Monday, January 11, 2010

Be Careful What You Wish For...You Might NOT Get It

I recently got a letter from a local non-profit that offered several potential options for donations. The lowest, I believe, was about $25, but there was something hand-written on the form that indicated how appreciative they would be of any donation, and how even $10 or $15 would make a huge difference.

That's definitely the right way to do it.

If you're asking people to part with either of their two most precious commodities (money and time), I think it's important you not be a bull in a china shop when you do it.

I was reminded of this recently when I stumbled across something on Facebook that showed how a college buddy of mine who now holds elective office in a state west of the Mississippi is now running for a higher office this year.

Good for him, and I wish him the best.

However, seeing that triggered a memory of something posted several months ago by Kad Barma regarding pricing decisions and revenue optimization. The idea is that if a bar is hosting a comedy night, or an open mic night, or whatever, there's a certain "funny money" threshold, below which prospective patrons will throw the money down without a second thought, and above which people will balk entirely and not spend a single dime on either admission or drinks.

The bar ought to understand where the funny money line sits, because it might mean the difference between filling a room full of people who've paid $10 to enter (and presumably much more for drinks) and being able to hear a pin drop inside because you thought $20 was a more appropriate way to set the cost.

Okay, so back to the memory. This rising pol and I had had sporadic contact since parting ways back on graduation day in 2002. Seemingly out of the blue in fall 2007, he left an urgent-sounding voicemail on my phone. Now, this was right around the time I had gotten a short-fused notice that I would be going overseas that very week to fill a manning gap for a unit in western Iraq.

So, yes, I was quite busy packing everything up, unplugging everything in my apartment, and e-mailing close friends. Still, I made the time to call.

"What's up man? How's it going?"

"Well, I'm running for ___, and I need your support. Can you donate?"

"Sounds good, but I'm literally heading out the door ASAP on a C-17. I'd love to help but am sort of squeezed for money right now. Besides, I don't even know what the rules are on that sort of thing?" (I've since learned that UCMJ doesn't forbid political donations by active duty members, though it does prohibit certain forms of activity, but honestly didn't know that at the time).

Showing little concern or sympathy for said situation, he just offered up something like this -- "Man, that's really too bad, because I had you pegged as one of my major, $5,000 fundraisers."

I nearly hung the phone up.

I wasn't sure what he was implying. Did he think I was going to walk around Virginia Beach with a hat, raising $5,000 in small donations for someone they'd never heard of? Did he think I would be phone-banking from my apartment for that? Liquidate my entire Roth IRA on a moment's notice? I have no idea, and I didn't really ask. I politely ended the conversation, and that was about it.

Here's where he went wrong: If he had tried a much more humble approach, it might've sounded something more like this: "Hey Page, I know it's been awhile, great to hear about what you've been up to...I know times are tight, but do you think you could send me a $20 check? It would mean a lot, and it would go a long way."

An approach like that would've meant two things: First, he would've gotten the $20 (which is $20 more than $o!); and second, he would've picked up another supporter for his bid. Charities, non-profits, and politicians are all well-aware of the principle that once people have donated to you, they feel invested in you, and are thus likely to remain supportive.

Instead, just like the bar that was charging a bit too much of an entrance fee for a no-name comic lineup, he got nothing. Even worse, he left a bad taste in at least one person's mouth.

The charity or campaign that shows respect for the small donor -- much like the Ron Paul and Barack Obama campaigns did in 2008 -- earns TONS of avid supporters who are encouraged to display their fervor in contagious sort of ways.

No matter how much surplus time or money you may think other people have, chances are, they don't feel the same way. If you're going to ask others for time or money, it's best to stop and consider whether the terms you're setting -- and they way you're setting them -- might preclude you from coming away with either.

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