“Would you like another cucumber sandwich, my dear?”
“Oh, no thank you,” I said.
“Don’t you like them?” asked my 89-year-old, beautifully coifed hostess.
“Oh yes, but I just had lunch and I’ve already had two.”
“How about more tea then?”
“That would be lovely. May I use the restroom…again?”
This conversation, almost to the word, repeated itself once a month for one year.
A wealthy widow of an entertainment mogul, she lived in a small mansion in Beverly Hills. On one of my hour and a half visits (she really liked to talk), she informed me with a twinkle in her eye that it had been built by a famous actor for one of his girlfriends.
At each visit, she shared more about her past as a screenwriter and delighted that I knew some of her work. She regaled me with stories of her travels around the world, including a world cruise where she flirted with one of the dance hosts.
We liked each other a lot. We laughed together and occasionally shed a few tears together. A rich relationship had formed. She felt less lonely, and I could provide priceless services for the abused children in my care.
My relationship with cucumber sandwiches is another story. If I never eat another cucumber sandwich as long as I live, that would be too soon. But at the end of the twelve months, she wrote out a check for $1 million to my charity. She didn’t even want her name mentioned, so we listed it as “anonymous donor.”
I wish I could say that I carefully planned these visits, the handwritten notes in between telling her about something a child did or enclosing a child’s drawing, more notes following each visit, thanking her for her graciousness, etc. I didn’t. She fell into my lap when one of our other major donors called me to say, “It might be worth your time to drop by.” The situation just evolved.
Here’s the deal: if I asked her for a million dollars up front, the odds were she would say no, and even be insulted. What I did was to start small to get acquainted with the ultimate goal of building a relationship—one that hopefully would turn into a sizable gift to help the children.
As with life, much of fundraising is serendipitous regardless of the strategies and techniques employed. I couldn’t anticipate the call that introduced me to her. However, I could have been much more efficient—and possibly more effective—if I knew more about the science of fundraising, specifically something called Moves Management.
Moves Management, initially developed by G.T. “Buck” Smith and David Dunlop at Cornell University, “is a process of managing relationships with individual donors and moving them towards major giving (Lynn deLearie, managementhelpd.org).”
Not formally trained in fund development, I learned a great deal from the superb professionals I hired over the years as my Chief Development Officers. From my limited knowledge of the complexities of moves management, the concept is simple at the heart of it: Figure out what it will take to move an individual from “Hello” to “Yes, I’d like to donate millions.”
Easy to say. Not so easy to pull off.
The moves could include a series of phone calls to say, “Hello,” periodic but strategic emails, handwritten notes, tours of the charity facility, special invitations, lunch, and a long list of other tools and techniques, all aimed at building a relationship that moves the individual to want to give.
The concept of moves management applies to other areas in organizations, well beyond the development office. While not revolutionary, it’s a useful tool to reframe vital organizational challenges. What are the moves required to build relationships with staff, volunteers or vendors? How could moves management help you gain favor with public-policy influencers? Leaders could be more intentional and more effective by applying some of the moves management concepts to organizational life.
Moves Management founder David Dunlop said, “The ultimate gift should be pursued as if it were a walk together.” Leadership guru Peter Drucker agrees, describing leadership as, “Relationships, relationships, relationships.”
Neither one said anything about sandwiches, cucumber or otherwise.
My success with Mrs. S. was not a walk together but sitting together on her lovely living room couch to build the relationship that made her want to give. Perhaps if I’d known about moves management back then, I might have set up a set of strategies with a tickler system to remind me when it was time to write the note, make a call, buy some tea, send children’s art, etc. And, maybe, just maybe, she might have given even more.