One of the most common objections I hear from fundraising volunteers is “I don’t feel like I know enough to…” A) Call the donor, B) meet with the donor, C) ask the donor, or D) all of the above.
Steering committee volunteers struggle with this fear all the time. It is also common from board members helping with major donor fundraising. Sometimes they word it differently, such as “I am not ready” or “We should do more research before we go ahead.” There is even a non-verbal version of this objection; the volunteer simply doesn’t make the call or schedule the meeting but doesn’t tell you. The fear of the unknown can be incredibly frustrating for fundraising leaders, especially when you have a demanding timeline and the volunteer is the best person to connect with the donor.
The antidote is simple: train your volunteer to repeat one of the following options when asked a question the volunteer doesn’t have the answer to:
That’s a great question. Honestly, I don’t know the answer, but I will find out and get back to you.
I appreciate your question and wish I had an answer for you. I do know that the CEO/CFO/Program Manager/etc will have the answer. Would it be possible to meet with him/her to discuss this further?
Getting “caught” not knowing something can be truly scary. And volunteers frequently feel like they need to have a deep command for all the facts before they can proceed. However, giving your volunteer permission to say “I don’t know” is empowering and freeing. Moreover, offering to find the answer and get back to the donor provides another cultivation step deepening donor engagement. It also demonstrates that your agency is committed to the truth and not just saying whatever the donor want to hear.
There is one other reason that teaching all fundraising volunteers this tactic is important: they might inclined to either make up an answer when their back is against the wall or freeze giving the perception that the agency is covering something up. I have seen both situations take place in the field and recovery is challenging.
One final thought: this tactic is not just for volunteers. It is also helpful for staff and leadership too. In fact, as a consultant—someone paid to know things—I pull out the “I don’t know, but I will get back to you” phrase as well. Honestly, I think my clients find it a bit refreshing because it is authentic and reinforces that no one knows everything.
So how do you get your boss to start saying this? I don’t know. I’ll get back to you.
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