Be Smart. Act Like a Beauty Queen!

I recorded the 2016 Miss USA Pageant. I know. I know. But, here’s why: My favorite part of beauty contests is the question-and-answer portion of the show. Sometimes it’s a dud. More often, it’s hilarious. Sometimes, on rare occasions, it provides wisdom. The latter was the case this year.

Chelsea Hardin, Miss Hawaii, was asked an inappropriate question. Her response provides a wonderful example for fundraisers facing uncomfortable questions from donors and prospective supporters.

Pageant judge Laura Brown asked Miss Hawaii:

If the election were held tomorrow, would you vote Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump for president, and why would you choose one over the other?”

It was an awkward moment. Regardless of which candidate she would choose, Hardin would alienate a massive portion of the audience and, possibly, the judges. So, instead, she answered without revealing who she would vote for. Rather than picking one, she outlined the qualities of an ideal candidate. Hardin said:

It doesn’t matter what gender, what we need in the United States is someone who represents those of us who don’t feel like we have a voice, those of us who want our voices heard. We need a president to push for what is right, and push for what America really needs.”

While the audience booed the question, it cheered the response.

When speaking with prospects and donors, they occasionally will ask awkward questions. In this highly-charged political season, uncomfortable questions are even more likely to arise. When this happens, it’s important to keep the following five points in mind:

  1. No one wins a debate, particularly a political one, with a prospect or donor. You might win the argument, but you’ll seldom win the heart of the individual that way.
  2. Avoid a response that risks alienating the individual. Never be confrontational.
  3. Remember not to take the question personally. You are a representative of your organization and should respond as such.
  4. Do not criticize the question or the questioner.
  5. Do provide a polite answer that diplomatically approximates a response to the question. You might even graciously turn the question back on them.

When asking appropriate questions about your organization, its services, and those it serves, your prospects and donors deserve honest, complete answers. Some of those questions might be tough and even a bit uncomfortable to hear. However, your honesty and transparency will help build trust, which will make new or continued support more likely.

On the other hand, when asked inappropriate questions having little or nothing to do with your organization, it’s best to keep Miss Hawaii’s fine example in mind. Remain poised and provide a response that is diplomatic, that addresses the question in some way, and is not offensive.

Every interaction with prospects and donors is an opportunity for you to learn about them and give them the information they need to make a decision regarding support for your organization. It is not an opportunity for you to make a personal friend or assert your own point of view

What are your personal favorite, awkward exchanges with prospects or donors?

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

2 Comments to “Be Smart. Act Like a Beauty Queen!”

  1. Great blog post! Timely, provocative, surprising and informative. Rosen shoots–and scores. (Sorry, but Gordie Howe died today.)

    • Mark, thanks for the kind comment. It’s an honor to mentioned in the same context as the legendary Gordie Howe, though I certainly don’t have any stick skills. It’s been a sad few weeks in sports. We lost Gordie, we lost Muhammad Ali, and Rick MacLeish (of Flyers Stanley Cup fame). The great ones definitely are an inspiration.

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