Are fundraising tricks and gimmicks worth doing?

An old book filled with timeless lessons.

I was cleaning out a cabinet last weekend and I came across an old book I read long ago titled Strategic Selling. Some pages were dog-eared so I flipped the pages and found this gem:

“The smart salesperson never thinks of selling as a battle or of customers as enemies to be beaten. It’s possible to get an order by tricking or pressuring your customers into signing, but when you do that you are making them LOSE, that is allowing yourself to WIN at their expense. This is an extremely shortsighted strategy. A customer whom you’ve beaten in this way will get out, get even, or do both. In the short run, you may not care. But in terms of the long-range management of that customer’s account, you’ll be kidding yourself even more than you’ve kidded the customer: An order you get by “beating the buyer” nearly always turns out to be business that you wish you hadn’t sold.”

Now replace the words customer and buyer with donor and sold with solicited.

Also, go ahead and replace salesperson with fundraiser and selling with fundraising. When I did that, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Too often nonprofits begin the relationship with a supporter the wrong way. They try to trick them into giving with fake deadlines creating urgency, gimmicks like pennies in envelopes, or a myriad other ploys.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with these devices. Now I know why. They are short-sighted!

Smart fundraisers know that the point of acquisition fundraising is to get people into the funnel so they can take a donor journey that leads to a major gift (including a legacy gift). If you think about the first donation as the first date, doesn’t it make sense to be open, honest, and fair from the get-go even if it means less money now (but much more later)?

I realize a lot of people think salespeople are lowly.

But they aren’t! Strategic Selling was written in 1988. The sales profession (and it IS a profession) has been working on improving the level of fairness involved in transactions for decades. I think it’s time for those fundraisers focused on acquisition to get caught up with modern ways of being fair to their donors (regardless of what “works” in the short-term). Doing so will make it easier for major gift and planned gift officers to do their jobs so they can raise more money at lower costs.

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Laura Waller
6 years ago

If you think salespeople are “lowly”, you should hear what some folks say about fundraisers . . . Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, etc. are some of the most respected people in the world, and we do well when we pay attention to what they have to teach us about building relationships full of integrity (i.e., sales/fundraising)

David Barker
3 years ago

When I began with our organization, I was surprised that so many folks objected to calling what we as consultants do as sales. Having been in sales my whole career, I was delighted to see how close the fundraising process is to the sales process I followed and taught. I used to refer to sales as ethical persuasion because it started and ended with what mattered to the client and client needs and wants were included at all points in between. Whether selling (soliciting) is good or bad all boils down to the character of the one selling (soliciting).

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