Fish in Your Own Pond

Fish In Your Own Pond

Who are the wealthiest people in your community?  Come on! You can name them! Everybody can. We’re talking about the people in town who have their names on buildings all over town because they’ve made large gifts to capital campaigns of other nonprofits.

If your board is anything like the boards with which I’ve worked, they’re thinking about and talking about those names often. “If we could just get so-and-so to give to us,” the conversation in meetings goes or “What can we do to get her to give to us?” or “How can we get them to attend our gala?” as if that donor is the only person in town capable of making a sizable gift and without his or her support we’ll never really be on the map.

Frankly, I say forget about him or her.

Focus on the donors that are in your circle, the ones on your list. Chasing after someone else’s donor is like chasing someone else’s wife (or husband). They’re in love with someone else. Okay – maybe the analogy isn’t perfect because one day, maybe they’ll be in love with you also, but for right now, leave it alone and focus on the ones who already love you. Show them the love. You don’t want them to leave you.

I know it’s tempting to think “But they can’t give us a million-dollar gift like so-and-so who gave to the other nonprofit.”

Are you sure? What we “know” about other people’s finances is so often wrong. Many people live beyond their means. Others who have significant means live very simply. Further, people’s means and circumstances can change considerably over time for a variety of different reasons. Look at how many people’s homes were foreclosed or whose businesses failed during the most recent recession.   

There’s no need to longingly eye the donor in the next organization’s pond. You’ve got plenty of big fish in your own pond.  

So how do you find the fish in your own pond?

I’m not much of a fisherman. I only went fishing a handful of times as a kid, but I did learn a couple of things those times I did go fishing:

  1. First, you have to have bait. What’s on your hook? What’s your offer? You’ve got to have something tempting to bring them to the surface. There needs to be some reason for them to care. Is there some important volunteer work for them to step forward? Are you showing them the donor love they deserve? Do you have a really fun event to show your donors the love? Do you have a great impact report to show them clearly what you’re doing? Are you calling and visiting them? These are things that will surface your donors.
  2. Second, fishing takes patience. Sometimes you have to wait a while after you bait your hook and throw it in the water before the fish takes the bait. Sometimes the fish comes up to your hook, takes the bait and gets away without being caught! Then, you have to re-bait the hook and throw it back out and wait some more. Give your donors a little time and space. Don’t crowd them. No one likes to feel stalked or hunted.
  3. Third, you have to be quiet when you fish. In fishing, if you make too much noise, you scare the fish away. In fundraising, I’m not so sure it’s that we scare our donors away, it’s that we don’t learn anything about them if we do all the talking. We have to be quiet so that we can learn. We have to listen so that we can learn what they’re interested in and when they’re ready to give.

Don’t let the big fish in your pond get away because you are so busy coveting the big fish next door. Get busy loving and taking care of the fish in your pond. It’s well stocked. I’m sure!

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