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3 Mistakes You Make When You Meet Prospects

Resource Center - Foundation

By Michael J. Rosen, CFRE

 If you’re like most fundraising professionals, you make three costly mistakes whenever you meet with prospects and donors.

That insight comes from Robert Fogal, PhD, ACFRE, CAP, founder and principal of Fogal Associates and creator of StyleWise™. Below, Fogal identifies those three common mistakes and shares his ideas for how you can avoid making them.

In addition, Fogal will share further advice in his seminar “Achieving Effective Interpersonal Relations: How to Lead Others by Managing Ourselves” at the AFP International Fundraising Conference (Baltimore, March 29-31, 2015).

Fogal will also lead a Spring 2015 Program involving two six-hour workshops and five one-hour individual coaching sessions to help fundraising professionals benefit from the StyleWise™ system. The StyleWise™ Program balances conceptual learning with practical application so you can be “wise” about knowing and using your “style” of personality. Fogal designed the program to help you more effectively motivate donors.

So, what’s the thinking behind this and what are the three mistakes you’re probably making now? Here’s what Fogal tells us:

The comment on the evaluation form for the AFP chapter presentation on person-centered communication went like this:

“Maybe I’ve been in the industry longer than most (30 years), but I feel that a good development officer has already found this out by hard knocks or is very intuitive on their [sic] own.”

There’s a lot of truth in that statement. And that’s how our field operated for most of the 20th century. (One wag suggested that the reason why we ask for “X” years of experience in job postings is that we want candidates to have made most of their mistakes on someone else’s payroll.)

Most organizations, however, no longer allow employees to learn primarily through hard knocks. It takes too much time, and is too costly. Yet, we all know (supposedly) that effective relationships, which take time, lead to the gifts most meaningful to both the donor and the organization.

So, caught in a difficult situation, we too often commit cardinal errors in relationship building.

1. We don’t listen very carefully to prospects because we talk too much.

We’ve known for decades how easy it is to overwhelm someone in a conversation — especially when we’re nervous or stressed, or super enthusiastic. The old saw is true — the person who talks the least is the one who manages the conversation. But, more important than controlling the conversation is the reality that when we talk too much, we communicate that what the other person has to say isn’t important.

I am acquainted with some fundraisers who rightfully advocate how the case for support is central to successful fundraising. Their problem, however, is that they overwhelm prospects by reciting the case — the whole thing, sometimes — in their eagerness to interpret their causes.

This leads me to the second mistake.

2. We don’t listen very carefully to prospects because we don’t know what to listen for.

Most fundraisers I know are good at accumulating data about prospects’ families, community involvements, interests, and more. In addition, prospect research adds to this storehouse of information.

However, good listening goes beyond information gathering to grasp how people’s brains function. That may sound bizarre, but neuroscience is discovering (among many other things) how people’s mental preferences, often referred to as their hard-wiring, inform how they learn and how they make decisions. That’s important to relationship building. Here are some examples:

  • Does the prospect talk about what he experienced, or does he express “gut instincts”?
  • Does the prospect like things that are practical and useful, or does she enjoy ideas for their own sake?

In another vein:

  • Do you hear the prospect speaking in analytic and logical terms, or in ways that express empathy and sensitivity?
  • Does your prospect affirm strong principles, emphasizing what for her is “the truth,” or is she more likely to be tactful and considerate of others’ feelings, even if she has to bend her own values somewhat?

These kinds of questions take us to the work we have to do to fully engage prospects.

3. We don’t connect very well with prospects because we don’t know how to express our mission in the ways that are most meaningful to them.

When we “hear” the information provided by the above kinds of questions, we can articulate a case in terms that are most meaningful to a prospect and that can result in more substantial gifts.

In the above questions, the first pair contrasts how people take in information. The people that recount past experience and like things practical and useful will respond to a case that is more concrete, specific and present-oriented. The contrasting style of learning that relies on “gut instincts” and likes to explore novel ideas appreciates more a future-oriented, big-picture case.

The second pair of questions focuses on decision-making. A prospect who is logical, analytical and prefers abstract standards and principles bases decisions on goals, objectives, metrics, and well-reasoned arguments. In contrast, a prospect who expresses sympathy for others and resonates with people-oriented values responds more to how a case responds to people’s needs and how outcomes will affect people.

The dynamics of all these processes depend primarily on fundraisers being fully aware of their own communication styles and how they influence others. Stating the obvious, it’s easy to relate to others who are like us. Relating to those who are different, though, requires a high level of self-awareness linked to well-developed skills in self-management.

We can intentionally nurture our self-awareness, and we can cultivate self-management through practice. With such professional development, we don’t have to depend on years of hard knocks to learn person-centered communication that grows authentic philanthropic relationships that will generate more support for our organizations.

That’s what Bob Fogal and Michael Rosen say… What do you say?

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