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Downes Murray International News

Getting up close and personal

Society is uneasy about too many rules and regulations. Rules are all very well as long as they don’t inhibit us too much.

But if they restrict us from pushing the boundaries in life then we question them. This is not always unhealthy but there are one or two basic laws that we ignore at our peril. And this is no less true for fundraising. One of the fundamental laws of fundraising is the Inverse Proportion Law. An inverse proportion law states that as one factor decreases the other increases.

This may seem strange – especially in fundraising, as it is the size of the gift that is increasing. What can possibly decrease and yet result in a larger gift?

The Law states: the closer you get to the donor the bigger the gift. It’s that simple, decrease the distance and increase the gift. Of course, close proximity to your potential donor is more than just physical contact. There is also ideological, emotional, social, intellectual and cultural proximity.

Capital fundraisers understand the equation. They know you must get face-to-face with prospective donors if you’re going to get a significant gift. Letters are so easy to ignore, which is why the best person to approach prospective donors is not the paid professional but a close friend.

Physical proximity is primary. This is because the face-to-face presentation gives you the opportunity to be flexible – to react to the situation. Even the best letter is inflexible, limited.

It can’t respond to questions that have not been anticipated. Nor can it counteract false claims or incorrect arguments. A face-to-face meeting should be a constructive dialogue, whereas a letter may, at best, be the beginning of a correspondence over time but without the immediacy of a meeting. Obviously, a telephone conversation is better than a letter, which is why there’s been a move to far greater use of the telephone in fundraising.

But it’s not the medium for major gifts or the basis for a real relationship. Ideological proximity is also important. You may be physically near to your prospect but he may not understand your message or empathise with your cause. Cultural and ideological barriers can distance you from your potential donor. If the solicitor of a gift and the prospect are on the same wavelength, then that close bond will improve the chance of a major gift.

Missing the mark

Labour Party supporters are not going to give to the Conservative Party or vice versa. If you are asking for a gift from a cat lover for new dog kennels at a home for cats and dogs then you’ve missed the mark. People with strong religious convictions are usually motivated by very different values. There’s another advantage to the personal approach that’s based on the integrity of the person asking for support. It is another law of fundraising that you can’t ask someone to do something you’re not prepared to do yourself. In other words you can’t ask for a major gift if you haven’t made a major gift yourself. The fundraising team member establishes his credentials by starting, ‘I’ve given to this project because I believe in it. I’m asking you to make a similar gift.’

Declaration of your own gift establishes your right to ask someone else to give. This is a very personal matter but an important one in fundraising.

There’s been a lot of talk about relationship fundraising. But unless you actually meet your supporters and talk with them, you only have a relationship at a distance.

For fundraising to flourish it must be based on a real relationship. Real relationships with your supporters will pay dividends for years to come.

Electronic media
The reality of face-to-face fundraising raises questions about the use of media in fundraising – in particular electronic media, which are image-based and easily manipulated. At the moment they’re all the rage. But they’re also subject to misuse and even abuse.

In theory you could set up a charity on-line, receive donations, send instant ‘thank you’ letters, mail regular newsletters and ‘personalise’ support from an office in the middle of nowhere for a fictitious need. The charity could even win awards for professionalism in fundraising. And all with no real contact between the charity and its supporters. But it won’t survive for long as it breaks the Inverse Proportion Law of Fundraising.

Ken Pearson was DMI’s first Johannesburg-based consultant in 1987.

This article first appeared in Fundraising Forum: Issue 71, March 2006.

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