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Rory Green - Associate Director, Advancement, Faculty of Applied Science
Simon Fraser University
A good conversation with a donor has almost nothing to do with what you say.
What matters most is how you listen.
I have been on countless donor meetings, accompanied by an eager major gifts officer who has so much to say about their organization – they pitch all areas of their non-profit’s mission at lightning speed, and leave the donor a bit dizzy – and quite often completely disinterested.
I want to let you in on a secret: major gifts isn’t about being able to make a great pitch, it’s about asking great questions and listening really well.
Major gifts officers need to be able to have great conversations with donors. Conversations about hopes, values and beliefs. The key to taking a conversation to a more meaningful level is to build likability, rapport and trust. As fundraisers, we need to be experts at creating rapport – and creating it quickly. Here are some ways you can listen better – that have been proven to build trust fast.
Match Tone: Listen to the tone and speed of the donor’s voice. Do your best to, naturally, match them in tempo, volume and pitch. I’m not telling you to do a fake accent, or impression of them – just be aware of the sound and cadence of their voice and make subtle adjustments.
Affirm and Acknowledge: We need verbal and non-verbal cues we are being heard. Small nods, and “mmhmms” give us permission to continue sharing. Often as we are listening to our donor, our mind begins to race ahead to what we want to say next. Don’t do that! Stay in the moment and focus on hearing what is being said.
Smile: Early on in my major gifts career, I realized I had an awful listening face. When someone is talking to me, I can scrunch my brow – and almost scowl. I look angry, even when I’m not! So, as Tyra Banks wold say, I’ve worked a lot on “smiling with my eyes”. Try asking for feedback on your listening face from family and friends, and when you’re trying to build rapport be sure to smile!
Mirror Body Language: Again, this should be done subtly – but pay attention to how the person you are speaking to is positioned. Are they leaning forward? Back? How is their posture? Mirroring body language puts the person you are talking to at ease, and helps them to feel relaxed.
Synchronize Breath: This is an odd tip, but there is a good amount of research behind this. Try to match the breathing of the person you are having a conversation with, it creates a strong subconscious sense of commonality.
These tricks sound basic, but they are incredibly effective. Try it out yourself. Spend as much time learning about how to be a good listener as you spend learning about your mission and programs.
Want to learn more? Or better yet – have the chance to practice these tips and get live feedback? Come to Congress this November and check out my workshop “Meaningful Conversations (That Raise More Money)”.
Rory Green has been in the philanthropic sector for over eight years and is currently the Associate Director, Advancement for the Faculty of Applied Science at Simon Fraser University. Rory has also worked in major and corporate giving at BCIT and the Canadian Cancer Society. In her spare time Rory is the founder and editor of Fundraiser Grrl, the fundraising community’s go-to source for comic relief . She will be presenting at Congress 2014 in Toronto.
Adam Lowy, Executive Director, Move For Hunger
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of creating real change. Nonprofit organizations talk about this quite a bit when they’re communicating with donors and foundations. You see it all the time in social media posts and fancy marketing pieces. But what does this really mean? Are we, as non-profit organizations, actually fixing problems, or are we just raising awareness that change needs to happen?
When I founded Move For Hunger five years ago, I really didn’t know much about the non-profit space. I didn’t even know anything about hunger – the problem I was trying to affect. Rather than start with a cause, we were able to work backwards with the solution.
My family has owned a moving company for over 90 years. After years of seeing non-perishable food get thrown away when people moved, we decided to ask people to donate their food during their moves. Our moving company was in the home anyway, so it really didn’t create any extra work. The food bank was just a few miles away. It just kind of made sense. Customers LOVED it! And why wouldn’t they? People want to work with companies that give back to the community. Companies are always looking for new ways to connect with customers. Add in the donation of food to local food banks and we’ve created a win – win – win!
We’ve since grown to mobilize over 600 moving companies across the US to deliver over 3.5 million pounds of food to our nation’s food banks and pantries; this is enough to provide over 3 million meals to individuals in need. With over 50 million Americans struggling with hunger, our work is only just getting started.
As Move For Hunger continues to grow, I find myself thinking about what we are really doing here. The real problem we are tackling is food waste. 40% of all food is wasted. The simple idea of rescuing food when people move is actually quite powerful when you scale it throughout an entire industry across an entire continent. We are literally changing the business processes of hundreds of small businesses and mobilizing them for a common cause. By creating a process that both moving companies and consumers want to participate in, we can guarantee its sustainability for generations to come.
If our goal, as nonprofit organizations, is actually to fix problems, then we need to begin to think more about process oriented solutions. We need more collaboration with our for-profit counterparts. We need to mobilize existing resources in a way that doesn’t detract from the bottom line. Companies won’t cut charitable initiatives that are helping increase profits.
In order to actually solve so many of the major problems our world is facing, we need to think less about our brand and our donors, and more about the sustainability and impact of the programs we put in place. If Move For Hunger was to shut its doors tomorrow, there would be hundreds of moving companies rescuing food and delivering it to those in need. If we are able to create an industry standard, then there is no need for our organization to exist, and we can move on to the next problem to be solved.
I am encouraged by the innovation I have seen in the nonprofit space over the past few years, and challenge some of our nation’s leading charitable institutions to take a step back and ask the question: Is the work we do actually fixing a problem or merely providing a short term solution? Though both create value, only one creates real change.
After seeing so much food go to waste, Adam launched Move For Hunger to mobilize relocation companies to rescue food during the move. Adam was included among Forbes 30 Under 30 in 2014 and proudly represents the NYC Hub of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. In 2011 he became a Bluhm/Helfand Social Innovation Fellow and was honored at the VH1 Do Something Awards and NBC American Giving Awards.