Mayes Wilson & Associates

How to have a real conversation with a donor

Julie Whelan Capell |

“In sales, you don’t have to actually believe in the product or service you are hawking.  That is NOT true of fundraising, at least not if you’re doing it right!” – Tori O’Neal-McElrath 

Fundraising is not the same as sales. Some executive directors and many board members come from a background where sales are a huge part of the corporate culture.  I’ve seen this result in a situation where the donor feels like they are talking to a used car salesman.

Conversely, I was recently working with a leader who was so afraid of being “sales-ey” that she was leaving her passion behind and ended up sounding like a robot on donor calls.

So how can you get to meaningful conversations with donors?

First, you have to be a true believer.  I like the way Tori O’Neal-McElrath–respected fundraising author, consultant and NAACP Director of External Affairs.–breaks it down into three essential beliefs:

-Belief in your organization’s ability to make an impact;

-Belief in those your organization serves; and

-Belief in the donor.

I go into more detail on using these three beliefs to create a meaningful conversation in this article How to Have a REAL Conversation with a Donor on our website.

In the case of the leader I was working with who was afraid of being sales-ey, what worked for her was remembering that supporters of the organization WANT to hear her talk with passion about her work.  That it’s okay to be yourself, toot your own horn, and play up the accomplishments of your organization.  Once she got comfortable letting more of herself into the conversation, dialog became much easier and the gifts started coming in.

Have you had a conversation with a donor lately that went particularly well?  We’d like to hear about it!