One of the great privileges of being a fundraiser is that you have the opportunity to engage with many interesting and generous individuals. These are individuals that are accomplished professionally and equally passionate about the organizations we represent. Why, then, do so many fundraisers make the mistake of making donor engagements about themselves and the organizations they represent rather than utilize the time spent hearing what the donor thinks about your organization or telling you more about what motivates their giving. By following some of the following recommendations you’ll be on your way to becoming more donor-centric and more successful in your solicitations:
1. Listen – According to the Edgar Dale Cone of Experience, individuals only remember 10% of what they hear but they remember 70% of what they say or write. With that in mind the limited private time we have with donors is precious and we should encourage donors to dominate those conversations by telling us things about who they are (professional accomplishments and family), what they are passionate about (personal interests or experiences), and why they support our organizations (are they project or mission centered).
2. Have Your Solicitation Well Prepared and Concise – Donor engagements and solicitations have to include details about your organization that you hope the donor will fund but those details should only take about 20 – 30% of the meeting. Therefore, it is critical that you have a concise, substantive and inspirational pitch ready to give that allows plenty of time for the donor to react and discuss. Stick to the Why, How and What of your pitch and things should go well. Then just listen as the donor responds and provides guidance on whether the solicitation was too big, too small or just right.
3. Ask Leading Questions – Referring back to the Dale Cone of Experience you should come to your engagement prepared with questions that lead donors in a direction you want them to go. When you do they will not only remember more of what they say, they will take more ownership of what they are funding. If you want a donor to fund a program that helps disadvantaged youth graduate from high school ask questions like “What do you think is the biggest barrier to high school graduation” or “In what ways has our organization been most effective at stemming the dropout epidemic in the inner city”. By listening and guiding their answers back to the impact that your organization is having they better understand your mission and take greater ownership of your future success.
4. Talk in Terms of What the Donor is Accomplishing – More than any generation before them, the Baby Boomers are much more focused on THEIR impact through philanthropy. Therefore, it is a mistake to talk to donors in terms of what the organization will accomplish but rather focus on what the donor is accomplishing through the work of your organization. When discussing a possible gift use phrases like, “with a gift at this time YOU will help stem the high school dropout rate” or “if you would consider supporting this campaign YOU will have a direct impact on reducing childhood cancer”.
Our donors are passionate about the work we do and want to be a part of our special missions. Those organizations that listen to donors, get to know who they are and show them the amazing impact they are having through their generosity will separate themselves from the pack as their donors become more engaged and respond with greater generosity in the future.