Listen Your Way to a Big Major Gift

What’s the toughest lesson to learn in major gift fundraising? To know when to shut up.listen

Here’s how to set yourself up for failure – or success with your major donor.

Just imagine: Here you are, ready to meet with a major donor prospect.

You’re getting ready to walk into her home, and you are all prepared.

You’ve got your materials, your script, your presentation all set.

And you are probably going to bomb out. Why?

Your donor doesn’t want to listen to a presentation.

She’s not interested in listening to you go on and on and on about how great your organization is and what exciting work you are doing. (!!)

She doesn’t want to listen to your Executive Director’s presentation either!

Your donor’s not really interested in anyone’s presentation. (WHAT?)

Your donor is expecting to be the one doing the talking.

She’s expecting a pleasant visit. A conversation.

She’s a VIP. She’s used to people seeking her advice, and hearing HER point of view.

She’s used to people calling on her to pay homage.

Some donors expect to be treated like VIP's and that's just fine!

Some donors expect to be treated like VIPs and that’s just fine!

There was a great article in the Chronicle of Philanthropy this week about approaching billionaires. Clearly they expect to do the talking!

You are doing reconnaissance anyway.

Your job is to hold yourself back. To ask questions. To pull out her story.

Finding out her hot buttons. Finding out what she’s most interested in. Finding out about her philanthropy.

How can you possibly ask for a gift if you don’t understand her timing, her motivations, her values, what she believes in?

You want a longer term relationship with your donor.

You want to be liked. Your donor has to like you enough to want to become friendly with you.

The best way to be liked is to be a good listener.  It’s a lost art of fundraising!

Nobody hardly listens anymore. It is a gift to someone to listen to them. You honor your donor by sitting at her feet, listening.

This is how a relationship is formed.

You are looking for a followup next step.

Your visit is wasted if you don’t end up with a new step for followup.

Otherwise you will be scrambling for a reason to get back in touch with your donor.

So it’s ok not to have all the answers in this visit. In fact, it’s actually GREAT if you can’t answer a question – then you have a reason to email, call or visit again.

You’re not trying to “sell” her anything.

Everybody thinks they are supposed to have a presentation that will pick someone up and knock ‘em over. Especially board members who go with you to call on someone.Stop-Selling

Nothing could be more incorrect!

You want a two-way conversation. You want to hear about what’s important to her.

  • Why is she interested in your cause?
  • What does she think your organization should be focusing on?
  • What does she think about this particular challenge you are facing?

You never, ever want to bore your donor!

Have you ever felt trapped in a conversation with someone who would not shut up?

Well, certainly you don’t want to make your donor feel that way!

If you are doing all the talking, you are probably boring your donors. (And being boring is the kiss of death for a fundraiser, right?

Listening is a fundamental major gift fundraising skill. And it’s so hard.

I coach people on this over and over, in my capital campaign coaching, in my workshops with board members, in my work with staff fundraisers, all the time.

And it’s such a difficult concept to master.

We all wanna talk. We all default to “talking.” Especially your CEO perhaps?

Three ways to properly approach a BIG donor to strike up a conversation:

1. Kiss the ring.

This is when you treat the donor as a big shot – and you are coming to pay homage. You’ll sit at his feet and absorb his wisdom.

 2. Advice visit.

If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, then ask for money! Advice visits are my secret key to getting in anyone’s door!

3. What are your impressions?

I have raised millions by asking donors this question. It helps me find out what is on my donor’s mind, and what she thinks about my cause.


Take the easy and fun way out with your donors by becoming an expert in listening. You’ll raise MORE MONEY!