I was six months into my new VP of Advancement job and had one responsibility, bring home the first ever campaign for a South-side Catholic High School. Having finally secured an appointment with the local bank, I went into the appointment confident that our preparation would pay off and we would ask for, and secure, a much needed lead gift. As I’m sure you can imagine, my angst and discomfort rose exponentially when the President confidently looked at me and said, “I know why you’re here and we are anxious to help; we are proud to pledge $5,000 to the campaign.”
I thought……”WHAT DO I DO NOW?”
A bit surprised, stunned and disappointed, I remember thinking… I owe it to the school to be HONEST with the prospect and be crystal clear what my intention was. So (with a lump in my throat) I quickly responded,
“Why thank you, the bank’s commitment is very much appreciated but I have to say, we were actually going to provide a full summary of the project, so you know what you are saying yes to and ask for a multi-year pledge that was at a higher level. If it’s okay, I’d still like the opportunity to present our proposal.”
It was the next response that surprised me the most when the bank President admitted, “Michael, that’s why we told you what we were going to give, we KNEW you were going to ask for more. But I admire your tenacity, share what you had hoped to share.”
I wish I could say that the bank ended up giving the amount we asked for but they didn’t. The final gift was five times what they offered but ½ of what we asked for. Both sides felt good about the exchange and I walked away with the following clarity which further prepared me for this kind of conversation in the years that followed:
- Whenever you meet with a prospect during a campaign, they KNOW why you’re there. Be confident and unapologetic for wanting to advance the mission philanthropically. The prospect will respect your authenticity and passion for the mission, even if your number is higher than theirs.
- A little trick of mine is to envision representatives (fellow leaders, board members and constituents) watching the conversation from the sidelines. KNOWING I have their support and commitment to the mission we represent gives me confidence to ask, even when the conversation might get uncomfortable (like when the donor gets the ask out).
- Always, I mean ALWAYS, show genuine appreciation and empathy for what the prospect is sharing. When you do, it provides a more honest platform to share the needs of the organization. It also gives you the opportunity to genuinely reflect and consider forging ahead with your original agenda or tabling the intended ask for a time when it may fit better with the donor’s situation.
- Any investment and or gift to the organization given by someone is NOT ABOUT US. As development officers, it is our job to be the bridge, or conduit, between the donor and the organization. IF we are in a situation that causes us discomfort or uneasiness, we must accept that reality and avoid taking the easy way out. When it feels right to push, push (respectively), the donor will respect you in the long run.
by: Michael Bruni, Partner, HUB Philanthropic Solutions