For years I worked in high dollar fundraising for political non-profits and campaigns. It wasn’t unusual to ask a donor for $10,000, $25,000 or even $100,000. One of the first things I learned was, “First guy to talk, loses.” In short this meant that when you asked a donor for money, be quiet and wait for an answer. Silence is a good thing, don’t ramble or talk yourself out of a contribution. This doesn’t only apply to political fundraising, in fact the skills can be used in any field and in any job or business. A good friend of mine once asked a potential donor for money and then waited in silence for over an hour.
If you haven’t yet, check out my post, “How to Raise $1,000 in a Single Day.” It includes the ability to pick up my free e-book by the same name.
A friend of mine, Tom, worked as a fundraiser for a non-profit organization. His job was to meet donors and ask them for money to fund the programs of the group. He relayed to me the first time he was ever assigned to a major donor visit.
On his first trip he was instructed to visit a very wealthy gentleman from Texas who made his money in the oil boom. The potential donor interestingly enough had started out in fundraising by recruiting initial investors to his company. In fact one of his first jobs was asking potential donors and investors for money, almost the exact same position my friend Tom now held.
The Rookie Makes His Move
Tom’s a rookie at this, having never asked anyone for money before, only going off the training he had received.
Tom sets up an interview with the man’s secretary to discuss strategy. When the time comes for the meeting he walks into the Texas oil man’s office and pitches him for about 20 minutes. He shares details, financial numbers and how these programs will help the cause. Eventually he says, “Sir, we appreciate all that you’ve done for us in the past. Would you be able to help us out and donate $50,000 dollars?”
At that moment the room goes silent and Tom shuts up. The Texas oilman smiles, as he knows exactly what Tom wasdoing. Remember, he had done the exact same job when he was younger and knew how the game was played. He wondered how long he could keep this “kid,” on his toes.
For 90 minutes, the potential donor and my friend Tom sat there, smiling at one another and not saying a word. Minute after minute not a word was spoken. The oilman went through a couple cigars and a glass of scotch. Eventually after an hour and a half, the Texas oilman spoke up. “Alright” he said.
Tom was amazed, “it worked,” he thought. He was further amazed however as he carefully examined the check from the donor. It was a check not for $50,000 but for $80,000.
Silence is Golden
The man explained that he used to have Tom’s job with another organization and knew how the game went. As soon as Tom had asked the question, the man made a decision. If Tom could stay quiet for an hour, the man would agree to his request. For every minute after that, he would add $1,000 to his check.
“The only reason I cut it off at an hour and a half,” the Texas oil man explained, “is because I think you would have bankrupted me.”
To make a potential donor or investor feel embarrassed and out of place is the wrong thing to do. However if you act professionally it will be perfectly acceptable to remain silent and wait for a response.
Realize you’re asking someone to give you his or her hard earned money, not the easiest thing in the world to accomplish.
My friend Tom still keeps in contact with the man and they’ve become friends. Tom jokes that the NEXT time he visits, he’ll try to break his old record.
Usefeul in Many Situations
You don’t have to have a job in fundraising to find this advice useful. I’d wager the technique could be in used in many different fields and walks of life.