we knew there was a solicitation attached to it.
Some of you might be wondering what the big deal is all about.
sneak attackSimply, I believe soliciting unsuspecting prospects and donors is detrimental to your organization (and to everyone else in non-profit sector) for the following reasons:

  • It puts the person on the spot (and when has that ever felt good?)
  • It erodes trust (what will they think the next time you ask them to join you for a meal?)
  • It validates the erroneous belief by some people that fundraising is a sneaky and shameful activity focused on making people do something they otherwise wouldn’t want to do
  • It feels wrong when friends do this to their friends and colleagues, which contributes to people saying NO when asked to volunteer for a non-profit fundraising campaign

Yes, I understand most people don’t do this purposefully. They simply weren’t trained appropriately or they harbor anxiety about rejection (or any number of other fears) when it comes to setting up the fundraising meeting.
Some of you are probably now wondering what the solution is.
Almost 10 years ago, I ran into a very smart board volunteer who understood the importance of training. So much so, his company developed a video he used with his fellow board members to help them feel more comfortable with every aspect of the solicitation progress. I was lucky enough that he agreed to share his homemade training video with me.
Embedded within more than an hour of video was a seven minute clip explaining (and role playing) the appropriate way to pick-up the phone and successfully secure a fundraising meeting with a prospect/donor. This is simply one of the best pieces of video that I’ve ever seen on this topic.
sneak attack2In an effort to do may part to help eradicate the “ambush” tactic from our non-profit toolbox, I will share with you some of the tips from this video.

  • Before picking up the phone, write down three reasons why you need to sit down with your prospect/donor and keep that piece of paper nearby when you place the call (and look at this piece of paper when you feel yourself getting nervous)
  • When the prospect/donor answers the phone, ask them for time to meet in-person (after preliminary greetings and chit-chat, of course) and share the three reasons for the meeting
  • Some of the reasons to meet in-person might include: a) asking for advice, b) securing their involvement, c) thanking them for their support, d) accessing their expertise; BUT one of the reasons must include discussing their potential support of the campaign, event or fundraising activity in question
  • Making up reasons to meet can feel insincere and manipulative . . . so don’t use silly reasons. Come up with real reasons that will benefit the organization or are plausible based upon your personal relationship
  • Don’t ask if they can meet . . . ask them when they can meet.

If this sounds simple, it’s because it is. If you still don’t believe this approach works, then think of it this way . . .
We are all very busy with our lives. So, when a friend calls asking for some of your time and only gives one reason for the meeting, it doesn’t feel weighty enough to want an in-person meeting. Surely one discussion item can quickly be resolved on the telephone. Right??? However, listing off a number of things you wish to discuss begins to feel lengthy and not well suited for a quick telephone conversation.
Still don’t believe me? Well then, I guess there is only one way to resolve this dispute . . . try this strategy on for size next time you need to schedule an in-person meeting with a prospect/donor. I’m betting that you’re successful.  😉
Do you have additional tips to share with the non-profit sector about how to set-up an in-person meeting with a prospect/donor without resorting to ambush tactics? If so, please scroll down and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment box. We can all learn from each other.
Here’s to your health!
Erik Anderson
Founder & President, The Healthy Non-Profit LLC!/eanderson847


    1. Thanks, John. I hope all is well in your neck of the woods and your writing project is progressing along. I’ll circle back around and hopefully we can do breakfast again in late March or early April.

  1. You use the term “ambush” — I used to work with a fundraising volunteer who was a senior level banker by profession and he called it “bank robbery.” I recall asking him to set up some meetings where we would go together to meet with potential donors (and he made those calls from his office when I was sitting across from his desk so I heard it all directly). After the initial hi and how are you doing he would say “I know you’re busy and I value your time so let me get to the reason for my call. We both have an interest in the X organization and I would like to schedule a time when we can meet so that I can share some news with you about X, tell you what’s happening recently, get your thoughts on how we can reach more people, and then ask for your financial support.” It was just that straight forward and he never got turned down for a meeting. When we actually did meet with his ten prospects, only one person gave us no for an answer. Five of the ten gave what we asked for, two gave more than what we requested, and two gave slightly less that what we requested. They were all major gifts, all very cordial and conversational with lots of listening and responding to the donor’s interests, some involved a meal and some were just office meetings that took 30 to 60 minutes. His coaching was that he would never participate in a “bank robbery” where we just showed up or scheduled an appointment to say “We’re with X so give us your money.” Sometimes they would make a commitment on the spot (probably half of the time while the other half would have to think about it, check with others, and generally within 30 days we had the yes and the check. But never, never, never was it the “bait and switch” of “we’re just getting together for a meal and BAM, give us your money or pledge.” It was always good to have two people together for these meetings with a prospect and we discussed in advance who would say what while the other listened, took notes, and adjusted the speed, tone, and flow of the meeting. At the end, we would thank them for their time, and interest, and finally to agree on when to check back with them and by what method — but most knew that day why we were coming so they were prepared with an answer. Busy people respect that, and value your time as well. Just some thoughts from years of experience. I enjoy your blogs, Eric so keep them coming!

    1. Steve . . . thanks for sharing your real life experiences and the results of those experiences. I think it is important for people to hear that doing it the right way can lead to success. Thanks for the compliment about the blog. Let me return the favor and express my gratitude to you and others for reading the blog! So, keep on coming back!

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