Not long ago, I received an email from the CEO of a large nonprofit medical center. She referred to an article I had written that was completely at odds with what she was told by the president of a major fundraising consulting firm the hospital is going to hire.
The consultant was advising the hospital to only have their paid staff make all key solicitations. To reinforce his assertion, he said to her, “You would not send out an amateur to sell a Ferrari, so why would you put at risk a major donor in such hands?”
My response was to point out that selling a Ferrari is a completely different transaction than “selling” a nonprofit institution’s program, service, or project.
Coming from my nineteen year background of “selling” lighting for General Electric, and subsequently “selling” the music of The Cleveland Orchestra for twenty years, I have seen five key success qualities at work in both worlds, one way or the other, relative to the salesperson’s/solicitor’s shared position to that of the respective customer/prospect:
1. Career Status
2. Economic Status
3. Social Position
4. Interest In The Institution (Company)
5. Mutual Respect
The sale of a Ferrari involves an explicit selling and buying environment that customers understand and expect. It is a quid pro quo deal. The best professional salesperson will do the job well needing only to possess qualities No. 4 and No. 5. In fact, most of the time, those are the only two of the five qualities that the salesperson could possess.
When we are seeking a voluntary charitable contribution, we are not working in the same product-selling-transactional-environment. We are not selling to a prospective donor; we are presenting her with an opportunity to satisfy her own needs … by supporting/contributing to an organization that serves her community and her concerns.
The volunteer possessing all five of the qualities listed above would make the most effective solicitor. (Like the Ferrari salesman, paid development staffers also only possess No. 4 and No. 5.) Based on long experience, that informed/trained volunteer, meeting with a key donor prospect, cannot be so crassly dismissed as an “amateur.”
We must always keep in mind that we are not selling prospective donors an institution’s “product.” In the nonprofit sector, we ask prospective donors to consider making a gift … giving to something in which they believe … and that they want to support.
Next week, in Part Two, Tony continues his passionate cry for the rescue of the Development Profession.
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