judy Keller web picBy Judy Keller
Senior Vice President
Too often, out of concern about their organization’s fundraising and finances, Development Directors and CEOs focus on the money when they are talking to donors. I often have to remind staff that for a donor, it’s not about the money.

Donors are interested in the mission and the good things that happen when they invest in your organization. As staff, your conversations with donors should be about the impact and change your organization is making possible – not the internal concerns of finance.

As an example, a recent article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy introduced Jeffrey Walker, a private-equity investor-turned-philanthropist, who says he hates “boring thousand-person fundraising galas.”

So when he chaired the Board of the foundation that runs Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s elegant Virginia estate, Mr. Walker decided to use the founding father’s genius in marshaling people and ideas to revolutionize the organization’s fundraising and make it more democratic.  Instead of leading big fundraising events for Monticello, Mr. Walker began mimicking Mr. Jefferson’s habit of holding small, intimate dinners for influential people with common interests. He also borrowed Mr. Jefferson’s practice of holding a table-wide discussion among his dozen or so guests, rather than having people chat in groups of two or three, and he banned fundraising pitches at these “Jeffersonian Dinners.”

“I was looking for ways to connect,” Mr. Walker says. “It’s wonderful for philanthropists to get together at these dinners and be listened to, not preached at. It is a joyful, energizing experience.”

These Jeffersonian Dinners have been described in detail in a book he recently co-authored called The Generosity Network: New Transformational Tools for Successful Fundraising. But the point is a valid one for many of the organizations we serve. Here are some tips on how to be sure your conversations with donors will not become “boring thousand-person fundraising galas”:

  1. Don’t lecture. If you find yourself speaking for more than 60 seconds without the other person chiming in…stop talking.
  2. Listen. The best fundraisers ask open ended questions and then listen. They develop meaningful relationships with donors based on mutual respect and interest.
  3. Don’t glad hand. If you are not genuine in your thanks, the donor will pick up on it immediately.
  4. Bring donors together around similar interests so they are empowered and their support for your organization strengthened.
  5. The conversation should not focus on money, but what good will result from the change you seek.

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