How to become a better major gift negotiator

publication date: Jun 8, 2012
author/source: Lisa MacDonald
Lisa MacDonald photoIs there a secret to securing a major gift?  I would say no, but there is a whole field of study on the psychology of persuasion. In a presentation for the international conference of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, Canadian Shaun Lynch masterfully led a roomful of fundraisers through Cialdini's Elements of Influence with the promise that the key to negotiation success is to manage a prospect's attention.

Rules of influence and fundraising

Social Proof - People tend to do what other people are doing; to determine the correct course of action, we first determine what others think is correct.  Applying this to fundraising means going after the biggest gifts first and using that as "proof" of support for the campaign/cause.

Liking - Facebook got it right with this one. Simply put, people are more likely to respond positively to people they like. When soliciting a donor, take the time to establish rapport. Encourage prospects to express what they like about the organization, and about you.

Reciprocity - We try to repay others for what we have been given. Alumni fundraising provides one example of describing future support as payback for what the organization has already given. In this context, Lynch advises to solicit for rejection, then retreat to a lower-level ask.

Scarcity - A higher value tends to be placed on those things that are less available. It is important to uncover and describe your organization's uncommon or unique features that cannot be found elsewhere. It may be to your advantage to offer exclusive naming opportunities on a competitive or time-limited basis.

Authority - People tend to defer to experts as a decision-making shortcut.  Establishing your organization's area of expertise and then communicating that to donors will only strengthen your position in any major gift negotiation.

Consistency - Once people make a choice or take a stand, they encounter personal and interpersonal pressures to behave consistently with that commitment. For example, it has been shown that people who volunteer as children are more likely to keep volunteering. Know also that once you get the first donation, people will continue to give.

Beyond solicitation

Lynch encourages the major gift fundraiser to use as many of the six elements as possible in every solicitation meeting, but the persuasive fundraiser won't stop there. Employing Shadow Negotiation strategies will also be effective in:
  • engaging a prospect who doesn't want to negotiate (power moves);
  • framing the issues so that the dynamics of the negotiation don't drown out the substance of the discussion (process moves);
  • setting the pace of the dialogue so that trust is built and the donor feels free to express concerns, opinions and alternative perspectives (appreciative moves).
From a process point of view, it is the fundraiser's responsibility to make sure the prospect perceives the short-term need to make a decision, to provide a clear deadline for making that decision and to emphasize the donor's responsibility with respect to that decision.

But in the end, philanthropy is about people.  Understanding how and why people respond when asked for money will make you more effective in helping  your donors achieve their charitable objectives.

Use the principles of influence and persuasion to fully engage your prospect in the discussion, and then employ good stewardship practices to build a sustainable, long-term relationship.

Shaun G. Lynch, CFRE is Director of Philanthropic Development for Special Olympics Québec.  Email him for more information.

Article author Lisa MacDonald is assistant editor of Hilborn's flagship newsletters, Canadian Fundraising & Philanthropy and Hilborn eNEWS. A degree in journalism and communications from Carleton University and more than 12 years of experience as a nonprofit communications professional inform her passion for and understanding of issues in this sector. Email Lisa with your ideas and comments about this article.

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