One of our Capital Campaign Pro members shared a situation with us recently that had her scratching her head as she tried to figure out how to handle it.
Our very thoughtful and experienced advisor, Sarah Plimpton, responded with several ideas.
Test Your Own Instincts
In this post, I’ll pose the situation our member encountered and then share some of Sarah’s potential solutions. I encourage you to test your own instincts. Read the situation, then take a moment to think about how you would handle it before reading our suggestions.
The Situation: A Board Member Counters the Ask with a Lowball Campaign Gift
Here’s the situation as it was presented to us by our Capital Campaign Pro member:
“We met with a new board member regarding the campaign and the ask was a large amount. This board member did not provide any opportunity to discuss a different amount and rather said they would talk to their spouse and get back to us.
When we reached out to follow up (four weeks past when they said they would reach out to us), the amount offered was VERY low — almost as if they were making a point.
Since it’s a board member who is new to the organization, I’m not sure how to proceed other than to thank them for the gift and let it go. Do you see another option?”
That’s quite the conundrum, right?
How Would You Handle this Situation?
Stop reading now and take a few minutes to think about how you would handle this situation. Push yourself to come up with some alternatives.
While there’s lots we don’t know, the gist of the problem is clear. What’s more, it’s a problem that you’re likely to face during your capital campaign.
Once you’ve formulated your ideas, take a look at our suggestions below.
Our Suggestions When a Board Member Lowballs a Capital Campaign Gift
There are many things we don’t know about the board member and the solicitation conversation that occurred. As a result, it’s tough to know exactly what’s best. There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all right answer.
That said, this is a common situation in capital campaigns and one that many of us have encountered in the past. Here are three different ways you might follow up with the donor.
Suggestion #1: Ask About the Figure
You might say something like:
“Board member, I’m always curious to learn more about how our campaign donors grapple with the decision of whether to give and how much.
If you don’t mind my asking, would you be willing to share how you and your partner arrived at your number?”
Suggestion #2: Ask About their Process
You could follow up by saying:
“Board member, I am perpetually learning in this campaign. One of the most meaningful ways I’m learning is directly from our donors. Now that you’ve confirmed a gift to the campaign, I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback on the process.
What was it like for you to be asked for this campaign gift, and what lessons might I learn from your experience?”
Suggestion #3: Compare Processes
Another possibility is to say something like:
“Board member, I’ve been thinking about you ever since we talked last week and you confirmed your gift to our campaign. I have to be honest — I feel a little awkward about the fact that we asked you to consider a number that was a few levels up from where you ultimately landed on the gift chart for this campaign.
If you’re open to it, I’d love to debrief our process and your process. Can we talk about the factors that went into your decision as well as the factors that went into our decision to ask you at the XYZ level?
I’m always learning in this campaign, and I’ve found that this kind of transparency often leads to the greatest learning opportunities for me and my team.”
Note that none of these responses argue with the gift amount. Instead, they seek a deeper understanding.
Gathering Information and Feedback is Key
The idea is that if you understand more fully how and why the donor determined the gift amount, you can make an informed decision about how best to proceed.
For example, through information gathering, you may discover:
- This individual has other extraordinary expenses right now.
- The spouse was irritated not to be included in the solicitation process.
- The board member may have misgivings about the campaign. And if so, it’s important that you understand them.
Never Be Afraid to Discuss the Gift Process
A conversation about the gift process may well open opportunities for the donor to reconsider their gift amount. Or, it may help you become more comfortable with the process and strengthen your relationship with that board member.
What might you do in a similar situation? If you have another approach, we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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