No Small Talk

It is suboptimal use small talk to start a conversation with a prospective donor or any donor.  If you want to demonstrate that you care about a person, ask them a question that encourages them to reveal something.

The answers to, “Have you lived in the area for a while?”, “What do you do for a living?”, or “It was a beautiful day, wasn’t it?” tell you nothing about what they value, who they are, or what is important to them.  If you actually care, ask a question that shows you care.

When you fail to demonstrate that you care, there is no reason for them to be interested in you.  As a result, they are likely to start looking for an exit before you have an opportunity to talk about something substantive.

Ask questions that no one else is likely to have asked.  Ensure the questions demonstrate that you truly care about your listener and think they might be an interesting person to know.  For example, “What was the best thing that happened to you in the last 24 hours?”, “What is the next big challenge you are looking forward to?”, or “What did you learn today that surprised you?”  Now you have a conversation started about something important to them.

You can keep the information flowing with a variety of follow-on questions that will reveal information about their interests, priorities, passions, etc.  As you learn more about them, you will have opportunities to share a story about your donors, clients, or mission that demonstrates that what is important to them is part of what you, your nonprofit, or your clients are doing.  As they become aware of the intersection between your activities and their interests, they will draw closer to you and your nonprofit.  They will want to know more and they will want to have a connection with your nonprofit.

By establishing the connection, you have laid a foundation for the relationship.  It is a personal relationship rather than a superficial or financial one.  You have told them that, no matter what, you value them for who they are.  Because you have shown you care about them, even if they never become a donor they will have good things to say about you and your nonprofit.  Once you have created a connection with what is important to them, you can have a more in-depth discussion.

Continuing to ask substantive questions that reveal personal information without invading their privacy will build trust.  As their trust develops, it will be natural for them to be less guarded with you.  Keep asking probing, non-invasive questions and be patient.  Over time, you will find out everything you need to know to become a trusted advisor, giving coach, and generosity mentor.

Next Step:

Start your conversations with meaningful questions

Ask followup questions that reveal their personal information without invading their privacy

Wait until you know enough about their likes, priorities, and expectations before telling any stories about your nonprofit, mission, or clients

Prepare for the next cultivation opportunity by reviewing your notes, looking for connections, and developing questions that will provide additional insights

Make notes after each conversation.  Review your notes before you talk to the person again.  Your carefully chosen questions demonstrate you care about the individual.  By making notes and reviewing your notes, you demonstrate that you care about what you learned.

It is never necessary to ask for private information.  If you have truly created a personal connection, your donor will provide you with the private information when they want you to have it.  Their private information determines their capacity to give.  Your job is to develop their will to give.  They will give to their full capacity when you have fully developed their interest, enthusiasm, trust, and engagement.

Take It Further:

Cultivate every donor for as long as you have a connection with them (even if it has been a long time since they made a gift)


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