Trespassing Won’t Make You Many Friends

The Non Profit Quarterly had a piece by Simone Joyaux which I suspect reflects what will be the necessary practice in fund raising for the future.

She asks fund raisers to stop asking their board members to trespass on their family and friends.

Trespassing is when you ask your friends or colleagues to give gifts and buy tickets . . . just because they are your friends and colleagues. This is the personal and professional favor exchange. This is obligation to a person rather than a cause. It’s a lousy way to raise money. It’s offensive. It alienates the asker and the askee. And it’s not sustainable.


How often have you, as a fundraiser, asked your board members to name names? How often have you asked them to bring in a list? Did you ask your board members to write notes on the letters that you planned to send to their list?

I say again, trespassing is a bad idea. It alienates board members. It alienates the friends and colleagues of board members. It doesn’t produce loyal donors or sustainable gifts.

Joyaux advises asking board members to suggest those they believe might be interested in supporting one’s organization and then inviting them to learn more about the organization. In the process of interacting with these people, one can gauge whether they are interested in what the organization does and perhaps what specific manifestation of the mission they may be disposed to supporting. From there you can work on cultivating a relationship with them that may see them more involved with the organization.

This suggestion isn’t terribly earth shattering or new. I have heard Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser say this is essentially what he does to garner support for the organizations he leads. When I first heard him speak about how he evaluates what people may be interested in and only really approaches them in relation to their interests, it seemed a less daunting and more considerate approach than soliciting everyone for every cause, even though it is much more time consuming.

As Joyaux notes, existing supporters like board members are probably going to be more comfortable implementing an organizational relationship building approach. After all, they invested the time to develop their personal relationships with friends and colleagues. While they may be willing to donate the fruits of that investment to their favorite non-profit, those relationships were built on entirely different circumstances which may not be entirely compatible with a request for support of a non-profit.

Now that social media allows people to be approached for their support every time they turn on a computer or pick up the phone, it is likely that only those organizations that take the time to cultivate a relationship with people will earn sustained support.

Not that social media won’t be a good tool for keeping people engaged with the organization’s work. It may just not be the strongest method for the organization and individual to gain a good mutual understanding and appreciation of each other’s priorities.

N.B. My apologies. Some how I ended up omitting the link to Joyaux’s piece when I first posted this entry.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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