Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shut Up and Get Out of Your Own Way

A dear friend, who’s working on getting a start-up funded, said that the most important thing he’s learned in dealing with potential investors is to let them do most of the talking. And Gail Perry in her blog post "Three Secrets to Major Gift Success" echoes the same thing when talking with potential donors to your small nonprofit.

You’re passionate about what you’re doing or you wouldn’t be doing it. That passion informs the way you speak about your nonprofit and its mission and that is all to the good. But if it’s also giving you a bad case of “hold that thought until I’ve finished speaking” you could be doing it – and yourself – a big un-favour.

Two Kinds of Conversants

You’ll be talking to two kinds of conversants: those who know about your nonprofit and those who don’t.

For those who know your nonprofit, you can bring up more specific things, like the current campaign or what you’re doing with social media. For those who don’t know, you can bring up your elevator speech (the very short speech outlining your mission that you can give in between floors on an elevator). Once you’re past the point where you’ve established the person you’re speaking with “gets” what you’re doing, let them have the conversational wheel. In other words, listen.

This is just as, if not more, important when talking with a donor you’re cultivating. You’ve established a relationship with this person, mainly just saying hello, knowing they aren’t yet ready for the Ask. Then sense the time is right, you make an appointment and you go in ready.

You might naturally assume that they want to hear more in-depth about the work you’re doing. And you may be wrong.

They’ve been hearing about the work you’re doing while you’ve been cultivating them, or maybe they’re already a supporter, but you’d like them to step up their investment. In either case, they are already feel like they have a stake in what you’re doing. Now’s not the time to talk about what you’d like to do with their money. Now’s the time to ask them what they think and feel about the mission, what they’re interested in, what moves them.

Ask Questions

Ask questions that expand upon their statements and provide more information about their viewpoints. Ask for examples, when appropriate. By the end of the conversation, you’ll know if it’s a good time for the Ask and you may find that this person is someone who can help lead a charge and wants to or whose ideas and experiences can provide your reasons for doing what you do with even more scope and depth. At the very least, you’ll have made a more solid connection with this person, who now knows that he or she will be heard by you.

This works in social networking, too.

And It’s “Speak With” Not “Speak To”

Keep in mind that, whether you’re talking in person or online, you’re having a conversation, which implies give and take. I try to remember this by never using “speak to” or “talk to”. To me, these terms indicate the other person is passively listening and that’s not a conversation, that’s a lecture.

It’s important to be motivated by your mission and the community it serves, but don’t let that passion overwhelm, imposing itself over a kindred passion in others. Let them share their motivations and listen. If you get out of the way and listen hard enough, you will hear the sound of stronger relationships being built.

Tool of the Week:
Better Facebook is a free plug-in for most browsers that gives you more control over what and how you see things in Facebook. Check it out here. This is a full-bodied plug-in with LOTS of options. And it's user-supported, so if you like it, drop some money in the developer's hat!

For those in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving.

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