by Steve Adubato, PhD

Recently, Ann, a top-level corporate executive, received a pitch from a charitable organization she had met with seeking financial support and advice. Ann had a past connection to the organization and wanted to be supportive.

However, after the meeting with the charity’s CEO, the next communication that she received was an amazingly long and highly impersonal e-mail from the non-profit’s chief fundraiser asking for support and help in a variety of areas. Not a phone call, not a follow up face-to-face meeting, but a long and comprehensive e-mail that listed at least six different areas where Ann COULD be helpful. The areas included serving on the organization’s board, giving a free seminar or speech, connecting the organization to other possible supporters, and, of course, a direct request for financial support.

Ann, in turn, forwarded me the e-mail saying; “Can you believe this is how they followed up on our meeting? What a turn off.”

Ann had every right to be turned off. A few weeks ago, I wrote a column about business being highly personal and the importance of our communication connecting on a human level. The e-mail that Ann received from an organization that she very much wanted to support was the opposite of a personal and human connection.

The problem is that when an organization asks for help, they often only get one opportunity to get up at bat. In this case, the organization struck out because of the way they chose to communicate. Whether it is your alma mater, a charitable organization to which you have some connection, or a startup business looking for seed money, there are some basic communications dos and don’ts when following up on that all important face-to-face meeting:

--Never directly ask or communicate a request in an e-mail without having first done so either face-to-face or over the phone. It is critical that the “ask” be made by an actual human being and not via technology. No matter how well-written the request, it is likely to come across as highly impersonal.

--Only communicate ONE request at a time. It is a basic sales technique that should be understood by every professional who is in the business of asking for something. Any time you ask for more than one thing, regardless of the medium in which you are communicating, the recipient of such a message will either be totally turned off or select the item which is the easiest (or least expensive) to deliver.

--No matter what the request is, the key is to communicate WHY it matters to the person you are asking. Too often, people in sales, fundraising or related fields communicate in detail about themselves and why their programs are so great without asking themselves why that same program matters to the person they are asking. There are countless good charities, and people are often asked for their time, expertise, and/or money. Your goal is to communicate why your particular initiative has special meaning to the person on the other end.

--WHO is communicating the ask is as important as the ask itself. The messenger matters a lot. In this case, the ask did not come from the top person at the charitable organization, but rather, from the “development officer”. This was a big mistake because Ann met directly with her counterpart at the charity, not the development officer. This can be perceived as disrespectful and confusing and communicates the message that the request is not that important.

P.S.—The worst part about this very real-life example is that the charitable organization is not likely to get another opportunity for such an important face-to-face meeting with Ann. And Ann, as you can tell, hasn’t been shy about sharing her negative experience with others.