Be On Time, Leave On Time

I like to think I’m unique, though there are so many ways in which I’m not. I’m not the shortest man on the planet, I don’t have the tallest hair. However, many professional experiences are solely mine, and where I find the latter most comically true is in some of my experiences in nonprofit fundraising.

Those in development (fundraising) may be familiar with the idea of the “reverse ask.” Picture it — you’re out with a donor, having a great talk, enjoying your coffee, then right as you’re about to shift into solicitation mode… the tables turn.


I hilariously remember once, a colleague and I visited a prospect at her home to discuss supporting a cultural initiative. After about one hour, my colleague gave me the look, implying, “alright, let’s do this, let’s get ‘dat money.” Misreading the room, I changed the subject — and took the donor up on her offer for cookies — which extended the visit another hour.

So there we were, entering hour three, and just as we’re about to make our ask, the donor pulls out some papers and flat out reversed the conversation — she asked us for financial support of a project she was producing. It was truly artful.

The colleague and I no longer work together, but we’re dear friends, and to this day we joke about that experience. We shake our heads in jest and say:

“Never take the cookie.”

But really what I mean is: in any given situation, know when your time expires. As nonprofiteers, I find this is something we do exceedingly poorly. Time as a gift, or at least a non-renewable resource, and it helps to fully know how much you want to offer any person or situation. It’s as respectful to leave on time as it is to be on time. When I feel something stretching longer than it should, I like to say, “So-and-so, please allow me to give you back as much of your day as I can,” which is usually understood and acknowledged.

So, folks, unless the purpose of your donor visit is to talk about pastry philanthropy, take it from me and don’t take the cookie.

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