Development Dialogue: Phoning for Funds

Editor’s note: From the Green Room continues its regular series exploring issues relevant to the needs of non-profit development directors and fundraisers. If you have issues you would like to see explored here, please email We look forward to hearing your ideas. 

By Ron Fredman

For a couple of evenings earlier this month, members of our board of directors sat down for a good, old-fashioned phone-a-thon. Our goals were two-fold: Thank long-time subscribers, and encourage them to make their first gift to the ballet.

Sincere appreciation was our motivation for saying thank-you. Our “Keep Our Dancers on Their Toes” campaign to fund pointe shoes for our company was the incentive for the “ask” (it didn’t hurt we also had a 2:1 match for every dollar donated).

And, if the truth be known, there was a third objective: Get board members engaged, listening and connected to our patrons.

The experience was eye-opening, to say the least, participants said afterward.

It was heartwarming listening to stories of fondness for our company and art form. It was fun working together (especially since we had a bottle of good wine waiting for the person who raised the most money, and the competitive juices were flowing). It was humbling when some on the phone described financial challenges that would preclude additional investment. And, considering how tough it was to find people who would even answer the phone, it was a bit frustrating.

“I certainly have a new appreciation for what you do every day in development,” one of the board members said. (Now there was a small victory for those of us in the trenches.)

“Never again,” said another board member – this one whose senior-level duties at work include managing a calling operation – “will I look at my calling team in quite the same manner.”

Among a board member’s many responsibilities and opportunities, the chance to reach out and say “thank-you” is one of the most powerful and rewarding. The personal touch, that intimate connection with a patron, brings great value. If your company does not regularly engage in this practice, now’s the time to start.

Through their calls, board members gained notable insight into the motivations, kudos and concerns of those who support us. They consistently heard patrons express deep joy – or, as one patron said when asked what excites her most about us, responded, “What doesn’t!?!” Those we called were pleasantly surprised and pleased a board member would take time to reach out. That, as much as anything, made the effort worthwhile.

Saying thank you, of course, was the easy part. Asking for a gift was harder. For many, making a financial request is the toughest single line they will ever have to say. I’ve seen board members who are captains of their industries, CEOs who can turn a $250-million dollar deal at breakfast before the coffee gets cold, swallow their tongue over a simple request for a monetary contribution.

We made certain they understood they were not asking for money as much as giving someone a chance to make a difference that mattered to them. That helped overcome some of the trepidation. We provided them with scripts, background material, training and motivation. And, of course, that bottle of wine. We turned them loose and enjoyed their journey.

The company secured a few gifts. That was good. We made many people very happy. That was great. Are our board members ready to do it again? Absolutely.

Success all around.

Ron Fredman

Ron Fredman, chief development officer at Kansas City Ballet, is well known for beyond-the-horizon thinking, deceptively tough questions, nurtured expectations and enthusiastic partnership. He is a passionate fundraiser and dedicated relationship builder. He has enjoyed many years in arts fundraising, including record-breaking seasons as the chief fundraiser for the Kansas City Symphony and Houston Symphony. He joined the Kansas City Ballet as chief development officer in the fall of 2012 and has continued the string of fundraising successes. His background includes more than a decade as a national fundraising consultant with Hartsook Companies, where he last served as executive vice president. He has guided arts and cultural organizations, social services, youth organizations, schools, religious institutions, health care, professional and trade associations, foundations and more. Beyond solid fundraising leadership, he also provides senior-level expertise in management, strategic planning and marketing. 

Ron is a frequent speaker at national, regional and local fundraising and business conferences, where his energy, interactive style and common sense draw strong reviews. He has designed and taught business courses at the corporate and community-college level, and has written for many publications. He began his career as a sportswriter at The Kansas City Star. Ron studied political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and served as an adjunct faculty at Lansing (Mich.) Community College. Ron is chair of Dance/USA’s Development Directors & Staff Affinity Group.


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