Monday, March 22, 2010

When To Ask

How do you know when it’s time to ask a prospective donor to give a major gift? It’s kind of like asking when’s the right time to propose marriage. The answer would be the same -- when you have a very good feeling that the other person will agree, preferably gleefully, and if the answer is yes, you’re ecstatic about the prospect of being together for a long time.

The problems with a sudden solicitation and a precipitous proposal are the same. The more sudden it is, the more likely you are to be rejected and the more awkward it will be for both parties. Or, if the other party complies with a precipitous proposal, you’ve just agreed to a substantial relationship with someone you barely know.

It’s much more sensible to take sufficient time to ensure that the relationship will be lasting, if not joyous. There has to be some evidence of mutual interest. If you keep asking without signs of encouragement, it’s time to ask yourself if this is the right one. If you get a few encouraging signs, persist. An assiduous suitor can sometimes supplant a smug front-runner. If you continue to pursue after being repeatedly rebuffed, you’re becoming stalker. Few stalkers live happily ever after.

So, what are the signs of mutuality? Well, think about it -- a willingness to see you more than once, a growing interest in what you like to talk about, manifest by an increasing number of questions and an interest in increasingly long answers. If it gets serious, exclusivity reigns; the other party has lost interest in others and holds other suitors at bay. “Ifs” turn to “whens.” It seems as if you are speaking the same language and finishing each other’s sentences. Your goals and purposes seem to become one in the same. And, then some enchanted evening -- okay maybe I am getting a little carried away.

But I am serious about good relationships needing the benefit of time. Oh sure, there’s somebody out there saying, “Langley is such a romantic. I’ve asked and gotten commitments on the first visits many times.” To which, I say, “Okay, you’ve gotten a few dates but the alignment of souls brings so many more joys and enrichments.” And I also say, “Which of us will have more to show for our efforts at the end of our day and doesn’t time always prove the romantic the greatest realist?”

And then there is that literal minded person thinking “But even the best of advancement professionals is trying to win more than one hand or one heart at a time.” To which I say, “Yes, but still be selective and take your time to achieve the more productive form of philanthropic polygamy.”

I better leave now. If I stretch this metaphor any further it will snap and people will be hurt.

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