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!