Fundraise Smarter

How I Was Sold By a Fundraiser In a Single Phone Call

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Jun 8, 2015 10:00:00 AM

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I am a tough sell. A salesperson’s worst nightmare.

When I bought my last car, I put this poor salesman through the wringer. I knew exactly what I wanted, at an extraordinarily (bordering on unrealistic) good price point, and I had done my research. I knew more about this car than the engineer that designed it did, and certainly a hell of a lot more than the sales guy.

No amount of smooth-talking or rapport-building was going to make me budge.

The negotiations over price went on for weeks. But I got the deal I wanted.

So I mean it when I say it: I’m a tough sell.

That’s why even I was shocked when a pair of fundraisers managed to sell me in a single phone call.

Enter Rory Green and Maeve Strathy

I’d been interacting with Rory and Maeve for a few weeks via online discussions. They’re both extraordinarily talented fundraisers who run wonderful blogs. I could tell they were up to big things, and enjoyed watching their work.

A few weeks back, they told me about their big plan: to organize a fundraising conference unlike any other.

But they needed sponsors.

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The wrong way to sell

Let’s back up for a minute and go back to the car salesman I dealt with and the myriad things he did wrong that made me put my defenses up.

He pulled out all the car sales tricks (not a good thing).

He exaggerated the car’s benefits while minimizing its faults.

He attempted to create a false sense of urgency by pulling out this old line: “Well, if you go home and think about it tonight, it might not be here tomorrow.”

As if there are not hundreds of thousands of other suitable cars for sale in the area that I could choose from instead.

He even busted out the cheesy, forced rapport-building. When I walked into his office for the third visit/negotiation session, he was blasting my university’s fight song from his phone.



However, the absolute worst thing he did was lie. Just straight-up, bold-faced lies. Twice.

I won’t get into the details, but both instances involved setting my expectations high, then pulling out of those offers when it came to be decision time.

All this led to a lack of trust on my part and turned our relationship into an adversarial one. He was no longer someone helping me fulfill a need, but someone who was trying everything he could to get as much of my money in his pocket as possible, no matter what.

The right way to sell

Back to Rory and Maeve.

Like most people, my sales defenses go up when I know someone is asking me for money, even someone as professional and friendly as Rory and Maeve are.

But then, they worked their fundraising magic.

Rather than tell me how great their conference is going to be, what a great deal I’m getting, or pressuring me to make a decision right away, Rory began asking me questions about what I do and what I need to accomplish in my job.

Detailed questions.

Hard questions.

Questions that forced me to be really honest and clear about my goals.

Which is exactly what I did. I gave her a detailed idea of what we were trying to accomplish in the next 6 months. Who we wanted to reach and how many people we wanted to reach.

She then quickly turned around and provided me with a detailed plan of how they could help us reach those goals.

In short; they sold me in one phone call.

Why this works for major gift and corporate fundraising

The old-fashioned sales school of thought teaches you to emphasize the benefits of your product and make your customer feel as if they’ll be inadequate with this wonderful thing in their lives.

That’s not working so well anymore.

What Rory and Maeve did, which was so much more effective, was put more effort into learning about my needs, and figuring out how they could help.

And it’s exactly this strategy and mindset that makes for successful major gift fundraising. 

Seeking a large donation from an individual needn’t be limited to convincing them of a need and seeking charity. Nonprofits are fully capable of helping individuals and businesses reach their goals, often in unique ways that they could not find elsewhere.

Rather than the gift being a one-way street, this approach puts the donor and organization in a relationship in which they are fulfilling needs for each other, are accountable to each other, and collaborate together to accomplish their goals.

Now that’s a strong sell.

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Image credit: Flickr user Martin Cathrae, CC BY-SA 2.0

Topics: corporate giving, major gift fundraising,

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