15 Sep Fundraising and Business Development
I recently co-hosted an event for one of the presidential candidates – in keeping with the bi-partisan nature of this newsletter; I am not going to discuss any details. What I am going to discuss, however, are the similarities between fundraising and business development.
When I was first asked to do some fundraising months ago, my initial thought was that I would rather have my toenails pulled out. I absolutely hate asking people for money. I feel like I’m intruding, plus I don’t like it when others ask me for money.
So, I poked along the first few months, having the occasional conversation with people, but not making much headway. One day, however, a friend asked me to help host an event at a wonderful local restaurant. Suddenly, my distaste for fundraising diminished. Instead of asking people for money, I was asking them to join us at what I knew was going to be a wonderful party for an excellent cause. In other words, my framework shifted.
Just because my framework shifted, however, does not mean that it was any less work. It was, in fact, a lot more work than I had anticipated. I spent hours writing emails, making phone calls, coordinating with our wonderful (and patient) campaign contact, trying to encourage-without-irritate a dozen people who I had asked to help with the event, and managing logistics. But in the end, we were successful. The party was great, and we exceeded our financial goal.
Ensuring a successful fundraiser required three primary actions that are equally necessary for business development: reach out to individuals, follow up, and let it go if it isn’t going to work.
Think of all the things to which you are invited each year: parties with friends, business events, fundraising events, etc. Deciding to attend many of these events is simple – you are close to the friend, the business event would be worthwhile, etc. Fundraising events, however, often fall into a different category. For me, if there is no personal connection — in other words, if I don’t know who invited me and why the organization is important to them — I do not go. So I realized that I had to reach out to each person individually with, at a minimum, a personalized email.
If you are like me, you frequently delay responding to invitations, particularly those that fall into the grey areas of networking and fundraising events.
The best way, in fact probably the only way, for a host to get people to these “grey” events is to follow up. Recontact people with a second email, perhaps containing new information, or call them. Many people told me they were coming, but then they didn’t sign up. However, when I checked back in with them, no one had changed their mind, and everyone who had initially said they wanted to come did come. They just needed a reminder.
Let It Go
Occasionally I talked to someone who I knew supported the candidate, liked the restaurant, and could afford the cost, but for some reason they clearly weren’t interested in attending. There is no point in trying to talk them into changing their minds. The best thing is to accept that this is not what they want to do, and move on to the next person.
As you might imagine, as an independent consultant, I spend a lot of time on business development. One of the things that I love about my work is that I get to meet many different people, and work with a wide variety of organizations in multiple industries. The downside to all this variety is that I have to get those clients. Luckily, I do not dislike business development with the same ferociousness that I dislike fundraising, but it is certainly not my favorite part of my work.
The lessons learned from fundraising apply equally to business development. Yes, sometimes you get a cold call from someone who visits your website, but usually people in professional services industries get hired because someone connects with them, either directly or through a referral from someone else they trust. This means that you need to make personal contacts with people. Don’t just post stuff on-line and sit back and wait for the business to flow in, because it probably won’t.
If you talk to someone about a project, and don’t hear back from him or her, check in at least once, preferably twice. Frequently the person wants to work with you, but is caught up in their own crisis-du-jour.
Let It Go
But don’t keep following up forever. If someone is not interested, then they’re not interested. There are a lot of other potential clients out there, so move on.
I think my other big takeaway from this event is that fundraising (and for that matter, business development) can actually be a lot of fun. While definitely time consuming, it can give you the opportunity to connect or re-connect with a lot of very interesting people.
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