The Long Road of Development

I have an ongoing email exchange with a few development officers around the city.  Most of them are young and are trying to develop their Rolodex and bring in funds for the organization that they work with.  I appreciate the job that they have, as I have raised money before too.  It is not easy and development takes time.  In this line of work, patience is a major virtue.

We are philanthropic and have been thoughtful about where we hope to make an impact.  We care about education and NYC.  Doesn’t mean we have not given to things outside those two areas but those have been the two big ones.

I have told Development Officers not to waste their time with us and as disappointed as they might be, I do believe I had done them a solid by being honest.  I know what it is like to sit in those Development meetings believing that someone is the perfect candidate to start courting.  There is nothing worse than courting someone for years, finally making an ask, and the amount they want to give is 90% less than what you thought they would do.

I still believe the importance for non-profit organizations is to figure out how to become sustainable (although some never will be able to) because there will be more private/public partnerships to rebuild the infrastructure of our cities and more.  I’d like to see more Development Officers be creative about longevity and the road to sustainability vs. just raising annual capital to stay in business.

Comments (Archived):

  1. LE

    I have told Development Officers not to waste their time with us and as disappointed as they might be, I do believe I had done them a solid by being honest.I agree with you but will also offer this spin.As you know since you had been in sales often the perception that you have a sale potentially (but nothing signed just interest lets’ say) spurs you on in a positive mood and allows you to close other sales to other prospects.Taking a classic example if you go out one day cold calling (or over the phone whatever) and you get a few doors slammed in your face it definitely impacts your ability to knock on doors in the afternoon. Depressing. And that comes off to prospects.On the other hand if you land a few sales early in the day, or, if sales seem possible by the response you are getting, you then approach the afternoon with a more positive appearance that actually helps you close those sales. When you’re hot you’re hot and all of that. Use of morning/afternoon is just for illustration purposes of the point that I am making.So while I wouldn’t say this is a reason you shouldn’t tell the truth to a development person ‘sorry not for us don’t waste your time’ I don’t think the lack of a negative response is entirely bad for them. (Although sure it’s a waste of time for you).This more or less dovetails with why it’s good for someone in sales to make even small sales that are easy to do. It gives you a positive mood and makes you think you are winning. And allows you to approach the more difficult larger sales with a better attitude.I’ve had cases where I haven’t even cared if a sale I thought would happen didn’t. Because I’ve ridden the wave of positive feelings to close other sales.That said I agree that nothing is worse in sales then having someone be nice to you and waste your time by dragging things along when they don’t think they will ever buy. But just the same I have called sales people to look at expensive machines thinking I was wasting their time but ended up buying when I found out they had a better product because I listened and considered. And that’s when I’ve been certain I was wasting their time.

    1. lisa hickey

      Interesting, thanks for sharing. I particularly like your advice that “it’s good for someone in sales to make even small sales that are easy to do.” It reminds me of building a results-based culture, and yes, making sure people can see real results early on is critical.

  2. lisa hickey

    I didn’t have time to answer this when it first got posted, and I realize this response if probably way too late to be seen, but I’ve been mulling it over ever since.The piece of it that has stuck with me is the last paragraph. I’m trying to do the opposite of what you suggest there. You are suggesting non-profits find ways to be sustainable…which is GREAT. In fact, I’d love to see you write in a future post about examples of non-profits doing that really well.But…I’m trying to be a for-profit company that has non-profit ideals. The way I described it to the original founder/investor was “like a non-profit that works for a living.” I just hate that there are for-profit corporations that are solely based on economics, and non-profits that are a combination of doing good plus fundraising. And non-profits have to spend a crazy amount of time raising the funding to keep them. On the other hand, the best models of corporations “doing good” is when they donate a small percentage of their sales to non-profits. I know it is a system that has been in place seemingly forever, but I want to at least attempt to change it. It seems broken to me. It seems like an artificial line between “for profits” and “not-profits” that is preventing a lot of real, systemic change from taking place. I also think that non-profits need to get together and solve multiple problems at once so they can solve them more systemically. Think of what happened when Colleges and Universities got together to share information. They invented the internet. Non-profits getting together to solve multiple problems at once–at a deep systemic level—could re-imagine the world.