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Newton's Laws of Fundraising #83 - You never know who you have hiding in your mailing list!

Bruce doesn’t want to be on the board.

But he will have lunch with us. That’s cool. We like lunch.

So we get together with Bruce and “run names” for an hour.

Do you run names?

It’s probably called different things in different parts of the country, but around here that’s what we call it when we’re able to “run a list of names past a Big Shooter,” like Bruce. A past president of the local chamber of commerce, longtime businessman and former Board president for some of the top charities in our area, Bruce has forgotten more valuable information that I will ever know myself. It’s an incredibly helpful way for Bruce to spend an hour with us. And a time in which I mostly keep my mouth shut and my pen moving.

Here’s how it works. I say “Samuel Gamgee.” Bruce says, “used to run Bagshot Row Plant Nursery.” Retired. Wealthy, due to some interests he has down south. Served as Mayor for a long time. His daughter Elanor was in school with my son.” I ask “how can we get to him?” Bruce says “I know the Widow Rumble. She’s tight with his Gaffer. I’ll reach out to her and get us an appointment.” So we let him get us an appointment and then Bruce, Samuel, the Executive Director and I sit down over a plate of mushrooms at Cotton’s and we pitch our charity’s latest project to Mr. Gamgee. Having Bruce there helps keep the conversation going as he knows much about the Gamgees. And of course between the time we confirm the lunch and we hold the lunch, Bruce and I will talk through the strategy for the lunch and the ask.

Or I say “Chuck Noland.” Bruce answers, “I’m not sure anyone can get to him. Used to work for FedEx from what I understand. Haven’t seen him in a looooong time. Has a friend named Wilson. That’s about all I know.” And we move on to the next one.

Over the next hour with Bruce, we will run many names with him…

“Stephen Morrissey?” Bruce says “Still Ill. These things take time.”

“Robert Smith?” Bruce says “Has an odd schedule. Can only get together 10:15 on a Saturday Night. Has a plumbing problem.”

“Jon Lydon?” Bruce says “He runs Public Image Limited out in Seattle.”

And you go through each name on the list, gathering information. Some of which you can use, some not-so-much. But you go through all of the names and take meticulous notes.

Running names is an excellent way to get your Board involved in fundraising.

Perhaps the best time to do it is near the beginning of a Board meeting (because they’ll all still be there). When you have a whole room of folks reacting to names, there gets to be a synergy that results. It can be some of the most valuable time your Board puts in. It’s a wonderful morale-builder too. Boards sometimes get an inferiority complex when it comes to fundraising. Running names cures that. After 20 minutes of running names, a board can justifiably say that they are helping with fundraising.

Maybe the session with the Board goes like this…

  • Maurice lets you know that Chris Stevens used to work for him. So you ask right then and there if Maurice can set up lunch with the three of you at the Brick. Maurice, in front of all of his fellow Board members is likely to say yes.

  • Douglas Adams? Your Board President says he can get him to “pledge 42 before we throw in the towel” on the campaign.

  • Mrs. Sondheim? Works at Lupone and Stritch. Apparently, she is a lady who lunches. Aren’t they the best? So you set up lunch with her!

If you’re fortunate, at the end of a 20-minute “name-running session,” you’ll have a half-dozen prospects that you’ll be able to get an appointment with through your Board members (Look at that! They’re helping!), a LOT more information on other prospects and a positive fundraising experience with your board—a great thing to build on. I’d suggest doing this at least twice a year in a full Board meeting.

You might ask, why do this at a full Board meeting, when you can do this in the course of a regular fundraising meeting? Well, because you’ll have more people in the room at a full Board meeting. You’ll have more give and take, more synergy and more peer pressure to contribute something to the conversation.

Perhaps you wonder “how do we come up with names to run?” Here’s a sample list:

  • Names of donors that give more than once a year.

  • Donors of any gift over $100.

  • Any business on your mailing list.

  • The folks who play in your golf outing.

  • Your volunteer list.

  • Former Board.

  • Everyone who came to your banquet.

Still, you may query “Tell me again why should we run names?” Because you may learn…

  • That a donor has a lot more potential to give than what they are currently showing. Time to present them with an opportunity to upgrade!

  • That a donor comes from a family that has loved your charity for generations. Time to talk to them about leaving your charity in their will!

  • That a donor just made a six-figure gift to the downtown museum. Time to put them on the list for your campaign!

  • That a donor is a terrific lady and a real go-getter. Time to ask her to join the Board!

  • That a donor is great buddies with another person who could really help your cause.

  • That your Board may be able to get to people that you can’t, thereby helping you in a big way!

  • That your Board really enjoys running names and it’s a “small effort, high return” way to help with fundraising—something Boards everywhere struggle with.

Philip Ward Newton founded Perennial Partners, a consulting firm which works with charities, churches and schools. For more information, visit his website at

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