Knowing When to Cut Bait

Knowing When to Cut Bait

We talk sometimes in solicitation training about “No” not necessarily meaning “Not Ever.” It might mean not now. It might mean I don’t have enough information, or I don’t yet have the level of trust I would need to have to make that kind of giving decision. It might even mean I like the organization but not that particular project.

But sometimes, deferral and procrastination can signal that the donor is really saying No, also.

One day, in the middle of our capital campaign, it was time to talk with one of our wealthiest prospects. Net worth and income off the charts, this man had made $5,000 gifts to us each of the last four years.

But not one of us actually knew him. We were going in essentially blind – for what we hoped would be at least a $250,000 gift.

It had taken some time to get a meeting, and one of our former board members had pulled some strings to get it done.

When we finally got in the door, I’ll never forget what the donor said.

Look. What you are doing is really important, and I will continue to support you at about this level every year. But land conservation isn’t one of my top charities, and you shouldn’t ever really expect anything more from me. I am much more interested in the Catholic Church, and I’m in the middle of a capital campaign right now to build a new high school in this area. That’s where my heart is. Sorry guys.

As disappointing as this might have been to hear, he did us a favor that day. And we didn’t waste any more time chasing him.

Just because someone has money doesn’t make them a prospect for you, and just because they give money to you now doesn’t necessarily mean that yours has become one of their top charities.

I’ve written on this blog about planning cultivation and solicitation “moves” each year, about this time of the year. (See Cultivating Top 100 Donors.) I’ve also talked about “cultivatable interest,” and the fact that it might take two or three years to bring someone from scratch to the point where they are ready to be asked.

But we really don’t talk much about when to stop chasing. And not every donor is as clear and direct about their intentions as the donor in the above story was.

The truth is that cultivation attention is flattering, and sometimes it’s as difficult to say no to earnest solicitors as it is for earnest solicitors to ask. So a donor might not say no right away, and might not even want to.

They defer. They procrastinate. They put you off. They stop responding. They come to some of the larger events, but they make themselves difficult to talk to alone.

An important conversation to have about this time of year is about some of these marginal donors. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with their wealth. It has to do with their cultivatable interest.

The starter question is “Can we imagine a circumstance in which this person might make a major gift within the next three years?” And if the answer is Yes, we make a cultivation plan for this year to help “move” that process forward.

But eventually, the question we have to ask is “Did we succeed in moving this relationship along last year?” And if the answer is No, we have to ask whether additional time and effort, or perhaps changing solicitation leads will help.

And sometimes that answer is No as well.

Sometimes there just isn’t enough cultivatable interest. Sometimes there never will be. Sometimes our time and effort is better spent with someone else – even if that someone else doesn’t have the same level of capacity to give.

It can be a tough call to make. (They have so much money!) But it might be the right call to make.





Photo by Jackson Allen.

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1 Comment
  • Heidi Habeger
    Posted at 09:03h, 31 January

    Great post! Thank you for that story and reminding me of these points.