Fundraising Isn’t Just Sales!


By Phil Gerard

The other day I had a frustrating experience. I was angry, felt unfairly treated and actually flat-out ignored. The upside of this experience was that it reminded me that fundraising and sales are not exactly the same.

Less than two months ago we purchased a new car. The salesperson was very helpful and we were happy with the purchase. The honeymoon phase was soon over. The car had little issues and accessories missing. I brought the car in for service and told them I will be waiting in the waiting room and get my emails done.  After two and a half hours I checked in with the receptionist. My car had been ready for over an hour and nobody bothered to get me. Then I was advised that the wrong part was delivered so I had to come back. My second visit was pretty much the same experience, they forgot to inform me that my car was ready.

A month later I went through the car wash and water leaked through the roof. I  immediately drove to the dealership. When I asked for a manager, I was informed that they were all very busy and I should come back the next day. I explained that I drove here for half an hour and want to speak to someone – now. They let me sit in the lobby for over half an hour while they attended to ‘buying’ customers. The two sales managers were staring at their computers working on deals or something but they clearly ignored me. Nobody bothered to come over, acknowledge me and apologize for the wait. Finally, I approached one of the managers politely asking if there was a reason why he ignored my presence. He said “we are working deals here”! That’s exactly how he put it. I answered: “You worked on my deal less than two months ago and now that I need your help you ignore me?”

The point of my story is not to vent to you (well, maybe a little), but to illustrate the difference between this transactional sales attitude versus the relationship-building approach of professional fundraisers. This particular company and these two sales managers were clearly focussed on closing a deal now – to make that sale and get the commission. What we call donor relations and stewardship is considered a complete waste of time. I am now a nuisance. I will not buy from that dealership again. And it is not the product. Things can go wrong – that’s what warranties are for! But the way you are made feel as a customer is what counts.

Fundraisers go out of their way to make the donor experience a positive one and many organizations have a donor relations and stewardship team that ensures that the relationship continues and stays with the organization – ideally for a lifetime.

Not with these transactional sales. You purchased a product and you got what you wanted for your money – done. On to the next deal. That’s why a sales background alone doesn’t make a good fundraiser. Sure, it is a good skill to be able to close a deal, but you need to understand that it is about building relationships for the long-term. That’s why people with a business development background are likely more suited for fundraising as their work focuses more on the long-term business relationship.

As fundraisers we do not sell a tangible product. We are in a way selling a positive experience and if that experience gets tarnished for whatever reason we could lose a donor. Fundraisers are held to a high standard. So with that in mind, why not call some of your donors today and show them some love!

4 thoughts on “Fundraising Isn’t Just Sales!”

  1. Great post Phil! You clearly illustrate the difference between transactional and relationship building.

    Now, which car dealership were you at? I’d be happy to make a recommendation for another group that actually builds relationships. 🙂

  2. Great story, Phil. Your frustrating (and all-too-common) experience illustrates an important difference between a transaction and relationship building.

    Congrulations on your new car…and hope the roof gets fixed soon…it does rain the odd time in Vancouver ; )

  3. Excellent article, Phil. You clearly made your point. Fundraising IS all about relationships and inspiring those people who are close to your cause.

    I’m sorry to hear about your bad experience with your car, but you turned a lemon into lemonade! Great article!

  4. Thanks Phil! Great reminder of my fav quote from Maya Angelou: people remember how you make them feel just like the donor experience 🙂

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