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#62 You look smart and I won’t take that away from you

Before I launch into this fortnight’s article I must report that I keep hearing this line from sales reps “You look smart and I won’t take that away from you” just before they go into the ask for the charity. Please stop doing this.

It means nothing and totally distracts from the reason they are there, and stinks of disingenuity. You may as well say “Hey, you’re really bright, give me money”. However, it does allow me to segue into the topic of this piece.

It is an observable fact that agency face-to-face fundraisers/sales reps are often hired based on their personality, looks, self-belief and hunger. A connection to the cause is a plus but, in some cases, too much passion can be perceived as a negative because they are identified as idealists who cannot ask for money.

With this in mind, what is the right balance of personality-based rapport building and charity knowledge in a fundraising interaction?

There is no argument from me that removes the importance of likeability at the start of a conversation. A face-to-facer needs to use their personality to stop a person and engage them in a way that buys them enough time to have a conversation/pitch and not walk away or slam the door when they objection handle. Without this likeability there is no support for the charity.

However, the potential donor only needs to like the fundraiser/rep not love them. If the number one reason they donated to the charity was the relationship with the fundraiser/rep they will surely cancel once the dust has settled and the realisation sinks in that they’ve agreed to give $420 a year to cause they don’t understand or agree with.

The rapport section of the conversation is also used, by good fundraisers, to discover the core values of the potential donor so that they can adapt the pitch to their needs in search of a values match. A quick side note to agencies with scripted pitches – your pitch does not allow for this and this could be why your attrition is worse than the in-house or passion-driven fundraisers.

Using this logic, surely only 20-30% of the interaction should be rapport and 70-80% charity information and values, right? Well, there are a few more factors we need to keep in mind.

Health causes such as cancer and heart disease do not need a long knowledge section because the donor already knows enough to make a decision and sometimes too much detail will demonstration to the donor the lack of solid achievements in their field over the past 50 years – to a donor this is a crime as they expect a cure for these illnesses in return for their $30 even though this is unrealistic and quite unfair.

Furthermore, evidence is showing that our donors give because they identify with the values not the exact outcomes – it is us fundraisers asking for more and more specific price points and shopping lists not the donors, they just want to join the fight against the sickness that has taken their loved ones from them.

So, using this new information, should we be spending more time on personality and less on content?

The simple answer is no. No no no no no.

Even if the condensed proposition is as straight forward as “do you hate cancer?” it is still worth investigating deeper so that you can find the reason why the donor has decided to give. A tailored pitch means you can ask for a higher gift and influence their journey to include these values. Additionally, those charities that have communicated more complex propositions and values need the fundraiser to be more specific and tell the donor how they work.

“Do you believe in human rights?” or “Do you care about the planet?” appear, at first glance to be no-brainers that appeal directly to the core values of all of us. We care about our fellow humans and we love Earth (I have all my stuff here) but we do not make a connection between us giving money and them solving a problem as easily as we do with notions of child sponsorship or research and support for those suffering with illness.

A charity with cloudier values needs a fundraiser to spend less time telling the donor how wonderful, sexy and smart they are and spend more time displaying the issues, how they impact all of us, and how the donor can make a difference.

In short, the time spent schmoozing the donor is relative to the perceived values communicated by the charity to the prospect prior to the face-to-face interaction but is never a replacement for a clear proposition.

As a charity, you need to pick a supplier that fits your preference based on your proposition, depth of public knowledge of your cause or sector and you desired outcomes. If your condensed proposition is very complex or you have not communicated it well to your desired audience prior to this campaign you might need to steer clear of the sales agents as they may not know how to sign up new donors to your cause.

If you have a very simple and well communicated proposition, you can get away with less knowledge or passion-led reps and steer towards more personality-based pitching as the donors already know to what and why they are giving.

Happy fundraising.

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