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The “Who’s Asking?” Paradox

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Philanthropy – especially very successful philanthropy – always requires just the right “personal touch.” But what happens when relationships appear to close doors instead of opening them? Here’s what I mean. We’ve heard it from volunteers, and even from other advancement professionals: ”I’m too friendly with her to ask her for a contribution.” It seems that many people feel uncomfortable asking a friend for a gift.
The paradox here is obvious. As development professionals, we try to leverage pre-existing relationships between others to set the stage for an optimal gift ask and close. Typically, the stronger the relationship, the tighter the connection between the “asker” and the prospect, the greater the chance for a successful outcome. And yet, volunteers are very hesitant to have these conversations with their friends and colleagues.
So what is an advancement officer to do? I have brought up this paradox to leadership volunteers during many board trainings I have conducted. The exercise goes like this. Volunteers are asked to rate their feelings in different fundraising situations using an entertaining scale of emotion icons. They are first questioned about their comfort in asking for a gift. Inevitably, most volunteers feel more comfortable asking a relative stranger for a gift than someone they know. Then volunteers are asked to rate their feelings about being asked for a gift themselves. Most rate the greatest comfort in being asked by a close friend.
Go figure. You can imagine the tone in the room when this revelation is revealed. There is laughter and a few wows.
So how do we resolve this paradox to the benefit of our advancement work?
The path to success is often revealed once the 800 pound gorilla in the room is disarmed. Encourage your volunteers to express their discomfort with the situation. It is the sincerest of gestures to admit a weakness or discomfort to someone else. Most people feel a huge sense of relief once this is expressed and out on the table. The conversation could start out like this….
“Deborah, I have to admit I had my reservations about meeting with you today to discuss the possibility of you making a gift to my favorite organization. But out of respect for our friendship, which is so important to me, I wanted to ensure the discussion is done in the most respectful and sincere way. So despite my discomfort, I want to share with you why this mission is important to me and I think to you as well…”
This exercise can easily be practiced at your NPO’s next board meeting or training session. Simply pair off your volunteers. Have each person express to the other why they feel as they do about asking a friend for a gift, and hold nothing back. And, 99.9% of the time, participants will experience the old adage “fear is the misuse of your imagination.”
P.S. This works for development professionals as well.
Your takes:
  1. Volunteers want to help but often need to be shown the way.
  2. Help volunteers confront their insecurities by identifying and experiencing them in a safe and comfortable environment.
  3. Role playing is a powerful tool for moving beyond obstacles.

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Have a development, executive recruitment, or campaign strategy or management challenge? Let’s talk! Click here to connect with Rebekah Kaufman, Director of Consulting Services at CRI.