James Mueller donor conversations

Wondering what to do about your fundraising? Talk to your donors.

Every fundraiser that I’ve talked with is experiencing a lot of stress.  Most anticipate a drop in contributions in the coming months.  And most are wondering what they can do.

My simple advice is:  Talk to your donors.

Your donors care about your cause.  And they believe in you.  That’s why they give.  Think about it.  Their charitable gifts give meaning to their lives.  They are investing in their values through you.  And most will welcome a conversation.  It gives them something positive to focus on.

So, don’t send another email, pick up the phone.

It is important to stay emotionally in touch when physical distancing is a reality.  Use this time to show you care about them and their opinions.

I am working with several clients right now on donor-centered connection strategies.  And I’d be happy to help you.

Be Authentically You

When reaching out, it’s most important to be authentically you.  People respond to that.  If it feels awkward, write a few notes to yourself.  There is a bit of science to it.  Prepare before the call.  Ask yourself:  What is important to this person?  What might they like to share? What could I share that’s relevant to their interests?  Don’t over plan the conversation.  Three points of discussion are usually sufficient—as long as they are the carefully considered three points.

Be a Good Listener

When you ask a question, listen, really listen, be present.  Don’t drive the conversation forward.  When you really listen, relevant caring questions will come to mind, and a conversational cadence will take over.  Still, respect their time and don’t overstay your welcome.

Be Flexible

Be flexible and follow a thread of conversation.  Start with connecting personally.  Ask how they and their loved ones are doing.  Share a bit about what you are experiencing—but be brief and stay positive.  Talk about what you appreciate about them and their support. Talk about what is working.  And if it feels right, ask what they think donors would like to hear.  And for a select few, ask what they think about your ideas of how to proceed with your program.  Overall, remember your responsibility as a messenger of hope and resolve.

Though I recommend a soft fundraising appeal during this period of crisis, if you need to talk about their gift or their pledge, don’t shy away from it.  But wait for the conversation to warm up first.  Transition to the gift-conversation by first talking about the value of their past giving, about the impact and importance of their support.  As things progress, you could say, “I know these are challenging times, but I would be remiss if I didn’t ask.  Have you thought about your gift this spring?”  Know your options and be prepared to offer alternatives—whether extending the payment period, delaying the payment, paying over time, or some other option.  Whatever the case, be prepared, be respectful, and be honest.

In my next blog I will talk about the importance and power of using well-constructed surveys during these weeks of sheltering in place.  The old adage holds true:  ask people for money and you will get advice.  But ask them for advice and you will get money.  And some great ideas!

AUTHOR - James Mueller

Jim Mueller is president of James Mueller & Associates LLC (JMA), a national consulting firm that provides services in the areas of organizational development, governance, and philanthropy. Follow Jim on LinkedIn.