Cultural Considerations

Dear Kim:

I have read most of your books and articles, plus those by a lot of other people.  I notice that everyone recommends asking for specific amounts of money, and, at least as I read what you have written, setting up a meeting, asking directly for the gift and then waiting for a response right then and there. You also note that people have to take cultural norms into account. I was born and raised in a rural town on the Big Island of Hawai’i and I am of Japanese-Chinese ancestry.  This is really not our culture at all—in fact, I think it would seem really rude.  I know you have been here a number of times, and know what I am saying.  How should I proceed?

-Need Friends and Cash

Dear Friends:

I have been in Hawai’i every year for the past 15 years.  I love it there—the nonprofit community is creative and full of vitality.

People do amazing work, often with very little money.  You are correct to value your relationships and to give thought as to how to adapt fundraising techniques to your situation.

Most cultures place a high value on politeness, but the definition of politeness varies from place to place.  In Hawai’i, in the southern states of the continental USA, and in many Asian cultures, part of politeness is trying your best to never disappoint someone.

Consequently, it is very hard to say “no” to anything that is requested of you.  The culture then develops to where it is rude to ask somebody something that you know they might have to decline.  So a direct request for a specific amount of money where you want the answer right away seems rude.  So we have to work around it.

The short answer to your question is to give the prospect an “escape route.”  They need a way to be able to say “No” without losing face or being embarrassed, or, in fact, having to say the word “NO.”  Here are two ways to do that: At the beginning of the meeting say, “I am here to ask you for a large gift, but I imagine you will need to think about it, so I am not expecting an answer today.”  Essentially, “I’ll think about it” is the right answer and that allows the person to leave your meeting without turning you down. –You can also preface your comments with “I know you are very generous and support a lot of organizations, and I don’t know if you have any more room to take us on, but in any case I’d like to tell you more about our work.”

You also will want to make your own gift before visiting anyone and you can always start with that.  “I’ve given because I believe this group …and I feel so strongly that I have decided to invite other people to give as well. And even if someone can’t give right now, everyone can say good things about our group.”

In any culture, and with any person, the most important element of asking for money directly is to feel fine about whatever answer the prospect makes.  Many people will say “Yes, I can help” and they will feel happy to say that.   Obviously, if you have asked for that gift, you will be happy too, but you need to think, “Wow, I asked them and they gave.”  Many people may support your work but need to say “No,” or “Not now.” They don’t feel as good about that, but you must reassure them that their answer is fine.  “Thanks for considering this.  I really appreciate it.”  Then you think to yourself, “Wow, I asked them and they had to say no.”  In other words, you did your job when you asked, and they did their job when they answered.  You are not a better fundraiser when the donor gives the money and you are not a worse fundraiser when the donor declines to give.

Because it is not about YOU.   Everyone has too many requests and must make choices.  But if you ask enough people, you will raise all the money you need.

Good luck!

–Kim Klein