by Michelle Jimenez, Senior Consultatnt, HUB Philanthropic Services
A few years ago, I worked with a well-meaning young woman at a client site. This was a mid-sized organization, and her responsibilities included not only development, but also some marketing. When she wore her marketing hat and created the organization’s newsletters, she often placed photos of children that her organization served on the cover. These were routinely children from prominent families who she hoped would see their child, be touched and make a large gift of gratitude as a result.
One day, I noticed a look of exasperation and she commented that she wondered why none of these families were giving. “I’ve put so and so’s picture on the cover three times this year,” she said. I asked what she had asked them to give, and there was a pause–A long pause. It became apparent that she was not making clear, intentional requests of these families, but instead leaving their involvement up to fate.
When I encouraged her to ask one of the families for a visit, we went together. We learned that the parents were socially well-connected and had a large extended family in the community. We explained our need for sponsorship for the organization’s upcoming event and how it supported a variety of services that their child was receiving. We asked them to consider a particular sponsor level. As our visit concluded, we asked them if we could follow up on the request at a time that was best for them. The day to follow up arrived. We emerged from our brief conference call with this family with a $5,000 commitment. That was a “high five moment!” However, what was even better is that this family subsequently purchased two additional tables and brought 20 new people to the event. That provided 20 new opportunities for us to involve and engage these folks into our mission! If we hadn’t bothered to meet them in their living room and get to know them that day, we wouldn’t have known what a great fit our event was for them. They told us it served as an annual family reunion of sorts except they didn’t have to clean up. (Gotta love that!)
This is a good reminder to all of us of two important cornerstones in development. The first is that People Support What They Help Create. Or perhaps, more clearly, People Support What They (are asked to) Help Create. Without us picking up the phone, and investing in them, and asking for their further involvement, this family would not have been aware of our need for sponsorship. They probably never would have had an interest in getting so involved with the event.
A second cornerstone is to be good listeners when we are with our donors. We were created with two ears and one mouth. We should use them accordingly, right? I hear this a lot, but feel that it bears repeating. It is our responsibility to ask thoughtful, open ended questions to get to know those who support us. (Not come prepared with slideshows and pamphlets and push our agenda on them.) Now, whose living room haven’t you been in? Take a moment to pick up that phone today and get to know someone new.