Tuesday, March 31, 2015

4 Essential People Skills for Fundraisers

In order to be a great relationship builder, you first need to have an innate, genuine love of people. But what about interpersonal skills - certain things that you can develop or enhance - that will make you even better at the art of relationships (aka the art of fundraising)?

When we asked a group of high-performing development officers and consultants to talk to us about the skill set needed in order to be a successful fundraiser, one of the answers we got across the board was "people skills."

What kind of people skills do fundraisers need?

People Skill #1: Reading People

"You might have a list of objectives when you walk into a room of donors," stated one development consultant. "But you need to be able to read people, because sometimes it's not the right time or the donor is not in the right frame of mind for certain discussions on your objective list." You need to be very intuitive with people and be able to respond appropriately. Always try to read between the lines when you're with your donors and keep an eye on their body language.

People Skill #2: Connecting

Being able to connect with people - all kinds of people - is the starting point of relationships. When you are able to adapt to your audience, people will feel that they can relate to you, and this is often where relationships begin. When you meet someone new, ask yourself: "How can I find something in common with this person?" Practice this skill until you are able to do it easily, comfortably, and naturally.

People Skill #3: Listening

You need to be able to talk to anybody and everybody without intimidation and with a commitment to your mission. Make sure that you speak from an honest and genuine place. And don't forget that communication goes both ways. "We have a lot of development officers that just talk, talk, talk and they don't listen," said one fundraising professional. Being a good listener is essential in our profession. In fact, "good listening skills" was the #1 people skill mentioned by the fundraising experts that we interviewed. Always be listening when you are with your donors. Be "politely inquisitive" and learn their stories - what is meaningful to them? How and why would they like to contribute to your organization? The more you know about your donors, the better you'll be at matching them with your organization.

People Skill #4: Steering Conversations

"You can sit with someone for three hours and never get anywhere close to talking about what you need to talk about," said one development officer. It's really easy to spend a lot of time with prospective donors who may not be good prospects at all. Ask questions that get to the heart of what you want to learn, and develop a set of conversation mileposts - phrases that mark new direction in the conversation. This is the pattern: validate what you just heard; assert what you want to talk about next. Here are a few of our favorite ways to do this:

  • It sounds like you are really passionate/knowledgeable about ________. Would it be alright to share a way for you to financially support this work?
  • You have a lovely family. It's clear how much you adore them. If I could show you a way, would you be interested in creating a family legacy with our organization?
  • It seems like you have a lot going on in your life right now. When we originally scheduled this meeting, I had hoped we could talk about ________ program. Is now a good time to share this, or would it be better for us to meet in a few months (or after things settle down)?

Eventually you'll find your rhythm. Just keep practicing!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What does money mean to you?

Power. Happiness. Security. Freedom. Success.

In our last blog we talked about the importance of understanding your donors' feelings about money before you ask them for some. But before you start exploring your donors' attitudes about money, have you examined your own? 

It's important to understand your own feelings about money for two reasons:

1. You have to understand your own feelings about money before you can really understand someone else's.

Every time you ask for a gift, you have to put yourself in the donor's shoes - how would he or she like to be asked? There is no cookie-cutter approach; you have to tailor each ask to each individual donor, taking his or her unique attitude about money into account. How can you understand and empathize with a donor's emotions about money if you haven't taken an honest look at your own?

2. Your own personal feelings about money affect the way you ask for a gift.

The emotions that you attach to money are going to be present in you when you make an ask. Even if you're not aware of it, these emotions will be running in the background while you're talking to your donor about giving. According to financial expert Suze Orman, the three most common emotions surrounding money are fear, shame, and anger. If you're like most of us and you associate any of these emotions with money, then fear, shame, and/or anger are going to come up when you ask for a gift - and your donor is going to pick up on it, either consciously or unconsciously. If you haven't identified the emotions you associate with money, how will you be able to notice when they are affecting your ask?

So what does money mean to you? What adjectives describe your view of money? What words do you associate associate with the idea of money? What are some things that you feel money is or should be used for? Think about these questions and journal about them to really get to know the emotions attached to your idea of money. If you do, it's going to make you a better fundraiser.


Orman, Suze. The Courage to Be Rich: Creating a Life of Material and Spiritual Abundance. New York: Riverhead, 2002. Print.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Making an ask? You need to know THIS.

You've got great camaraderie with your donor. You know where her passions match with your organization's mission. You know that it's a good time in her life to ask for a gift. You've set up the appointment. You're going to make the ask.

But do you know how your donor feels about money - money in general?

Every donor has her own individual, unique attitude about money, and it's important that you know how your donor feels about money before you ask her for some.

In our culture, talking about money is considered taboo. We are taught that money is a private matter that should not be discussed in public. This cultural attitude sets the stage for people to attach some very powerful and emotional feelings to the idea of money.

Imagine that you ask Mary for money in the same way that you ask Bob for money. Mary smiles and eagerly takes out her checkbook. But when asked for a gift in the exact same way, Bob gets uncomfortable and shuts down. This could be because Mary and Bob have very different emotions attached to the idea of money. Mary may feel that money is a power and a tool for doing great things in the world. Bob may feel that money = self-worth, and he may feel inadequate because he doesn't think he makes enough money. So you can't ask Mary and Bob for money in the same way; you have to tailor your ask to each individual donor, taking their attitudes toward money into account.

In an article for The Chronicle of Philanthropy, fundraising expert Ian Wilhelm discusses a study done by British researcher Beth Breeze. This study, which surveyed people about their money beliefs and giving behaviors, concluded that fundraisers need to take into account donors' perceptions of their own wealth.

"It's fascinating that people who have exactly the same amount of wealth can either be relaxed and feel they have enough to spare to give a nice chunk away, or can feel uptight and worried about letting go of any of it," said Breeze. "Someone being targeted may not agree they have much to spare."

Moral of the story: understand your donors' feelings about money before you ask them for some.

Friday, March 13, 2015

3 Reasons Why You Need A Strategic Plan

"If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else." - Yogi Berra

When you're at work, can you see how your daily tasks fit into the "big picture"? Are the different departments in your organization working together toward the same common goal? Is it challenging to get things done on time?

Earlier this year we wrote about one of the keys to achieving fundraising success.

Here's another key to achieving fundraising success: a strategic plan.

Strategic planning expert John M. Bryson defines a strategic plan as "a deliberate, disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an organization (or other entity) is, what it does, and why it does it.1"

Why is having a strategic plan important for achieving fundraising success? Here are 3 reasons.

1. A strategic plan gives a sense of orientation and direction.

The clearly outlined objectives in a strategic plan act as the roadmap that orients an organization so that everyone knows where they are, where they need to go, and how and when they are going to get there. Fundraising is hard work, and it's only made harder when you don't have a clear understanding of what is expected of you or if what's expected of you keeps changing.

2. A strategic plan creates an environment of efficient, focused teamwork.

It's hard to do your job as a fundraiser if you're going in one direction, your CEO's going in another direction, and your board is going in a third, completely different direction. With a strategic plan, everyone uses the same roadmap. This means that everyone - and every individual department - is on the same page and working toward the same goals. Instead of conflict and chaos, you've got a team effort. When everyone is using the same roadmap, your organization becomes an efficient machine - and fundraising becomes a lot easier.

A roadmap also helps you to avoid making wrong turns or being blown off course. If, for example, one of your superiors suggests something that doesn't forward your fundraising goals, you can politely say, "That's a great idea and it's something we should talk about in the future. But right now, it's not something I can address because it's not part of our strategic plan."

3. A strategic plan supports your organization's integrity (and that's really important to donors).

A main part of a strategic plan is a schedule or calendar with all deadlines mapped out. Having this type of timeline - and sticking to it - helps to ensure that promises are kept and outcomes are delivered in a timely manner. This builds your organization's integrity, which in turn builds trust between your organization and the public - and research shows that people give to organizations that they trust2.

Interested in learning more about strategic plans or how Giving Focus can help you with yours? Contact Andrea today.

1Bryson, J. M. (2004). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

2Sargeant, A. (2001, November). Public trust and confidence. Charities Aid Foundation Annual Conference, London.