OK, hands up…who as a major gift fundraiser, whether new or experienced, has at some point felt one (or more) of the following:
- your major gift meetings feel repetitive – having the same conversations about the same topics with similar outcomes;
- your discussion is more like an interview – with scripted questions prepared in advance geared towards securing that all-important ‘buying signal’ from which you will make an ask;
- you find yourself not listening to the responses of your questions as you ‘zone out’ thinking about the next question you are going to ask instead;
- the conversation remains too top level – you get responses to the questions you prepared for, but there’s a sense that you’ve only just touched the surface.
I have my hand up…
So, what’s happening? As fundraising professionals, we have prepared well: we’ve done our research, we’ve set our pre-meeting objectives, and we’ve mapped out our meeting plan and list of ‘killer questions’ to get the answers we need. We then follow this plan, ask good questions, and get good answers…..and yet there is still a sense that we could have done more – that we’ve somehow missed an opportunity.
My challenge is that, often, we as major gift fundraisers can approach our meetings in a too structured and organised way. Of course these are valuable skills (they are part of the mix which makes us great at what we do), but perhaps being too rigid and focussed can also be a bad thing. Ask yourself this: Does the way you currently conduct your fundraising meetings:
- allow for flexibility and curiosity (having the courage to go off course);
- operate in ‘our world’ or the ‘prospect’s world’ (do we try to steer the conversation too much); or,
- enable a free flowing conversation that is fun for both parties?
Looking at the above, I’m sure we can all think of meetings where we were too fixated on our own agenda and as a result didn’t maximise the gift, or worse still, didn’t get one at all! In my experience (and that of others with whom I’ve spoken to and worked with), the great success stories and sheer joy of fundraising come from those meetings where you have an idea of the destination (and plan for it), but also have the courage to go ‘off-piste’ and engage in a two-way conversation that uncovers your prospects’ true values, vision, and motivations.
But how can we have these free-flowing conversations, whilst also staying on task? One technique that I learnt over 15 years ago (and still use today) is the next natural question (NNQ). It’s beautifully simple…
The next time you ask one of your key opening questions, listen to the response and then ASK THE NEXT NATURAL QUESTION. Not the next question on your list, but a question that enables you to continue the conversation and to unpick the response in a natural way.
A typical (abridged) conversation using the NNQ might go like this. Fundraiser: Which other charities/causes are important to you? Prospect: I also support X cancer charity F: That’s great. I’d be interested in your experiences with them. How did you first get involved? P: I was originally approached a few years ago by a street fundraiser, and I gave to them because my father had suffered from it F: And how has your relationship developed since then? P: They invited me to see some of their research. I was so impressed that I decided to support a researcher F: That’s amazing. How is your support helping to combat X? How do they keep you informed of the impact your gift? What factors are most important to you when considering transformational gifts like this? Etc., etc.
As you can see, by using the NNQ, we can very quickly (and naturally) start to have conversations about donor motivations, their cultivation experiences, their previous giving, how they’ve been stewarded, and their philanthropic priorities (and where we fit into that). All of this will help us understand our donors and prospects more, and enable us to develop stronger cultivation and solicitation plans. By making this one simple and conscious change to the way you conduct your meetings, I hope that you will find that:
- they become a conversation rather than an interview;
- you will listen more intently to your prospects and respond accordingly;
- you are able to ask questions that might otherwise seem direct (as they are natural questions based on a previous answer);
- you can delve much deeper, uncovering thoughts, feelings, and motivations, rather than just a standard answer.
Whilst simple, it also takes some practice as we can all zone out and fall back on old habits. The key is to practice, practice, practice. So the next time you have a conversation, any conversation, with a partner, colleague or friend, use the next natural question…..it will seem strange at first, but over time you will find that you listen more, speak less, and increase your clarity and understanding. It’s a wondrous experience that will lead to some fascinating conversations. Let me know how you get on!
– Matt Mangan, Senior Consultant