people talking
We often hear from major gift officers that it’s so hard to get a meeting with a donor. They also say that they need more training on how to actually talk to a donor once they get into a meeting.
We find that most MGOs are fine sending notes, or emailing updates to their donors to report back on impact, but when it comes to actual voice communication or face-to-face communication, things get complicated and difficult.
Richard and I believe you can solve this problem. But it takes practice and repetition, along with a basic understanding of who your donor is. This is serious stuff. If you cannot verbally communicate effectively with your donors, you will not gain their trust or confidence. You will be ineffective.
Here are some tips for you to communicate better with your donors over the phone and in person.

  1. Understand that you are the voice of inspiration to your donors. This is a key point for you to embrace. Donors want to be inspired. You are the bridge between donors’ passions and interests and the difference they want to make in meeting a real need. This means that not only are you real and truthful in your communications with donors, but you show your own passion for the mission. Think about it – who wants to say “YES” to someone who has no passion? No one.
  2. Know your donors. You cannot communicate effectively with your donors if you don’t understand who they really are. There are nuances with every donor. You need to know those nuances. What time of day is best to contact a certain donor? You should know. How does she like to be communicated with? What is happening in her life right now that affects what you say or do with that donor? These are all important things to know. You can’t know this if you are only checking in on a donor once per year.
  3. Create or refresh your “donor questions.” I think it’s good for you to have a list of potential questions that you would ask donors, written out on your desk at all times. If you already do this, take some time to refresh those questions. These questions will help you when you are on the phone with a donor. They help you when you are trying to get a meeting. I recommend that you close your door or go to a quiet place and start writing down as many questions as you can about what you want to know about a donor, how you would ask to meet them, etc. Consider all the ways to overcome objections and just write them all down. Then categorize them: “Getting to know donor questions,” “Trying to get a meeting questions,” “Objection questions” and “next step questions.”
  4. Practice a conversation on the phone. Do some role-play phone conversations with a colleague, but actually do it on the phone. I know that seems weird, but it helps you communicate without seeing the other person’s facial expressions. The practice objective is to get a donor to agree to a meeting. Then after the practice, ask your colleague what you could have done better. Keep doing this until you feel comfortable. Think of it as creating muscle memory with your mouth!
  5. Practice face-to-face listening. I think the hardest thing for MGOs to do is really listen to a donor. You have your own agenda going into a face-to-face meeting; you’re nervous, and you may have a tendency for over-talking. That is understandable. So I like to tell MGOs to practice listening. Sit with a colleague. Ask a question, and then just listen. Respond to him and tell him what you just heard coming out of his mouth. Do this over and over until you develop your listening skills and can focus on the other person. This will put you way ahead of the game with a donor. Our culture is so accustomed to moving from one thing to the next and not paying attention. If you can pay attention to a donor, you will grab them.

Effective communication with a donor – knowing what to say, when to say it and how to listen – is key to being a successful MGO. It takes hard work and practice. Don’t be caught off guard with what to say to a donor. Don’t get caught not hearing what the donor just said to you. Paying attention to your communication with donors will endear you to them.