May 03, 2010

Are Fund Raisers 'Selling' a Product?

Is fund raising like "selling" a product?

Two veteran fund raisers are discussing this question, saying that the answer will help shape the mindset of how to ask for donations.

Jennifer McCrea, a senior research fellow at Harvard University's Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organizations, writes on her Exponential Fundraising blog that seeking money for charity should not be seen as selling because it diminishes the process.

"Selling implies that money is the most important part of the relationship. When money is at the center of the relationship, it distracts us from our mission because we are worried that we won’t have enough or that we’ll make a mistake," she writes. "It sets up a false power dynamic that requires that we talk shell-to-shell."

Sasha Dichter isn't quite so sure.

On his personal blog, the director of business development for the Acumen Fund, agrees that fund raising shouldn't be about the money, but selling shouldn't be a "dirty word," either. There's a lot that fund raisers can learn from good salespeople, he says.

"When you sell something in the right way, you are helping someone get more value from something (a product, an experience, a donation) than what she is paying. You are solving a problem for her," he writes. "You are meeting a need that she has."

In response, Ms. McCrea says that too many of our consumer choices are driven by outside pressure from marketing and salespeople. Philanthropy, on the other hand, is an introspective experience in which the donor learns how to help a cause he or she is passionate about.

"I see my job as more of a guide than a salesperson, offering you a new way to look inside and discover what you already have," she writes.

What do you think? Are fund raisers akin to salespeople?