One of my favorite things to do is listen to other people’s conversations. They are rich with intrigue, drama, emotion and, often, games. Jeff was telling me about overhearing the conversation of a woman who was next to him at an airport recently. She told the person on the other end of the phone that she was in a different city from the one where she actually was. Hmmm….
Conversations are interesting things. They can be so real, and yet also very shallow.
When it comes to talking to donors, we have consistently advised that the conversation needs to be authentic – that the agenda is to get to know the donors and their passions and interests, and to find a way to promote and fulfill those passions and interests.
But it is often difficult to figure out what to say, which is why this list of 26 Conversation Tips, written by Richard Brown, an Assistant Professor at NYU, is helpful. I pass them on to you to help you enrich the conversations you are having with your donors. I suggest you print this out and put it in two places – right in front of your eyes at your desk, and in whatever folder you take with you on donor visits.
- Talk about their kids, not yours.
- Avoid short answers.
- Never correct the other person.
- No matter how tired you are, never let it show. Make each person feel like he or she is your only meeting of the day.
- Observe the donor’s body language and be conscious of yours.
- Measure your opinions, but show you know something.
- If speaking to more than one person, look at everyone.
- Speak at a moderate pace.
- Ask open-ended questions to elicit dialogue.
- Don’t be afraid to talk politics, but keep strong opinions to yourself. You don’t want to offend the donor.
- Smile, display enthusiasm and show life.
- Know your industry, and know something about the donor’s industry.
- Be candid. Don’t spin. Never gossip.
- Talk about your organization’s finances, programs and plans.
- Spare the donor from talking about yourself, unless asked.
- Stay focused on the donor in front of you, not the person with soap-opera good looks who just walked in.
- Keep interested, i.e., “That’s fascinating. Tell me more.”
- “I’m sorry, I don’t understand that,” shows you are paying attention.
- Jot down occasional notes to show that what the donor just told you is important.
- Be ready to discuss current events.
- Now and then, it’s OK to show off that you read Dostoyevsky — show that you are an intelligent person.
- Unless the donor says he or she saw it, don’t mention that you saw the latest blockbuster movie.
- Bring up topics that interest the donor.
- Eliminate “Like,” “Oh my god,” and “Awesome.”
- Remember why you are meeting in the first place.
- Above all else … make the donor feel important.
In the end, helping the donors feel comfortable with you and your organization, enabling them to see how they can fulfill their vision for a hurting world through you, is your only agenda. If you keep that focus, without concern for the money, you will be successful in each of your donor conversations.