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  • Writer's pictureDebra A. Gill

Get Out of the Friend Zone

Move beyond serial cultivation at the drop of a hat.

If I’ve heard it once I’ve heard it dozens of times, “I spend a lot of time with donor A, but I just can’t figure out how to make the transition to talking about a contribution.”

It’s very common to be stuck in a perpetual, or serial, cultivation mode that stands in the way of asking for contributions. The question is, are you really cultivating (i.e., discussing the mission, vision, projects, and impact) or are you in the friend zone (i.e., discussing family, vacations, work, or other topics)?

This is a relationship business so there is nothing wrong with connecting about family, travel, and the like. But if this is the heart of the interaction every time – with very little focus on your organization – it is tough to move away from personal chit chat to gift solicitation.

One of my favorite tricks is to simply refer to a switching of the hat. Ideally when you are scheduling a meeting, you can be transparent that you will be “wearing your fundraising hat” so that it doesn’t feel like bait and switch when the conversation shifts to philanthropy.

If the meeting is already scheduled, you can still use the hat trick by making an early transition. “It’s so great to see you and I always enjoy our time together. Today I have my fundraising hat on and would like to spend some time talking about …

your level of interest in supporting us.”

a project that I think will really resonate with you.”

how you make your charitable giving decisions.”

The important thing is not to be anxious about making this shift. Your donors know that your job is to raise money for your organization. Some may in fact be wondering why you haven’t asked them for a contribution, and we know the number one reason donors don’t give is because they aren’t asked.

Before going into any meeting, discipline yourself to have key talking points and desired outcomes clearly defined. Not planning with intention may leave you and your donor wondering what the purpose of the meeting was and certainly won’t move either of you closer to a gift.

While I’m not suggesting you rush to the alter, being deliberate about transitioning donors from one stage to the next is essential. Move the discussion into the discovery mode with simple open-ended questions.

“Something that you and I haven’t touched on is …”

“I’m curious how you originally got involved with our organization.”

“If you had to summarize our impact in just a few words, what would they be?”

Everyone likes to be asked for their opinion. Come up with questions that are relatable and will lead to deeper communication about your organization.

“I would really like your advice, if you were in my position, how would you …

engage more donors in conversations about our mission?”

connect with new residents who likely don’t know much about us?”

communicate more effectively about our impact?”

If they are ready to be approached, set yourself up for success by setting clear expectations and making an open and honest introduction. “You and I have had several great conversations about the ABC project. It’s exciting to be at the stage where we get to talk about your personal level of involvement.” And into the solicitation you go.

When all else fails, put yourself in your donor’s shoes. How do you like to be treated when it comes to your personal giving? Do you want to be friends with the fundraisers at your charities of choice or would you prefer that they are clear and open about their goals and intentions?

It’s likely that while donors enjoy spending time with you, they may in fact be grateful that at the drop of a hat, you moved out of the friend zone and into the philanthropy zone.

Alliance Philanthropy’s philosophy is to inspire staff, volunteers, and board members for all types of not-for-profit organizations to raise funds enthusiastically and passionately - at maximum levels - in support of their mission.

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