Soup, Sandwich...or Soylent?

Part II of my two-part series on Millennials and fundraising

Last week’s newsletter was all about the giant missed opportunity of not interacting with Millennials (and many others) as part of your fundraising program. It’s clear that the “pie” can be bigger, and going after the same narrow “list” of prospects (read: usual suspects) isn’t going to serve you well long-term.

One of the biggest issues about marketing to Millennials is that the “language” is just different. The typical fundraising pitch process today is full of “norms” that were established decades ago — and are simply dated and nonsensical today. After we’ve identified our prospect, the interaction that follows is one that can seem perfectly clear, but that is anything but clear when a “younger” donor is at the other end of the table.

After literally hundreds of pitch meetings from nonprofits trying to get me to donate, I have a pretty good sense of the routine that most fundraisers follow. I’m assuming the reason that these steps are taken is that some arcane curriculum that was great 50+ years ago is continuing to be used, and it says that a “prospect” needs to be approached like this:

1) Invite the prospect to a meal (let’s say lunch for now) to “get to know you”. Don’t mention money.

2) Extend the abovementioned invitation via a phone call, and push hard to get a “date” for the lunch. Set the date/time/place.

3) Don’t send too much information about your organization, if any, prior to the lunch. If you’re really creative, you might make up some super-fantastic-special-secret piece of “not for the public” information that you’re going to share at the meal.

4) Bring a “buddy”. This is a person associated with your organization who happens to know the prospect, or knows someone who knows the prospect, or who went to the same school — you get the idea. Having that person in attendance is supposed to make the donor feel more comfortable at the meeting.

5) Have lunch, and at the beginning, admire something I am wearing and start some chit-chat about kids, etc. Don’t talk about the organization upfront.

6) When the prospect asks questions about your organization’s financial health, competition, standing in the marketplace, etc., either talk about how wonderful things are going, or change the subject.

7) Wait until the lunch is about over and plates have been cleared, and then look at the “buddy” to determine if it’s “time” — and make the ask. (This “ask” part is not dependent on anything that happened earlier in the meeting, as it’s been rehearsed prior to showing up.)

8) Once you make the “ask” (with the amount determined by your past gifts to other organizations or even by the value of your home), wait a moment for a response, and then push a big folder of papers across the table to the donor.

9) Do not, under any circumstances, let the prospect leave without making the “ask”. Don’t ask for operational dollars, either — best to just get an unrestricted gift. If the prospect wants to give to a particular program that you do, try to dissuade them from going in that direction.

10) Repeat for the next “prospect”.

Here’s how this feels to Millennials, and, often, to most donors: (The numbers below correlate with the numbered questions above).

1) Why is a meal necessary? I barely know you, and I typically don’t take lunches. I drink Soylent for lunch on most days — or I partake of the tasty free food on campus. If you want money from me, just say so at the outset.

2) A phone call? What year is this? Why?

3) Why do you feel that you need to “lure me in” like a fish? Can’t you tell them whatever you want to tell me via an email or a pre-scheduled video conference/Zoom? I don’t have time for this “super-secret” stuff.

4) The buddy thing, if it’s not really my friend, is usually strange and uncomfortable. Unless the buddy is a senior member of the board and has some interesting information for me that the development person doesn’t have. Note that if the person who you’re bringing as “my friend” is really a friend, then I’ll know exactly what’s going on prior to the meeting and what I’m going to be asked for, because, well, the person is my friend.

5) The pandering (you’ll hear a lot of this in my book) is icky and wastes time. Stop doing this, please, as is makes me want to flee. All I can think is that this is an hour that I’ll never get back.

6) This is one of the most annoying parts. If you want me to contribute to you, I’m going to fully check you and your organization out, and I expect you to do a presentation that’s honest, intelligent, and forthcoming. Extra bad marks if you can’t succinctly tell me what your NPO does — i.e. an elevator speech.

7) I expect you to be highly trained and professional, as well as an excellent listener. If you aren’t any of those things, please don’t continue to waste my time. I can see right through your rote answers, and it feels demeaning.

8) Papers? Why? I get it if it’s a physical invitation or a way of showing me your new logo, but I don’t DO paper. Also, why do you think that I have enough free time on my hands to read through 20 different documents? Can you please just email me stuff that relates to what you now know I care about? (Of course, you might not have paid attention at that point, because you want the money for the things you want the money for, and I’m just a source of funds.)

9) If I just spent an hour or two with you, then I must be somewhat interested in what you do. Isn’t this supposed to be the beginning of a relationship? Or was that time just saying whatever it takes to get me to commit to funding you. Also, why would you not address operational costs? Do you think that I admire professionals who work for free? I know that good staff requires good, market-level salaries. Why do you think I would expect otherwise?

10) Please don’t make me sit through any more of these. I’m giving my money to a Donor Advised Fund, get the tax benefit, and call it a day.

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Think about your daily life and interactions with others (Zoom, in person, or whatever). As I often suggest, see yourself as a donor for a moment and think seriously about how you would respond to the “standard” approach that’s detailed in the first part of this essay. Would you feel comfortable in that sort of a meeting? Would you want to sit through that? It’s likely that your answer is something like “no, but I’m not a/the donor”. Guess what? If you’re like everyone I know working for a nonprofit, you likely are a donor, and you probably wouldn’t want to sit through that meeting either.


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- Lisa