My parents and I were invited out for lunch by a couple after church today. The husband is a retired physician and his wife was a nurse and is the former Executive Director of a local cancer group. They have a long history of philanthropy, so between sharing stories and eating the delicious meal, I took the opportunity to ask them about the types of causes they support. He mentioned some national environmental groups, some local social service agencies, and our church, while she discussed local organizations that provided for local low income children, the local symphony, and other arts organizations. Some of the support was nominal, but recurring, and some were major donations of money, time, and property.
When I meet with donors and potential donors, I always try to ask about all the causes the individual or families support. What I have found is that most people support a variety of organizations that work with a variety issues. The people that support your organization probably support other nonprofits too.
The problem is that some people in the nonprofit sector believe that people should only support their cause, and their cause alone. A while back, I posted a piece about this issue, that discussed how Peter Singer and Terry Teachout jousted in different forums about how donors were wrong to support causes other than their own. With the competition for funding, this attitude is quite prevalent in the nonprofit sector. What people who have this attitude seem to misunderstand is that it is the donors’ choice to support whatever cause ignites their passion. There are many causes to choose from, and each individual has their own preference.
This is why I always ask prospective donors about the causes they support before I tell them about the cause I am working for and ask them for their financial help. If the potential donors show a previous interest in a similar program or cause, the likelihood of them supporting my cause is much stronger, but if they don’t have a previous history with my cause, then I have to get a better idea of how to interest them by asking more questions before sharing my story, the need, and my plan to address the issue. In the end, they may choose to provide support, nominal or significant, or they may choose to pass on the opportunity. Once again, it is up to the donor to choose their action.
Even if they are not interested in supporting my cause, I can still suggest other projects, or organizations that may interest them, and therefore gain their trust and, perhaps, future support for a program more in line with their interests. No doesn’t always mean absolutely not; it may mean just not now. They may even be willing to introduce you to others that may have the passion for your mission. The key point is, the relationship with the donor has been created, even if it does not pay off for my organization at that time.
Not every donor is going to be passionate about your cause, but the fact that they are passionate about some cause is a good start. If you accept that and create a trusting relationship with your prospect, there is always hope for the future.