I’m looking at the similarities between professional selling and volunteer fundraising. After setting the date and preparing for the donor visit fund raisers are ready to meet the donor. Just like a well-planned sales call, the fund raiser has an agenda for the meeting. First he builds rapport then moves on to learning what drives a donor to give and whether the particular project excites them. The fund raiser, just like great salespeople, asks open-ended questions and listens attentively to direct the conversation.
What’s The Same Between A Donor Visit And A Sales Call?
When the salesperson shows up the prospect knows he is there to sell something. So when the fund raiser shows up, the donor is on guard because they think they are going to hit him up for a donation. The donor thinks: “How much will he ask for?” or “Why did I agree to meet with her?” or “Where did they get my name?” or even “Wonder how fast I can get him out of here?” Successful fund raisers get the donor out his mind quickly. Sure, just like great salespeople, successful fund raisers open by building rapport. A few minutes of finding common interests or renewing friendships to engage the donor. Then time to set his mind at ease.
What Differs Between A Sales Call And A Donor Visit?
Great salespeople are looking for the “pain” a prospect may have. They ask questions to find out what problems keep them up at night and determine whether the product or service they offer can help them sleep better. Donors give out of desire to help, to feel they are making a significant contribution to the cause. Donors are generous people who love to give and they are rational enough to choose which organizations to support. So the fund raiser isn’t looking to find the “pain” in the donor. No, they are looking to put them at ease and present the program. Successful fund raisers start the conversation by telling the donor they are not there to ask for money. At least not in this first meeting. According to Jerold Panas in his book “Asking”: “Being clear at the outset that you’re not going to ask for money on this visit overcomes immense emotional blocks and hurdles. I’ve put his mind at ease.”
Volunteer Fundraising Is About The Money, Isn’t It?
If you are not there to ask for money, what’s the purpose of the donor visit? Just like the great salesperson seeks to find out how he can help the prospect, the fund raiser is hoping to find out the donor’s interest in a particular program. Successful fund raisers move from the rapport step to fact finding. Gentle probing like: “What do you know about the needy organization?” or “How has our community benefited from the social service?” or “When you think of the non-profit, how do you feel about their work?” These are open-ended questions to get the donor to express how they feel about the program or organization.
During this dialog the donor learns about the project and why it is important to support it. The fund raiser looks for two key pieces of information: what excites the donor about the project and any ill feelings they have toward the organization or program. Like great salespeople are careful to address any objections, the successful fundraiser clears up any negative impressions. They remember what excites the donor and plan to include that in the presentation to get the donation commitment.
What About The Next Meeting?
Remember the fund raiser puts the donor at ease by telling them that the visit is not about the money. So after a conversation where the fund raiser senses the donor’s passion for the project, they set about arranging the next meeting. It may be as simple as: “I see you have an interest in the program. Let’s check our schedules to see when we can meet again.” Busy donors may push for “the close” now: “We don’t need another meeting. How much would you like me to give?” For great salespeople when they hear something like that, they get all excited because they know the deal is done.
Here is where I think fund raising is more subtle than just asking for an amount. Panas in “Asking” puts it this way: “The truth is, Jim, I’m not smart enough to know how much you should give. That’s really your decision. But for a program like this, I thought you’d want to make a gift of $1 million.” See, Panas is careful not to tell the donor he should give an amount. He suggests the donor would want to make the gift. Depending on the donor’s decision-making process a commitment could come immediately or at a second meeting.
What You Can Do Right Now In Volunteer Fundraising
- Take the time to become very familiar with the organization and program
- Think about the rapport step and how to put the donor at ease
- Consider the ways a sales call differs from a donor visit