Yesterday in my team’s Prospect Management meeting (a conference call across eight time zones), we listened to a colleague talk about a recent prospect meeting. The dinner meeting included my colleague, our “Key Exec,” a “Key Faculty Member” and the prospect – a prospect my colleague had brought to the table as a previous relationship and had been cultivating very well.
In planning for the meeting with this prospect, our Key Exec wanted to start the evening by playing a video that provides an overview of our organization. My colleague pushed back and the idea was dropped.
However, what followed was a conversation the prospect describe to my colleague as “stilted”. The Key Exec launched into a long overview about the organization (which my colleague had provided during several previous meetings) with little break for comments or questions from the prospect. Over the course of the meal, there was little room for (or the ability for my colleague to make space for) either the Key Faculty Member or the prospect to chip in naturally.
Now a “roadblock.” The prospect didn’t leave with a good feeling, which he communicated to my colleague. It is a terrible feeling for a fundraiser when a prospect has signaled his or her enthusiasm and an unfortunate relationship roadblock occurs and stops momentum.
I’ve worked closely with this Key Exec. He is smart and can be charming. He can adeptly pivot conversations with donors and prospects to find the sweet spot of their interests. After the call, I reflected on some issues that may be at play. I wondered, how do we, as fundraisers, remove those relationship roadblocks?
I talk about prospect and donor cultivation in terms of human relationships, just like searching for potential partners (in business or personal lives). We need to know some key characteristics; so we meet, we talk, we share, and – maybe – that magic happens and engagement gets stronger and maybe there will be a lasting relationship.
Are we from the same place? People naturally seek to band together and point to others as outsiders. Seth Godin talks about “tribes.” Fundraising great Harold J. Seymour identifies it as “xenophobia“. It is knowing your most basic roots and identifying people who share them.
Do we share any experiences? When I receive prospect research or perform some of my own on a prospect, I look for hooks that connect with my experiences. Was he a Boy Scout? Great, I spent many summers at Camp Parsons Boy Scout Camp on Hood Canal. Or she attended my alma mater. Or another touch stone: attended private school (or public school), came from a big family (or was an only child), you name it. Shared experiences offer points of linkage.
Do our values align? Fraser Green talks about aligning donors with the mind, heart and soul in his book 3D Philanthropy. Your donor or prospect is discovering if you and your nonprofit share values – be it social justice, the environment, education, healthcare, animal welfare… Even after revealing which values you share, he or she may probe with additional questions to make sure you’re sincere.
Do they hear me? We don’t want potential partners to be wondering if we are listening… or simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so we can. Fundraisers need to be attentive to verbal cues and body language that can say more than their words about whether to move forward now or not. The Veritus Group wrote a nice piece on listening.
Do they understand me? Donors and prospects often end up sharing lots of information – the fundraiser must be attuned. One recent first conversation with a prospect unfolded this way: “Yes, we lived in Kenya for 10 years, but that was a long time ago.” Some fundraisers would have heard “long time ago” but our colleague heard “10 years.” My colleague was able to continue to conversation, to accept introductions to others who are currently giving to Kenya and suggested other NGOs doing “good work” there with whom we should be in touch. She is offering to find other connections and talked more about their own philanthropy in the area. Keep your ears wide open to the ideas and ideals and seek ways to ensure they resonate.
Do I feel good being around this person and organization? Some people just make you feel great when you are with them. It is a powerful and compelling feeling. Same goes for nonprofits and causes whether the prospect gets that great feeling through experiences (like volunteering), communication (the right amount and tone) or the knowledge that together you are changing the world.
Keep in mind that all this discovery must proceed at the prospect’s pace, not the pace of a campaign timeline or desire of the fundraiser.
People new to a charity or cause want to explore the relationship and it can take time. It usually doesn’t happen in one meeting. For some prospects, having trust in the fundraiser can leap-frog those issues. And introducing your prospect to a leader in your charity (the President, Board Chair, Founder, etc.) provides another opportunity to test if the shared values are replicated in the leadership.
Don’t reach for short cuts to this discovery process for the donor or prospect. If the relationship seems to be getting blocked, an astute fundraiser will find new ways to engage the prospect. In this case, my colleague will work to reconnect the Key Faculty Member with the prospect one-on-one so there can more opportunity for finding that “click.”
How do you remove or work around fundraising relationship roadblocks?
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