Over the past three weeks I received fundraising calls from three different groups that purported to serve first-responders: police, firefighters, and veterans. I truly would like to support the men and women who risk their lives to serve us. In sales they might say I was a “qualified buyer.” But, in all three cases, I was never tempted to donate.
In each case, I had to interrupt their pitch in order to say something. I said that I would seriously consider donating if they could send me an annual report that included a financial statement. One caller told me to go the website (I did, and there were no numbers on the site, and hardly any description of the services they offered). Another caller promised to send me something (I am still waiting for that letter to arrive). The third caller simply hung up.
For twenty years, I have worked with clients on ways to deal with the challenges of resistance to change. I focus on two questions: Why do people resist us? And, why do they support us? It has to do with energy. When each of those calls began, I was interested and wanted to support their work. But, once I realized that I couldn’t find out anything about the quality of their work or their financial picture, my potential support shifted to resistance.
Assuming that these organizations were legitimate and that the programs were the organizations’ top priority, there are things that they could have easily done to get me to donate:
• The organization could have posted its financial statement on its website. The caller could have given me the web address, or he could have said, “Let me send you a link to that page.” While I was waiting for that e-mail to arrive, he could have discussed a couple of facts about the great work they do. When I pulled up the financial statement, the caller could have pointed out the costs of fundraising and other administrative services, and then asked me to look at the value of a service that they were quite proud of.
• He (all the callers were male, by the way) could have promised to mail the annual report to me and then set up a time when he would call me back.
If their finances checked out, and I liked the types of services they provided, I would have donated in all three instances. I probably would have made small donations, but then I would have been in their systems as a donor. Fundraising professionals understand that it is more cost effective to retain donors than to acquire them.
But, in these three instances, my positive energy toward what they said they provided switched to skepticism and then outright resistance in less than a minute. That was a quick shift from support to resistance. Sadly, it is unusual for energy to swing the other way — from resistance to support — in a minute. In fact, I found in my own work in organizations that when trust and confidence is low, it takes a lot of time and effort to shift the movement of energy even a little bit.
It would be far too easy to blame the callers for these outcomes. I think the problem often resides in the overall fundraising system. Let’s assume that you hire well and that you give these callers good training on how to make calls. Next, ask some experienced fundraising callers to tell you what will make their lives easier. They might suggest websites that provide potential donors with real information; giving latitude to pull back from hard sell tactics; or many other things that they can see because they are in the position of trying to get people to say yes. None of what I am suggesting will cost you anything other than trusting the men and women who make these calls. §
Rick Maurer is an advisor to leaders in organizations on ways to build support for new projects and other changes. His tool, The Energy Bar is a simple and easy way for people to determine the support they need, the level of support or resistance they are likely to get, and how to bridge a gap in energy. He is also author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance (Bard Press 1996, revised 2010).