Facing the Donor on Your Own – Four Steps to Success

Cheryl Hebb

By Cheryl B. Hebb, CFRE

New fundraisers, and a great many seasoned ones, are sometimes hesitant, even afraid to make a solo face-to-face donor call asking for money. And while it’s always best to take a natural partner who might open the door and talk to your programming and services, sometimes that’s not possible and you have to go alone.  Why the stage fright?

1. What if they don’t give to organizations like mine?

Before you attempt to make an appointment with a donor, do the research. Do they give to other organizations like yours? If so, that’s great. If not, perhaps they might like to spread the wealth among several organizations. If they agree to take your appointment, they are probably interested in hearing what you have to say. If they’re not interested, they won’t agree to meet you, no matter how charming and persuasive you are on the phone. If that’s the case, move on.

2. Is it OK to ask donors for money when I made the appointment under the guise of asking them for advice?

Surprise: You’re a fundraiser. They know you are coming to ask them for money, eventually. If they accept the appointment, they’re interested in a conversation. If they bring it up, or the opportunity presents itself, go for it. But remember, not getting the donation on the first, or second or third visit is not failure; it’s part of the process.

3. They may say no, and I’ll be seen as a failure back at the office.

It’s OK when a donor says “no.” It means you get to ask “why?” Is the project wrong? Ask them what interests them, what appeals to them about your organization, or what don’t they like. Find out what they are thinking. Did they have a bad experience? Could you invite them in for a tour to see how your organization has evolved? Can they be invited to talk to your new Director?

If they do like your organization, be persistent as to why they may have said no: Is the timing wrong? Ask them when a good time would be for you to return. Is the amount too much? Could they pledge the amount and consider paying it off over several years? Are they involved with other organizations? Perhaps a joint project with another organization is a possibility; is there someone at that organization with whom you can speak? Don’t automatically give up.

4. Usually donors are very generous, they’re asked to give all over town. Why would they give to me?

They are not giving to you, they are giving through you. If they are generous elsewhere, chances are they will like additional opportunities to invest in organizations that are doing great work, like yours. Be sure to convey your own enthusiasm for what it is that you offer them.

Now, get out and start asking prospective donors face-to-face. It’s not as scary as you think… and for every four no’s, you will get a yes. And that’s the way it works. It’s not failing. It’s all part of the process: Embrace it, love it, and envision success.

Cheryl Hebb, CFRE, is currently the Director of Development and Principal Gifts at the University of Victoria. Starting her career as a journalist at a daily, metropolitan newspaper in New Jersey, Cheryl transferred her communication skills to the non-profit arena, where she has specialized for 30 years in major gifts, planned giving, and non-profit management and raised millions of dollars for both healthcare and academia.

Prior to her arrival in Victoria, Cheryl lived and worked in Vancouver, British Columbia, for four years. Her professional career has taken her to New York City and Los Angeles, where she taught major gift fundraising at Tseng College at California State University, Northridge.

In addition to being a public speaker, Cheryl is an award-winning writer and producer of marketing films, and has been involved with numerous professional organizations. She has an MBA in Non-Profit Management from American Jewish University and a BS in Communications from Syracuse University.

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