An old nonprofit tale that you may have heard before…
A community nonprofit organization realized that it had never received a donation from the city’s most successful lawyer. So a staff member did some research on the lawyer, and gave the information to a key volunteer. The volunteer was able to get a meeting and visited the lawyer in his lavish office.
The volunteer opened the meeting by saying, “Our research shows that even though your annual income is over two million dollars, you don’t give a penny to charity. Wouldn’t you like to give something back to your community through our nonprofit?”
The lawyer thought for a minute and said, “First, did your research also show you that my mother is dying after a long, painful illness and she has huge medical bills that are far beyond her ability to pay?”
Embarrassed, the volunteer rep mumbled, “Uh . . . no, I didn’t know that.”
“Secondly,” said the lawyer, “did it show that my brother, a disabled veteran, is blind and confined to a wheelchair and is unable to support his wife and six children?”
The stricken volunteer began to stammer an apology, but was cut off again.
“Thirdly, did your research also show you that my sister’s husband left her, leaving her penniless with a mortgage and three children, one of whom is disabled and another who has learning disabilities requiring an array of private tutors?”
The humiliated volunteer, completely beaten, said, “I’m so sorry, I had no idea.”
And the lawyer’s final comment was, “So .. . . if I didn’t give any money to them, what makes you think I’d give any to you?”
Ouch. Let’s hope that you have never been in this situation, and never will be thanks to your commitment to good relationships, good data and good communications skills. In my recent posts, I have touched on the high-level points of relationship management. (Take a look at my recent posts: The Importance of Relationships and Relationship Mindset in Action.) Today’s tale paints a picture of some things not to do when working toward relationship management as an organizational culture:
1. Don’t treat people like a transaction. No one wants to be “just a number.” People want to feel connected; people want to feel like what they do is making a difference. In the nonprofit world, making meaningful connections to supporters will help build long-term relationships that mean much more than simple transactions.
2. Don’t assume anything. Do your research. Ask other community leaders if they have a relationship with a prospect that you are interested in. Can they make an introduction to the prospect for you? When you get a chance to meet with one of your prospects, ask questions that work toward building a relationship with them:
“What are your interests?”
“What do you see as the biggest needs in our community?”
“How do you think you might be able to support the needs of your community?”
“Are you aware that our organization does (x, y, z) toward the interests you just identified?”
3. Don’t start an “ask” with a negative statement. Regardless of the financial situation that this lawyer went on to explain, he was likely already feeling defensive because the volunteer started out by commenting that he “doesn’t give a penny to charity.” This is no way to build a relationship with someone who an organization has targeted as a key prospect.
4. Don’t ask for only money (and don’t ask for money in the first meeting!). The days of transactional thinking must be left in the dust. We can no longer assume that money is the only way to support a nonprofit’s mission. Money is important, but it is not the only way to support a nonprofit! This lawyer may have had time to volunteer (or known of people who do), may have had connections to other community leaders, or may have had many other things to offer that could help the organization. If your ask is for money, however, build a relationship first. Creating a long-lasting, sustainable relationship will go a lot farther than a one-time monetary gift.
I’ll talk about my thoughts on what good relationship management looks like in coming weeks. Get to know INK Consulting if you are interested in learning about my background and passion for help nonprofits. Or stay connected with me as a blog follower, on Twitter, or Pinterest.