How to effectively Communicate and Persuade in a Nonprofit Environment?

You have seen it written many place before:  fundraising is, at its core, a profession based on communication. We work hard everyday to help people understand our values, our mission, and our task. More than just communicating, though, we seek to persuade. Not just to help people understand our mission but to convince them to make it their own. While communication can be a very objective task, persuasion is a very subjective concept. How we say things becomes as important as what we say.

In a sense, development is about convincing people to do things they may not otherwise do. This is true whether we are talking about a financial commitment, volunteering time, setting solicitation appointments with friends, attending meetings, etc. People rarely “self-motivate” themselves to do their absolute best. True existentialists are few and far between. It is up to us to convince our prospects, volunteers and other staff members that what we propose is the best course of action.

The simplest aspect of our message to others is communicating the specific elements that the listener needs to understand in order to act. This can take many forms. In the course of a solicitation, facts are communicated in the case for support, which comprise the items made possible through a fundraising campaign. When training a volunteer it may be the basic fundamentals of fundraising that we will later use in the course of soliciting and closing gifts. When communicating with board members the message may deal with the nature of their responsibilities, from serving on committees to meeting attendance. Whatever the setting, it is incumbent upon us to have a mastery of the facts so that we can communicate them thoroughly and efficiently.

But facts represent just the tip of the iceberg. Again, we rely on not just communication but persuasion, which is a much more subtle task. Persuasion relies on the individual becoming more invested in the mission. We must impress upon them our own sense of urgency and passion, but do so in such a way that makes their decision to become more involved seem their own. This is not mind control, or magic pixie dust. It is simply a matter of presenting the facts in a way that is positive, uplifting and compelling. Here are a few suggestions on how:

First of all, be positive. Volunteers, donors and prospects are the lifeblood of any organization. We have to make sure they know how we feel about them. Let them know that the organization’s success is their success. Thank them for their participation, both financial and otherwise. Before you present the specific points to which you hopr they will adhere, you need to make them feel as though they are a critical link in the organization’s chain of success.

Second, help them understand the significance of the work to which they are committing themselves. This is a critical point, as people are much more likely to take ownership over a worthy endeavor. This speaks directly to the objective task of communicating the facts versus the subjective point of persuasion. Certainly explaining the significance of the campaign’s goals includes the basic facts. But people are often more motivated by the subjective impact of the organization’s work. Communicating that the organization is raising funds to pay for a new MRI machine is certainly important information that your volunteers must have to make educated decisions and to advocate for your group. But letting your volunteers and prospects know that the organization will be better able to save the lives of the community’s most vulnerable members is very persuasive, and the sort of conclusion that will attract passion.

Third, assure them that the volunteer’s—and the organization’s—efforts are on track for success. Colin Powell said it best: “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” People want to know that they are part of a winning team, and that their effort will not be in vain. Surround them with other highly motivated leaders, and keep them informed of every success. When they are made to feel that the work they are doing is important, and destined for success, they will be much more receptive to the specific message you are communicating, the task you are asking them to complete or the responsibility you are asking them to bear.

If these points seem familiar, they should. These are techniques we all employ in successful solicitations: thanking a prospect for prior support; communicating the facts of the case and putting them in the most compelling context; and, letting them know they are part of a team that is heading for success. However, these same techniques will help you succeed in every conversation you have with a volunteer, donor, board member, colleague, or anyone else.

Every conversation is an opportunity to thank a volunteer for what they are doing, or complement a colleague on their professional contributions. Every conversation is an opportunity to share some compelling statistics about your organization’s work, and to present that information in a context that shows the difference your mission makes in the community. Every conversation is an opportunity to publicize the accomplishments of other volunteers, thus letting everyone know that they are part of a winning team. All of these points help in your efforts to communicate with—and more importantly, persuade—the people who help you do your work. Make these techniques the cornerstones of your conversations, and then add in the specific points relative to what you need that person to accomplish on your behalf. You will see the benefits in greater responsiveness to your communications.

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