We Will Sell No Wine Before Its Time

Orson Welles, the American writer and director most famous for his film Citizen Kane,
starred in a famous commercial in 1978. The distinguished Welles promoted Paul Masson wine with a memorable slogan: We will sell no wine before its time.

It’s true that serving wine at a fundraiser may increase giving, but that is not what I am suggesting! Rather, I want to highlight that there is a right time to talk to a donor about making a gift, just as there is a right time to sell wine: when the wine has aged and ripened to its full potential.

I often meet with clients who embark on the fundraising journey with enthusiasm, and after hearing about a new prospective donor, they want to begin by asking the donor to make a large gift – maybe even at their first meeting! While this strategy seems very efficient, it is not very effective. In my experience, it’s necessary to meet with a donor several times – a series of meetings that allow the relationship to develop – before asking for a gift.

I was reminded of this recently when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal entitled “Anything Good Takes Exactly 5 Meetings.” The writer suggests that there need to be five distinct steps when trying to accomplish a personal goal or business deal:

  1. The sniff
  2. The story
  3. The data
  4. The ask
  5. The close

These five steps demonstrate exactly the relational fundraising process I encourage our clients to undertake. I call these steps by other names, but the underlying process is the same. In fundraising, a good “ask” involves multiple meetings:

  1. A casual conversation (the sniff)
  2. A tour (the story)
  3. A presentation of the case statement (the data)
  4. The ask (same as the WSJ Article)
  5. The follow-up (the close)

I can’t overstate the importance of this simple process.

Several years ago I met with a major donor who was a significant donor to one of my clients. I was meeting with them to talk about a potential gift to the client. Before we could begin, they “poured” out their frustrations about another organization they support. The president of the other organization had come to meet with them, they said, and before even getting to know what they were passionate about, he asked them for a large gift. As a result, they made a modest gift – by their own admission, not nearly the gift that they actually wanted to make! My client, however, did not share this hasty approach, and the couple went on to make a significant gift to them.

As you think through your fundraising process, I challenge you to slow down. Anything good takes time. Make sure you have multiple meetings prior to an ask. Sit down, get to know the donor, and remember: We sell no wine before its time.