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Five Steps for Winning Conversations With Donors

Laura Fredricks, a fundraising consultant, say she has noticed a disturbing trend. Too often fundraisers use the same formula to seek a gift, whether they are asking for $10,000 or $50,000, instead of tailoring each interaction with a potential donor to the person’s interests and values.

That practice wastes time and ensures poor results, she said at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference, which opened Sunday in Vancouver.

Conversations with donors are too important to use a standard template, Ms. Fredricks said. A guarantee that fundraisers are doing the right thing: They should be a little nervous every time. Otherwise, it’s a sign they are coasting.

She offered her five steps to improving conversations with donors:

Know exactly what you want. Before you contact a donor, you should have an idea “how much, how many, how often, and why” you want their gift, Ms. Fredricks said.

Prepare the conversation. Before meeting with a donor, script out what you’d like to say, with an emphasis on open-ended questions. These questions can help put a donor at ease and stir conversation, Ms. Fredricks said. One of Ms. Fredricks’s favorite questions is, “When was the first time you remembered it was important to give back?” Make sure that you, personally, aren’t spending too much time talking but that you cover your organization’s mission.

Deliver with confidence. It’s important to smile when you’re communicating with a donor, even if it’s over the phone or through e-mail. Listen to their responses to questions: Do they mention family or a hobby frequently? This can tip you off to the values that are important to them and allow you to adjust your approach. Mirror their language, and keep your requests for donations short and to the point.

Clarify your results. At the end of each conversation, repeat what you see as the results back to the donor to make sure you completely understand each other, Ms. Fredricks said. Use a sentence starting with, “I heard you say today that …” and allow the donor to respond and correct you. If a donor gives you an adamant “no” about making a donation, ask why. ”Can I ask why it is you don’t want to give?” is the language that Ms. Fredricks recommended.

Plan the next move. If the donor is still unsure about giving, set a timetable with him or her to check in again, but phrase it as a question. ”Can I get back to you next week?” or “When would be a good time to get back to you about that?” are both effective, Ms. Fredricks said. If the donor does agree to give, you should still set a next goal, with a date, and record it along with all the other information your group has about the donor.

 Send an e-mail to Cody Switzer.

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