[PUBLISHER'S NOTE: Michael J. Rosen, CFRE will be presenting "How to Launch and Market a Planned Giving Program at Your Nonprofit," a webinar for the Fundraising Authority on July 25. A podcast will be available following the webinar. To learn more and to register, click HERE.]
When you speak with prospects or donors, on the telephone or in person, do you know how to make the most of the conversation? Or, do you inadvertently make some mistakes that could be keeping you from securing greater levels of support for your organization?
Below, you’ll find a number of common conversational missteps that fundraising professionals make all too often. See how many mistakes you make or avoid in a typical contact. If you manage to consistently avoid all of the potential problems that I identify, I congratulate you and encourage you to give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
On the other hand, if you find you’re making some mistakes, don’t feel too badly. Just work on improving. Know that by practicing and doing better, you’ll engage more supporters and secure larger donations than ever before.
Here’s what got me thinking about how we communicate with prospects and donors: I recently received a telephone fundraising call made on behalf of a nonprofit theatre company. My wife and I have attended the theatre company’s performances and have donated money from time to time.
The call was TERRIBLE! But, I realized that the caller’s mistakes are not blunders limited to phone campaigns. The caller’s missteps can apply to any phone or in-person conversation:
Mistake 1 — Not Being Ready. When my phone rang, I answered it and said, “Hello.” Actually, I said “hello” two or three times before the caller finally came on the line. Based on experience, I knew that I was the recipient of a telemarketing call that utilizes predictive dialing technology. I was annoyed that I had to wait for the caller, even for just a second or two. Instead, he should have been ready and waiting for me.
When a prospect or donor is ready to talk to you, be ready to talk to him. If a supporter calls you, recognize that the call is not an interruption of your work; it is your work. While speaking with the person, look-up her record and quickly familiarize yourself with it.
If you are the one initiating the contact, prepare yourself in advance. Review the person’s record. If his name is difficult to pronounce, practice saying it. Know what you want to accomplish during the conversation.
Be ready. Stay focused and do not let yourself be distracted.
Mistake 2 — Not Obeying the Law. At the beginning of the phone conversation, the caller did not identify himself as a “professional solicitor,” as required by Pennsylvania law. While it’s possible I missed the disclosure statement, the caller should have been sure to mention his status and the name of the company employing him. And he should have done it in a clear fashion.
While a nonprofit organization’s fundraising staff does not have to identify themselves as “professional solicitors,” there are other laws that must be followed. For example, unless the organization is exempt, it must be registered to solicit in every state in which it is going to solicit. It’s not enough simply to register in one’s home state.
Comply with the law and make sure your organization does so as well.
Mistake 3 — Plowing Ahead. After introducing himself and mentioning the name of the theatre company, the caller plowed ahead with his pitch. He did not ask for my permission to proceed.
When calling a prospect or donor, greet her and request her permission to speak asking something like, “I’d like to speak with you for a few moments, is that ok?”
There are a number of potential benefits to asking permission to speak. First, rather than metaphorically barging into someone’s home or office, you’re seeking permission to enter. That’s just good manners.
Second, by asking permission to speak, you’ll distinguish your call from most “junk” calls someone will receive.
Third, by asking permission to speak, you give the other person a dimension of control that will make her feel more comfortable and at ease. In other words, she’ll be more receptive to what comes next.
Fourth, if you’ve called at a truly bad time, the person will not be receptive to the call. So, why plow ahead? At best, he’ll be distracted, or he might even become annoyed. Instead, if you ask permission to speak, you’ll find out if the person is able to focus on your conversation or not. If not, you can arrange an appointment to call back or visit at a more convenient time. And, when you do contact the person again, he’ll not only be receptive, he’ll appreciate your flexibility and follow-up.
My mother was right. Good manners are important.
Practice good manners.