I once spent two years cultivating a gift. And the donor I was cultivating actually never did give me a large gift– I got a few nice dinners,  some inkind stuff, a couple of auction premiums.

And then one day he called me up and told me he had just spent about 6 months working on one of his clients, and that they were donating all of the building materials and a volunteer corps for our huge project. I had been telling him about the build-out project, but hadn’t asked him to participate in it. The most important thing you will do as a fundraiser is build relationships. Especially if you’ve got a board of directors that simply refuses to make an ask, that doesn’t mean they aren’t doing “fundraising” for you, by talking about you all the time and by letting people know why they’re passionate about your agency and cause.

Your staff should be in on the game as well, and your development staff needs to talk to everyone. You might discover, as I did, that your new lighting tech’s father runs a major snack food company, and will donate all the backstage and summer camp snacks. If your development staff isn’t talking to everyone and building relationships, you’ll never find out stuff like that.

We often think about fundraising in stages: Identification/Acquisition/Solicitation/Stewardship (right out of the FR 101 textbook there. Oy.) But this model is both backwards and way too linear. Fundraising should be driven by Stewardship. It is through stewardship that you are identifying your donors (like my friend at the head of the article). The term “Acquisition” should be completely discarded and replaced with “Relationship Building.” Solicitation should be a footnote.

Asking for a major gift either takes 2 minutes, or 2 years, depending on how you think about the ask.

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