What is the Most Important Thing a Donor Can Give You? … It’s Not What You Think It is.

What is the most important thing a donor can give you?

If I were to ask that question at an Association of Fundraising Professionals conference, I suspect most members of the audience would respond by saying, “A big check!” If I were to pose the same question at a National Association of Charitable Gift Planners convention, participants might shout out, “A Charitable Remainder Trust!”

In other words, we tend to think that the most important or valuable thing a prospect or donor can give a charitable organization is money, and preferably lots of it.

However, do we have the wrong goal in mind?


Amy Cuddy, a psychology professor and researcher at the Harvard Business School, says that successful professionals must first earn an individual’s trust and respect. “Psychologists refer to these dimensions as warmth and competence, respectively, and ideally you want to be perceived as having both,” according to a report in the Business Insider. The article continues:

Interestingly, Cuddy says that most people, especially in a professional context, believe that competence is the more important factor. After all, they want to prove that they are smart and talented enough to handle your business.”

However, Cuddy’s research demonstrates that earning trust is more important than proving competence. She shares her findings in her book, trust-by-dobi-via-flickrPresence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. She also provides plenty of proven tips for engendering trust.

So, we see that the most important, valuable thing a prospect or donor can give you is their trust. Still not a believer? Keep reading. Cuddy’s research findings are in alignment with the studies completed by professors Adrian Sargeant and Jen Shang, of Plymouth University, who have stated:

There would appear to be a relationship between trust and a propensity to donate…. There is [also] some indication here that a relationship does exist between trust and amount donated, comparatively little increases in the former having a marked impact on the latter.”

In other words, the research demonstrates that the level of trust one has in a charity and its representatives, affects both willingness to give and the amount of giving.

Cuddy says:

If someone you’re trying to influence doesn’t trust you, you’re not going to get very far; in fact, you might even elicit suspicion because you come across as manipulative. A warm, trustworthy person who is also strong elicits admiration, but only after you’ve established trust does your strength become a gift rather than a threat.”

If you’re like most fundraising professionals, you instinctively understand the importance of establishing a trusting relationship. However, what are you doing to build and maintain them?

Here are just five helpful tips for earning and building trust with prospects and donors:

1.  Keep your promises. Tell people what you’re going to do. Then, do it. Then, demonstrate you did it.

2.  Tell donors how their gift will make a difference. This is similar to the previous tip, but focuses on your organization, not just you. Tell them how the organization will use their gift. Then, do it. Then, report on the impact the donor had. Solid stewardship is an essential part of the fundraising process.

presence-book-cover3.  Tweak your body language, behavior, and mind-set. Cuddy’s book offers tips to accomplish those things. However, there are plenty of other great resources out there as well. The important thing to remember is that honing your professional skills doesn’t just mean learning the ins and outs of fundraising; you also need to enhance your interpersonal skills.

4.  Do not dominate the conversation. The ancient Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “We have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” By engaging people and listening to them, we can learn a great deal and earn their trust. By the way, that’s how I got a second date with a woman I was once pursuing. She thought I was a thoughtful, brilliant listener; she was right; we’ve been happily married for over three decades.

5.  Do not ask for a gift. I hope I haven’t knocked you on to the floor with this tip. Yes, I certainly do want you to ask for gifts. However, I want you to do it when it’s appropriate. When you meet with a prospect for the first time, it will seldom be appropriate to ask for a gift on the spot. Instead, you’ll want to use the visit to learn about the prospect, begin building a relationship, educate the prospect, and advance the cultivation process. By acting as a genuine person rather than a hungry shark, you’ll build more trust.

Do you want to acquire more new donors?

Do you want to retain more existing donors?

Do you want to upgrade the support from more of your donors?

Do you want to get more planned gift commitments?

Do you want more major gifts?

If you want to do any of those things, spend some time learning how to build trust more effectively.

What are your favorite ways to earn the trust of prospects and donors?

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

2 Trackbacks to “What is the Most Important Thing a Donor Can Give You? … It’s Not What You Think It is.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: