I give many lectures on fundraising strategy and how to identify a prospect, cultivate a relationship with them, and then solicit them for a cause. Much of my pitch is built around developing real relationships, and being “other focused” to ensure that your mission lines up with their philanthropic desires.
There is a common question I get when I discuss how to connect with a prospect and cultivate a relationship. Usually I am sharing some good ideas how to pay attention to the needs of a prospect, how to zero in on important personal and professional priorities, and then leverage them to demonstrate that you are both paying attention, and focus on those aspects that a prospect is most proud. It sounds something like this…
“Aren’t you being manipulative? Aren’t you feigning interest, and then exploiting those “hot buttons” to cultivate a relationship to ultimately lead to a solicitation?”
The question is a fair one, because it leverages the fundraiser’s ability to their emotional intelligence to break through to a prospect, with the goal of getting money from them. However, I think there is a clear distinction between manipulation for self gain, and manipulation to give a prospect a positive experience, both emotionally and through their checkbook.
If you are trying to manipulate for personal gain…for example, trying to “score” with a girl in the nightclub scene, it is obvious that you are using manipulation to uncover your target’s weakness. However, fundraising – when done right – is a partnership. If you are looking to attract and engage people who will love and appreciate your mission, you are using your emotional intelligence to help them see and value your offerings…and get them to a point where courtship isn’t necessary anymore.
When fundraising is done wrong – when it’s perceived as a transaction and not a partnership – then your manipulation is self serving and not designed to further your mission with your prospect as a partner. So, is it manipulation when you pay attention to the interests and desires of a prospect and then use that information to engage them in your cause? No. Not if it’s coming from a healthy place in your heart and mind.