Connecting with People

In the fundraising consulting business, like institutional development, we deal with people. If we are to deal with them effectively and successfully, we have to be able to connect with them personally. To the degree that we can make that personal connection and work to build and strengthen that connection, we are then able to create the conditions for our own success and the success of the organizations we strive to represent.

How well do you “connect with people?” Are you considered a “people person?” Are you effective in reaching and exceeding all of your fundraising goals because your team of volunteer leadership is supercharged and anxious to get out and help you open new doors and solicit significant gifts? Or, are you feeling like the team you have been given is “running on bad gasoline” because they are sputtering and spitting and unwilling to give the effort required to get things done effectively, in a timely manner?

If you are in the latter group (where many people find themselves regularly), relax, I have some good news for you. There is something you can do to change this situation. Through the years, I have learned that you cannot get something done by focusing on the desired activity, and the outcome you desire from it. That’s right—you’ll never get the volunteers to focus on making more calls (unless you put a gun to their heads).

Now that may seem odd, but if you look more closely at the way I said that, you will see what I mean. I said “you will never get them to focus on making more calls.” This is because they “are scared,” “they hate doing it,” “they don’t have time,” or any number of seemingly (to them) sufficient reasons. Unless they are hungry, lions don’t hunt for food.

To really connect with people you have to learn to listen carefully, and find out the things that are important to each person, or what is bothering each person—before you can try to move them. If you do not know what is motivating a person now, how can you effectively work to change it?

This is true with your prospect, your client, your boss, your spouse, etc. If you know what interests them, then go there and spend time drawing their conversation in that direction. Once you get them talking, simply listen, affirm and learn. If you spend this quality time early in the conversation, it will pay remarkable dividends afterwards.

Whether physically moving someone from Point A to Point B, or trying to move them to a new position in their mind, you cannot get someone to a new place unless you know where they are coming from. After you have done your diligence, and you know where this person is coming from, you are now in a position to work to achieve the desired end. Listening carefully will have enabled you to build some rapport. Now you can attempt to move this person in the right direction—not necessarily to your position, for your reasons, but to a common ground which benefits you both.

Many fundraising directors focus upon boring and difficult directives, such as: “we need to make more calls if we are going to raise more money—and you know we need to raise lots of money.” That is what got you into the fix you’re in now.

Try taking a more creative and less “heavy handed” approach and appeal to their team spirit, and their personal sense of responsibility. Explain to your leading volunteer that “you are the most important person on our team right now, and the others are looking to you for leadership. I just know if you and I can go make these ‘top two’ solicitations, the million dollars that brings us will fire up the rest of the team.”

“Furthermore, if you get them fired up, and each of them gets out asking several large prospects themselves, we are going to build the momentum that is so very essential to our turning the corner and not only reaching but exceeding our campaign goals. Isn’t it exciting Mr. Leader that with just two calls, you can hit the ‘grand slam’ that wins the game for our team?”

I always explain that fundraising campaigns are just like so many contests or athletic competitions. They feed almost exclusively on momentum. If the right things happen in the right order, success is not just present, it takes on a life of its own and grows exponentially. Consider several year’s ago, the Orange Bowl: Oklahoma’s punt return man fumbles inside the Oklahoma ten-yard line early in the game—USC recovers and scores a touchdown—and they never looked back as the rout was on—score USC 55 (Big Mo) Oklahoma 19 (No Mo).

Be sure that you (and your leaders) never underestimate the value of momentum. Big “Mo” is like having Shaquille O’Neil and Michael Jordan on your team. No “Mo” is like having them on your opponent’s team. Which one would have you more excited to get out there and “play ball” (or make calls)? Be sure to relate stories like this to your volunteer leadership so that they will take the necessary actions which will ensure that they enjoy the success they want and deserve.

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