I’m looking at the similarities between professional selling and volunteer fundraising. The first step was to schedule a visit with the donor. Now you are off to visit the donor. Just like great salespeople know asking good questions and learning from the answers is the purpose of a sales meeting; likewise, the fundraiser is interested in learning all about the donor. The same techniques of asking open-ended questions and active listening are used in donor visits.
Getting Prepared For The Donor Visit
Great salespeople know they can’t “talk” a prospect into buying. The key to closing a deal is to listen. Buyers don’t commit until they feel the salesperson knows all about their problem. Likewise, in fundraising when the donor believes they have been heard and appreciated they are more likely to give. So successful fund raisers prepare a list of questions to learn all they can about the donor and their motivation to give. Jerold Panas in his book “Asking” puts it this way: “No one ever listened himself out of a gift.”
The Problem Of Talking Too Much
In “Asking”, Panas lists the reasons that talking too much will not achieve the desired result. Here are some of the compelling reasons to listen:
- You learn about the donor’s needs and desires
- You will hear their concerns when you probe
- You uncover giving clues
- You will understand what they will invest in
- You allow the prospect to gain ownership of the idea
- You guide the conversation instead of dominating it
- You get time to think ahead
- You put the spotlight on the donor
- You will find the donor is more willing to contribute when they are talking
Just like great salespeople know listening is a powerful way to win work, champion fundraisers are great listeners.
Active Listening Is A Fundraising Skill
Just like great salespeople use open-ended questions, successful fund raisers are expert questioners. What are open-ended questions? They typically begin with “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how” and sometimes “why”. These adverbs stimulate conversation. For example: “What are the goals you have for the coming year?” asks the donor to talk about his vision of the future and how it might be accomplished. “Who, in addition to yourself, will participate in the decision to give?” helps the fund raiser to understand the decision-making process. “How do you feel about this program?” helps the fund raiser understand the donor’s concerns.
Are Closed-Ended Questions Valuable In Active Listening?
Of course they are. Closed-ended questions are a tool fund raisers use to confirm they heard what the prospect said. Suppose you are confirming a meeting. You might ask: “Is Tuesday at 10 am still a good time to meet?” A simple “yes” from the prospect is all you really need. Active listening involves getting answers and giving feedback on what you heard. Successful fund raisers summarize a conversation then ask closed-ended questions like: “Is that correct?” or “Are we in agreement?” Notice, closed-ended questions typically begin with a verb.
What Happens When The Donor Starts Asking Questions?
One active listening technique successful fund raisers use is “the reverse”. This is simply answering a question with a question. It is something we do naturally every day. A colleague asks: “How are you today?” You respond: “Fine. How are you?” See how easy this is to get the other person back into the speaking mode. Maybe a donor asks: “Do you have an amount in mind for me to give?” To reverse a fund raiser might say: “I’m not comfortable telling you what to give. Have you thought how much this program means to you?”
Active Listening Checks Where You Are In The Fundraising Process.
Whether it is a one-call-close or a protracted negotiation, successful fund raisers use active listening to know when to move to the next step. Fund raisers use open-ended questions like: “How do you feel about this program?” to understand their commitment. Looking to confirm they have successfully overcome an objection a fund raiser might ask: “Have I cleared that up for you?” When a fund raiser believes they have found out enough information to move on to the next step in the process, they ask for the donor’s agreement. “Thanks, Barbara for meeting with me today. Let’s meet again next Tuesday. OK?”
What You Can Do Right Now To Prepare For Fundraising
- Set the goal for the donor meeting
- Prepare a list of open-ended questions to encourage the donor to talk
- Be prepared to answer their questions or use the reverse technique as appropriate