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The power of every word

publication date: Apr 30, 2012
author/source: Lisa MacDonald

Laura Fredricks
has five "winning" words or phrases that have helped to improve the quality of the conversations she has with donors. She shared them during a presentation at the Association of Fundraising Professionals international conference in Vancouver. Her winning words are - Lisa MacDonald photo
  • Revisit
  • Continue the conversation
  • If you could envision
  • We value your feedback
  • To the extent that you feel comfortable
But, as Fredricks told the group, each fundraiser has to find the right words for themselves and their donors.  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. She recommends a 5-step process to help you:

Know exactly what you want

Consider each donor relationship as a mini-campaign. What is it that you are asking for, when do you want it, and why is it an appropriate gift for that donor to give to your organization?

Prepare the conversation

It's important, says Fredricks to look for patterns in the way your donor communicates.  What medium does the person use to interact with your organization and in what frequency?  Timing is important, as is the tone and formality of the conversation.

Deliver with confidence

Have a conversation, not a confrontation. Establishing good rapport may require you to practice in front of a mirror.  Consider your body language, not just verbal communication, and remember to ask questions: "I believe we agree on the following; correct me if I'm wrong."

Clarify the results

After meeting with a donor, write down what you think you heard. If necessary, clarify a negative result. How upset do they look? Can you get the donor to share more information about their response? Ask more open-ended questions instead of making assumptions.  Perhaps the conversation needs to be expanded to include more decision-makers or perhaps the donors response indicates a problem with the timing of the ask.

Plan the next move

Do you have a "tickler" system? Track your conversations by date and record donor decisions using detailed notes.  It may not be rocket science but it is a process. Conversations with donors are too important to use a standard template.

Fredricks offers one final tip for fundraisers to know they are doing the right thing:  you should be a little nervous every time. Otherwise, it's a sign you are coasting.

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. Lisa welcomes your ideas and comments about this article.

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