Monday, 21 September 2015

Do the same principles apply to sales and fundraising? Or not...?

I recently heard of a fundraiser being described as ‘too sales-like in their approach’ and it made me think. This fundraiser has always over-achieved when it comes to targets and is seemingly a good fundraiser, so is a sales approach really a problem? Do the same principle apply to sales and fundraising?

I always thought that sales. marketing and PR were very closely aligned to fundraising. In fact, it took me seeking a new job in order to move to Scotland to realise what I was doing as an ‘External Projects Officer’ (whatever that might mean), and what I thought was 'marketing', was actually corporate fundraising.

So, I thought I’d investigate what the top principals of sales were, and these seem to be the most important:

1.    Sales is all about building relationships.

Yup, fundraising is all about relationship building too. People give to people and it might be the project leader or academic, or the beneficiary of the charity that encourages the gift, but whoever makes the ask needs to have built a relationship with the donor. It may have taken half an hour, it might have taken years, but a good fundraiser will know when the time is right to ask for the gift (and who should ask), and that is about the fundraiser and donor developing an understanding of one another and a mutual trust and respect.

2.    Selling is about more listening than talking (but be sure to ask questions).

Yes yes yes. This is hard for us effervescent fundraisers but hugely important. You can’t build the relationship without listening and you certainly won’t be able to gain an understanding of what the prospect is interested in supporting if you don’t listen carefully and take note. This doesn’t mean sitting silently, but asking probing questions in order to hear and understand the donor’s motivations. It needs to be a two way conversation - a relationship cannot be built otherwise, but I would probably go so far as to apply the Pareto (80/20) law to this one: if someone looks like the want to say something, be quiet!

 3. Consumers buy products and services that benefit them. 

Sort of. Donors will support projects and ideas that will benefit areas of their interest, so in a roundabout way  it will benefit  them as it will make them HAPPY. So I’m going a big fat YES for this one.

 4. Credibility is dependent on trust and expertise.

A donor MUST be sure that your organisation is both trustworthy and the best place they can achieve their desired result (even if it is a result that you have suggested to them after matching their interests to your own fundraising projects). Unless a donor is certain that their money will be spent in the right way on the right project, they will not give a gift. 

 5. Sell the results: paint a picture.  

Well this is the equivalent of the importance of telling a story in fundraising, which is imperative. What is the vision? What is the impact? And what can the donor enable with their hard earned money?

 6. Sort out the people who don’t want what you sell and eliminate.

I couldn’t find 'research' hiding anywhere and then this made an appearance! Oh, how we like to talk about sophisticated methods, pyramids and gift tables, but this is most definitely what we mean. So what couldn’t I find listed in the various principles of selling?

Believe in your product

I have always been enthusiastic about what it is that I am asking people to support. I couldn’t do it otherwise and if I didn’t believe that what I was telling people was true, or if I didn’t think that it would really make a difference, my job would be a lot harder (and I would question why I was bothering). Passion for your cause is key. You need to believe that what you have to offer is the best possible opportunity for someone to make a difference, If you don’t believe that, how will they?


We all know that we need to thank, thank, thank, thank and thank again. This part of the stewardship of our donors but also ensures that we can move the fundraising cycle back in the cultivation mode. So perhaps sales people are thinking of their ‘sale’ (or ask) s their final move, not one in a long journey? It isn’t a far sighted approach. But perhaps that is then the big difference?

So, essentially what I have discovered through my very superficial research (and more substantial life experience),  is that an effective sales process is about sharing your company’s talents and strengths, and connecting powerfully with those who are a strong fit to your work in terms of values, approach, style and outcomes. I would conclude that this is necessary in fundraising too.

In sales and fundraising, it is also important to be open, honest, and transparent about who you and your organisation are, and what you deliver, along with serving as an effective listener, an excellent relationship builder and a solver of problems. This will help you to achieve the necessary fundraising targets and goals as well as engaging effectively with prospects and developing trusting relationships.

BUT as you are a fundraiser, not a salesperson, DON’T forget that you need to believe in your organisation, and/or your projects, and don’t forget to say thank you. Again and again and again.


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