Q: I work for an organization that is looking to expand its list of contributors during its annual holiday campaign. While I believe in the organization and agree more funds are needed, I’m uncomfortable with the approach being taken. All employees have been asked to send a letter to ten friends and family members asking for a donation of at least $20. We have been given a sample letter, which we’ve been asked to personalize and send over our signature. We’ve also been asked to give our development department the names of those we are contacting so that progress on the campaign can be tracked.
We have been assured that this is not mandatory, but the fact that we must give the names to the development department and turn in progress reports makes it seem mandatory. I don’t want to be seen as someone who is not a team player and I am willing to help the campaign in other ways. But, I feel funny about appealing to my family and friends. I don’t know how to handle this.
A: I can understand your discomfort. I can also understand the point of view of the organization. Let’s look at the situation objectively from both sides before tackling how this could be handled.
From your side, it appears that the conditions of your employment have suddenly changed. You are being asked to put yourself on the line with family and friends, perhaps to be turned down, perhaps to incur a reciprocal obligation to participate in charities of their choosing. You are also being told that your supervisor will now be judging you on your fundraising prowess, even if you were not hired as a fundraiser and would rather crawl a mile over broken glass than ask for money. You have to wonder what will happen if you have only mediocre success or, worse, refuse to participate. Will your ability to move up in the organization or even retain your job be affected? Clearly, this sounds like coercion and is therefore totally inappropriate.
From the organization’s side, it is merely looking to expand its reach into the community for support of a good cause – a cause that its employees should believe in more than most. The organization stands to benefit not only from the infusion of new money but from the opportunity to cultivate new people with the potential to become lifelong friends of the organization. Asking employees for the names each is approaching is the easiest and most effective way to ensure that potential donors are not being solicited by several different people at the same time and that the solicitation process is being shared by everyone, rather than falling to a very few. Obviously, this is a smart fundraising approach that should have been thought of long ago.
As is so often the case, what is right lays somewhere in between these two perspectives. The concept behind what the organization is asking – for the involvement of one of its closest group of stakeholders – is not only not unreasonable, it’s fund development the way fund development should be carried out. However, based on what I’m hearing, the reality of how this was put into practice leaves a lot to be desired. The organization never bothered to cultivate you and your coworkers in this critical stakeholder group like it would any other.
I asked my colleague and business partner, Gail Meltzer, CFRE, what the organization might have done differently to avoid the feelings of coercion. She suggested meeting with all the employees before the internal campaign was announced to talk about the need for funds and what those funds might mean for the employees themselves. For instance, might they mean more opportunities for continuing education or better equipment? My guess is you would feel far more motivated to participate if you saw how this campaign has the potential to directly and positively affect your work environment.
Meltzer also suggested that you should have been told how the names you turned in would be handled. For instance, would you have felt more comfortable if you knew that while the organization would immediately put these people on the mailing list so that they could receive newsletters and updates they would not be approached for a gift without your permission? In today’s world where “Me-branding” rules, at the very least you should be assured that everyone you bring to the organization will be asked how they wish to be approached – e.g., monthly, quarterly or once a year; by mail, email, phone, personal visit or any combination of these – and that those preferences will be respected.
Finally, Meltzer noted that instead of issuing the dictate that everyone contact ten people, you and your coworkers might have been more receptive to a contest and/or reward system. Such a program might reward individuals and/or departments that bring in the newest names or dollars. Rewards wouldn’t have to cost a lot. A preferred parking space for a month, a donated gift certificate for dinner for two, $5 Starbucks’ gift cards or a departmental pizza party all tend to spark enthusiasm.
I would make a final observation about how the organization might have handled this situation differently. The world of solicitation has changed. People want to give to organizations that they feel are making a difference in the world – a difference that they value. Approached correctly, most of the time people don’t even have to be asked to give. Instead of providing all the employees a scripted letter, they might have encouraged you to write or call your friends and family members to share the exciting things going on in the community as a result of the efforts of your organization. Since you know these people well, you could gear what you share to the values you know these people hold. By letting them know what their donation of a minimum of $.38 a week ($20/year) would buy, there would be few who would not be swept up by your enthusiasm and the power of their donation to change the community.
I appreciate that I have focused here on what should have been done differently by the organization and not on how you can handle the situation you find yourself in the middle of. What I would say is that you might share this article with the powers that be. If you are uncomfortable about doing that or question whether it would make any difference, I would suggest trying to incorporate as many of the ideas here as you can on your own. For example, think about the impact of an additional infusion of cash into the organization on your own work and how you might approach your friends and family by appealing to their values. I would also keep reminding yourself that any negative responses to your requests for funds is not a rejection of you, but merely a “no” for today for any one of a dozen reasons. If none of this helps and you find that this campaign is going to become an annual event, you may decide it’s time to look elsewhere for work.