There is No Next Best Thing to Being There

I was in the car in downtown Philadelphia with my wife when I noticed an interesting advertisement at a bus shelter while we were stopped at a red light. It really resonated with me. The ad, promoting Citizens Bank, read:

Talk to us, because brochures are terrible listeners. Sit down with us today to find out how good banking can help you.”

The ad provided the address to two bank branches in the downtown area. The ad also provided the bank’s URL.

I thought it was a pretty good ad. It was customer focused and talked about how the bank can “help you” and how the bank is a good listener. It was folksy and friendly, using the phrase “Sit down with us…”

The customer-centered orientation of Citizens Bank is one that all nonprofit organizations should embrace. Being customer and donor centered, actually talking with people, will build stronger, lasting relationships that will result in more funds being made available for mission fulfillment.

So, what are the things that nonprofit organizations can do that are inspired by the Citizens Bank ad? Here are just eight ideas:

1. Brochures can be useful, but… At most organizations, a great deal of time, effort, and money is spent designing, writing, and printing brochures. Just this week, there was even a discussion about brochures on the listserve of the Partnership for Philanthropic Planning. Very often, brochures are written and designed by committee which means a great deal of staff resources are invested. Yes, brochures can be somewhat useful. However, actually speaking with a prospect or donor is a far more powerful way to communicate. Brochures can broadcast a message, but they can’t tell you how the reader is reacting.

Just as you invest a great deal of time and money into developing brochures, you should make the same or greater investment in polishing your presentation and listening skills. Read and attend seminars about making effective presentations. Learn about powerful sales tactics. Discover how to be a better, active listener. If you’re already a good communicator, strive to be a great one. And, remember, there’s no substitute for actually being there for your prospect or donor.

2. Invite the public to contact you. Be open to talking to the public. I mean everybody, not just big donors. Let people know your door is open. Encourage calls and visits.

Throughout the course of the year, try to get in front of or on the phone with more folks than you did last year. Take more folks on a tour of your facility. Engage more people. Even if people do not accept your invitation, they’ll still appreciate your openness.

3. Be responsive. When people do try to contact you, try to have a live person there for them. Most people hate automatic call directors. So, it’s a good idea to have a person, rather than a machine, actually answer the phone when it rings.

If you can’t come to the phone, return the caller’s message within 24 hours or have a colleague return the call. Respond to emails within 24 hours. If you can’t provide a complete response within that timeframe, send a quick message telling the person when you will get back to him. The key to being accessible is being responsive.

4. Talk less. Listen more. Epictetus, an ancient Greek philosopher, said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” It remains a valid point.

Look for opportunities to talk with prospects and donors. Then, concentrate on talking less and listening more. You’ll learn a great deal more about someone’s interests, concerns, and philanthropic motivations than you ever would by just pitching your own message.

5. Make it easy for people to contact you. In all communications, provide your contact information. Providing your organization’s general contact information is not sufficient. Provide your name and contact information. People are more likely to reach out to a specific person than they are to a faceless institution.

Whenever you communicate with people, provide your name, address, phone number, email address, and appropriate URL. Do this even in your email signature block when replying to a message. Make it easy for people to contact you in the way that is convenient for them.

6. Be professional and friendly. Being professional does not mean you must be cold and institutional when communicating with people.

When speaking with or writing to prospects or donors, you will always want to remain professional and appropriate. However, you also want to be conversational, warm, and friendly. For example, never use the royal “we” in a letter. I can’t tell you how many fundraising appeals I see that include a line like: “We are contacting you as the year comes to a close.” But, there is no “we.” If a letter is signed by one person, it should read, “I am contacting you as the year comes to a close.”

7. Be donor centered. Remember, it’s not about you or even your organization. It’s about your prospects and donors.

Your job is to help your prospects and donors fulfill their philanthropic desires by matching your organization’s needs with the donor’s wants. By helping them, you help your organization. So, be donor centered in all things.

8. Keep it simple. You don’t always need to be fancy. You don’t always need to go the expensive route. You don’t need to be wordy. Keeping your communications simple can often make them more effective.

Sometimes, less is more. 

The Citizens Bank bus-stop ad was not fancy. It was downright plain. But, its simple message conveyed tremendous meaning and helped promote the bank’s customer-centered brand. We can all benefit by following this bank’s example.

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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6 Comments to “There is No Next Best Thing to Being There”

  1. Great blog today, Michael. All eight suggestions are important and valuable advice for those who realize that a piece of paper or website cannot replace the importance of a personal relationship.

  2. Michael, enjoyed todays post can’t agree with you more that the personal touch is so important in todays impersonal society,especially to those of us who are trying to make a difference through our fundraising efforts. Great advice..

    • Gary, thank you for commenting. As we try to do more, often with fewer resources, development professionals sometimes look for shortcuts. In this electronic era, we’ve grown accustomed to shortcuts like email, texting, Facebook, etc. This is one reason that making the effort to employ good old-fashioned, high-touch relationship strategies can be so impactful. A little extra personal effort can go a long way.

  3. Really nice post Michael. And now I finally know to whom to attribute the “You have two ears and one mouth” saying. I use it all the time. :-)

    Agree with absolutely everything you’ve said. And that bus shelter sign was a great find. Thanks for sharing it.

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