It’s Not Just What They Say, but How They Say It

To raise more money, listen carefully to your prospects and donors. They’ll give you vital insights about their philanthropic interests and ability to give.

Furthermore, they’ll give you clues about how to most effectively present to them.

Tom Hopkins, the sales guru and author of Low Profile Selling, suggests that by adapting your presentation style according to prospect preference, you’ll be far more successful.

Let me explain.

If you’re visiting with a prospect to make the case for support of a particular initiative, he may say, “I see what you mean.” That could be a clue that the prospect prefers to relate to information visually.

fennec-fox-ears-by-caninest-via-flickrSo, you would be wise to adapt your presentation to be more visual. For example, you could share a printed copy of the case for support. Or, you could show the prospect a brief video that illustrates what you’re saying. Another way to engage such a prospect is to ask her to imagine. For example, if you work for an animal shelter, you might ask, “Can you imagine how happy you’ll make dozens of puppies and kittens with your support?”

Alternatively, your prospect might say, “I hear what you’re saying.” That could indicate that she prefers getting information by listening.

In such a case, you should adapt your presentation to provide oral pictures. In other words, use descriptive words to illustrate your points. You could also offer to play a short audio recording that supports your points, perhaps a donor or beneficiary testimonial.

Still other prospects may say, “Okay, I have a feel for what you’re talking about.” Or, he may say, “I’m not sure how I feel about this project.” These individuals need to involve their sense of touch when communicating.

As a smart, donor-centered  presenter, you’ll want to give such prospects a chance to literally “feel” what you’re talking about. For example, you can let the prospect page through your case for support or brochure. If you’re going to show a short video, let the prospect hit the “play” button. If you work for a museum, invite the prospect for a hands-on, behind-the-scenes tour.

If the prospect asks questions about tax implications or expresses a need for income, you’ll want to be prepared to respond with accurate information that gets to the bottom-line without a lot of superfluous language.

For such prospects, you’ll want to clearly explain the tax implications of a gift. Or, as appropriate, what giving opportunities that might exist that can provide the donor with an income, such as a Charitable Gift Annuity. These prospects will appreciate accurate, succinct information.

Hopkins underscored the importance of listening skills when he said:

The better you listen to not just what they say, but how they say things, the better you’ll be at adapting your presentation to their individuality…. Remember, it’s the little things that make the biggest difference!”

When you meet with prospects and donors, what clues do you listen for?

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

UPDATE (November 8, 2016): Jerold Panas, at the Institute for Charitable Giving, has written a fine post (“Listening is the Most Important Skill in a Fundraiser’s Tool Box”). In the post, he outlines 25 thoughts/insights about good listening skills.

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6 Comments to “It’s Not Just What They Say, but How They Say It”

  1. Jerald Panas has been teaching the importance of listening for decades.

  2. Yes, active listening. Don’t listen to respond: listen to understand.

  3. Very good article Michael, thank you for sharing it. There is a good reason as to why we have two ears and one mouth, unfortunately too many people forget to listen carefully.

    • Michael, thank you for your kind comment. Coming from you, that means a lot to me. I also appreciate your alluding to a quote from Epictetus, one of my favorite ancient Greek philosophers: “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.”

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