Friendly Selling Techniques That Will Move Your Donors

Khaled Allen
Khaled Allen


“Have a minute to save a life?”

Everyone dreads the canvassers who wait in the middle of the street and call you down to press you for donations. Most people make a point of avoiding eye contact and pretending to be on their phones. It’s not that we don’t want to help, but we don’t like that kind of high-pressure fundraising.

When fundraising one-on-one, how can you get people’s attention with a more effective touch? Here are some pointers on fundraising from the new approach to selling, according to the book To Sell is Human, by Daniel H. Pink.

Pay Attention

With the Internet just a smartphone away, you can answer any question you have and do your own shopping with the tap of a screen. You don’t need a salesman.

Nonprofit fundraising has the same issue. People don’t need your help in finding a nonprofit or a cause to support. But they do need some help in finding the right one to connect to.

It’s well known that we buy from people we know, like, and trust. We also support people within our tribe. So your goal in any fundraising interaction shouldn’t be to convince or persuade right away, it should be to connect with your donors.

Here are a few ways to do that right now:

  • Mirroring: Watch any couple having a really connected conversation. You’ll notice them copying each other’s body language and even word choice. In a one-on-one, listen to the word choice of your potential donor, and adjust your speech to reflect it. On your marketing copy, think about how your ideal donor would speak or think. Don’t overdo it; a few words here or there, in the context of your own unique communication style, is plenty.
  • Listen more than you talk: Listening allows you to attune to your potential donor so that you can come at them with the most effective strategies, and it also shows that you actually care about what’s important to them in how they contribute to your cause. That builds trust and connection.

Ask Great Questions

Instead of taking the lead on persuading your donors, see if you can get them to convince themselves to take out their credit cards.

Most donors expect to be attacked with demands for funds and declarations of how great your cause is. Catch them off guard with some friendly selling questions. Instead of acting like the know-it-all, ask they what they would do, how they would best like to contribute to the cause you are championing, and specifically:

  • Ask open-ended questions: These are questions that force your potential donor to think. If they have any desire to donate, the right open-ended questions will get them to convince themselves to actually do it. If not, their answers will be much more useful to you in your next pitch than a simple yes or no.
  • Ask why, a lot: If you have a toddler, you are painfully familiar with the stream of ‘why’s that follow any unwanted answer. You have probably even found yourself admitting that you don’t actually have a good reason for why your kid can’t run around outside in his underwear. Well, it turns out that “why” is an excellent question for getting people to clarify their reasons to themselves. Use it. (Caution: don’t overdo this, it will be as annoying as your toddler).

Example questions:

  1. “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being ready right now, how ready are you to donate?” Follow up with, “Why isn’t that number lower?”
  2. “I understand your concerns with our approach. Can you explain why you would donate to a cause similar ours?”
  3. “What information can I provide you to help you make your decision?” (Not “donate to us.” You’re just trying to help them decide faster).

Set the Right Frames

One friendly selling technique that can help your potential donors see their way to a donation is through the correct framing. A frame sets a particular way of seeing a situation. With the right frame, you can get donors to highlight positives or make a favorable comparison.

Here’s a great example. Studies have shown that simply telling donors they are among the top in terms of donations will cause them to give more than they would otherwise. Simply by labeling your donors as excellent supporters, they will live up to that label.

Another useful frame for fundraising is the potential frame. This means emphasizing what your nonprofit is capable of doing, talking about your possibility, more than just what you have accomplished. People get more excited by possibilities than they do about proven track records and will often overestimate future performance compared to what’s been accomplished.

To use this friendly selling tactic in your fundraising messaging, use words and phrases that emphasize future growth or potential to make a big change. You can (and should) still demonstrate your viability with previous successes, just don’t dwell on them. Use them to show how things in the future will be even more amazing.

Provide a Roadmap

Don’t force your donors to figure out their own way to your donation button. Make it clear what has to happen for the next step to occur.

Even if you are just reaching out, provide everyone you talk to with the following in clear and simple terms:

  • What exactly you want. If you are asking for a donation, specify the amount.
  • When you’d like it by. Provide a date.
  • Where they can go to make it happen. The clearer a roadmap you can provide, the better.

When they get where you want them, make sure it’s painfully obvious what they need to do or what they need to click.

If you’re interested in more of Daniel Pink’s psychology-based approach to sales and business, check out this Harvard business Review webinar or this interview:

You don’t have to be aggressive to raise funds. In fact, friendly selling, focusing on helping, connection, and clarity will win you more donations than a persistent, high-pressure ask.

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