People are more interactive than they have ever been, but are we losing the art of conversation? Rupert Carlo of HOME Fundraising shares his views on the importance of one-on-one dialogue and his tips for having successful fundraising conversations.
In an increasingly interactive world, it seems that we interact with one another less and less. The art of conversation – of truly connecting with one another – is at risk, and yet nothing could be more important for fundraising.
Technological developments may drive innovative new giving channels, contactless payment solutions and fuel dynamic social media campaigns, but little enables charities to provide real engagement and connect with supporters like a one-on-one conversation. A discussion can create the foundations for a long and committed relationship. And the best conversations will last in the memory for years to come.
Here are five tips for a successful fundraising conversation:
1. Know what a successful conversation is
You can only judge whether something is successful if you know what you are looking to achieve. Even as a fundraiser, this isn’t necessarily about getting a donation. For me, it’s the genuine belief that every conversation matters and the desire to build a real connection with the people I meet; to leave them with a positive feeling about the experience and the charity’s work.
I want to know that the people I talk with will end up knowing more about the charity’s work, understanding its importance and the needs of beneficiaries. This means sharing my passion for the cause, but also being compassionate towards supporters and charity beneficiaries alike.
Look for that ‘penny drop’ moment – when you can see that you’ve said something that will stay with them, that you’ve made a strong connection, that the conversation and the charity’s work will not be forgotten. If I’ve made that connection, I know that supporters will be more inclined to engage with the charity’s work and to donate, whether that is now or in the future.
2. Don’t fear the ask
While a successful conversation doesn’t have to result in a donation, don’t be ashamed of asking people to help great causes. That’s what fundraising is all about after all. There may be times when someone shoots you down right at the start and it’s not appropriate to continue. But always try to introduce an ask at a natural, relevant point in the conversation. Often this is a case of sensing when the time is right and suggesting a donation type or level appropriate to the supporter.
Years ago, I was fundraising on behalf of Sense. I had a great conversation with an older man and he said he wanted to donate. I wanted to be sure that this was right. He said his wife had Alzheimer’s and I couldn’t help wondering whether he would want to support a charity in that field. He explained that when he was just seven, Helen Keller – who was both blind and deaf – had come to give a speech at his school. This had been one of the most inspiring moments of his life. He now felt he had the chance to help people like her. He was so enthused about donating, and that was infectious.
When speaking with someone elderly, I find it helpful to think about my grandparents and imagine how I’d want them to be treated and act accordingly. We mustn’t make assumptions about people because of their age, but this might mean scaling back the ask, or leaving it out altogether.
Over the last year, we’ve introduced more extensive training to help our fundraisers have confidence in the way they deal with elderly and vulnerable people, which can be a broad spectrum. The bottom line is that if anyone seems particularly vulnerable and it doesn't feel right to ask for funds, you’ve got to listen to your gut. Don’t go through with it. If you’ve got a clear set of principles you stick to, you’ll find it much easier to follow them.
3. Be present – really listen and engage
To have a successful conversation, you need to dedicate yourself to that moment, really focus on the person you’re talking with; their response, actions and body language. Take time to listen to what supporters say, reacting to them as individuals and steering away from pre-programmed responses.
All too often we try and multi-task, but the fact is that people see through this. To truly connect with someone, give them the respect they deserve, be present, really listen to what they say about what moves them and then respond honestly and openly.
4. Manners matter – always be polite
I know it should go without saying, but always be polite and do what you can to ensure the conversation is a positive experience. How can you build a connection with someone unless you are polite and respectful? The more polite you are, the more people realise that you care and that makes it easier for people to relate to you.
Of course, if someone clearly doesn’t want to talk, then don’t go on. Politely close the conversation and thank them for their time. For me, this means leaving a thank you card with everyone I've spoken to face to face; something that gives them the opportunity to find out more about the charity or donate in their own time, as well as to give any feedback about the fundraising experience.
5. Believe in what you do
For a long time, I wasn’t confident about telling others that I’m a professional fundraiser. My work was frowned upon by my family. They didn’t understand why I would want to choose this career path.
It’s only as I've been able to talk about some of the amazing campaigns I've worked on and the wonderful people I've met, and shown how I can help people connect with good causes in a fulfilling way (whether or not they choose to donate), that I’ve been able to help my friends and family members understand why I love being a fundraiser.
This includes a conversation I had with a woman while working on a Barnardo’s campaign. I was completing her donation form when, out of nowhere, she broke down. She told me that as a child she’d been abused, and that this was the first time she’d told anyone about this before. The conversation we’d had about the importance of Barnardo’s work had triggered this outpouring of emotion. I felt incredibly privileged that I’d been able to connect her with the charity and that she’d shared this moment with me.
It’s moments like this that affirm what we do; why we fundraise. What started out for me as a part-time job at university led to a career working with causes I feel passionately about. I now lead five regional fundraising offices, working to inspire and motivate both fundraisers and regional management teams, helping them to develop.
So, be proud of the fantastic job you do. This will help you engage more confidently and passionately in your conversations with supporters.
Rupert Carlo is divisional fundraising manager at HOME Fundraising, the largest commercial employer of fundraisers in the UK and Europe, and the market leader in the UK door-to-door fundraising market.