I have the pleasure have helping board members, staff leaders, and campaign volunteers hone their fundraising skills on a regular basis. Recently, I was reminded by a volunteer of one of the most important lessons: We have two ears and one mouth.
As a fundraiser (paid or volunteer), the most important thing you can do is listen. The next critical step is asking for a specific amount. Sometimes those two steps happen in one meeting; sometimes they don’t, and that is okay.
Instead of heading into a meeting with a proposal in hand, consider going in with a listening mindset, with key questions designed to get your prospective donor talking, and with a handful of facts or stories about the impact of your organization so you can pick the one or two that match what your donor is sharing with you.
In fact, I believe it is okay to start a conversation by saying, “I am not going to ask you for money today.” You might go on to say, “I know how much you care about the impact our organization is making and I want to hear about what part of our work you are most passionate about. I also want to share with you some of our dreams. When we find the intersection of your interests and our dreams, then I am going to follow up and ask you for an investment that has the potential to transform you and our impact. This should be fun.”
We all appreciate being heard. Following up a donor visit with a thoughtful proposal that shows them that you listened, matching an opportunity to their interests, will catapult your fundraising program.
Stop wasting time guessing what you think a donor will support and start engaging them in a conversation. Too often we skip right over the listening step—letting our goals and plans dictate what we ask for instead of listening for the intersection.
So, prepare the open-ended questions that will get your donors talking. Listen intently and take notes during the conversation. Convert those notes into call reports and make sure the information gets into your donor database. Knowledge is power and it is the key to effective proposals, but it starts with engaging your donors in conversation and truly listening to what they tell you.
Remember, two ears and one mouth. It’s pretty simple.