Top 2 cringeworthy things some fundraisers say to major donor prospects (and what they might want to say instead)

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Greg Warner is CEO and Founder of MarketSmart, a revolutionary marketing software and services firm that helps nonprofits raise more for less. In 2012 Greg coined the phrase “Engagement Fundraising” to encapsulate his breakthrough fundraising formula for achieving extraordinary results. Using their own innovative strategies and technologies, MarketSmart helps fundraisers around the world zero in on the donors most ready to support their organizations and institutions with major and legacy gifts.

1. “I’d like to meet you to update you / tell you what we do / tell you what we’ve been doing, etc.”

I’ve had fundraisers approach me this way. It’s all about them and their organization. I guess they figure they’ll ‘wow’ donor prospects into giving because they and their organization are so awesome. Yuck!

Most major donor prospects are not looking for an update. They’re looking for a fit. They’re wondering, “What’s in it for me? Does this align with my values, my life story, and my interests?”

They don’t want to listen to you. They want you to listen to them.

They’re probably starved for attention and hopeful that you’ll take interest in them and why they care.

Deep down, they really just want someone to help them find meaning in their lives through giving and that doesn’t begin with an update. It begins with listening. Will you be that someone? Will you listen?

Instead, why not say?: 

“Your support has been so very much appreciated so we were curious about why you care and we’d love to hear more about you, your story, and your interests.”


2. “Did you get the information / letter / report / proposal I sent?”

Fundraisers tell me over and over that they get requests for information. So they fulfill those request promptly. But when they reach out to follow-up, they get rebuffed. Quite often the donor prospects say they never received the information or seem to have forgotten requesting it altogether.

Here’s why this happens (and it’s not because they’re busy):

  • First, they probably don’t see the value in building a deeper relationship with you …yet, and might even be afraid that you are only after their money. So, if they don’t trust you yet, they’ll do what’s in their best interests and is quite natural for anyone in their position. They’ll turn you away or pretend that they never received the information.
  • Plus, that question is all about you. YOU want to know if they got the information. Why should they care about what you want at this stage of the relationship? What will they gain for themselves by answering positively? Not much so, of course, they answer negatively. Even though you did, indeed, send them some information recently, you still need to focus squarely on them, not the stuff you sent. Focusing on them gets you right back in the groove again— building a relationship. It makes your outreach all about the fact that you can deliver value in line with what they already told you. Focusing on the stuff you sent only makes your outreach all about you, your needs and the transaction you hope will soon follow.
  • And, lastly, if you ask a “yes” or “no” question, you’ll most likely get a “no”. So don’t do that! Instead, ask open-ended questions that elicit their passions, needs, interests and their life story again. Don’t worry about the fact that you already discussed that. And don’t worry about the information you sent. You’ll get to that later IF you get them into the right mindset again.

Instead, try saying:

“I’m following up to briefly review what we discussed during our last call/visit and to hear your thoughts about what I sent you in the mail. Do you remember telling me that…?” Then go right into recounting the major points you learned about them in the last discussion. Be sure to recount what you heard about why they care, their interests and how they’d like to find meaning in their lives through giving.


Related Posts:

>>Blog post: Why your job is really about developing heroes, not dollars
>>eBook: Words That Work II

10 responses to “Top 2 cringeworthy things some fundraisers say to major donor prospects (and what they might want to say instead)”

  1. Sandra Gamboias says:

    Excellent! Simple and to the point and so true!

  2. Good post, Greg. Really useful and much appreciated.

  3. Pete Hutton says:

    One word! Guilty! I’ve committed by egregious errors…time and again. I’m getting better at it, thanks to you, Greg, and others for reminding me. So much appreciated. Pete

  4. Debi says:

    Wow! I write phone scripts to help callers and this has inspired me to totally revamp our approach. Thank you so much for this thoughtful and helpful post!

  5. Susan Perkins says:

    I just shared this blog with a few colleagues. I did so even before reading it because I knew it would be worthwhile, and it was. Thanks for “telling it like it is”!

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