Talk Half As Much As You Listen


As fundraisers we take a lot of meetings.  Much of our success involves getting in front of the right people, at the right time, for the right cause.

But what happens at those meetings is just as important as getting in the door.  The opportunity can still be squandered if one key fact is not remembered:  THE MEETING IS NOT ABOUT YOU!  The meeting is about the prospect.  It is about how they can change the world for the better.  It is not about you and your role in making that happen.  You are simply the conduit.

So, if the meeting isn’t about you, who do you think should be doing most of the talking?  That’s right … NOT YOU.

This is especially true at discovery visits and early cultivation meetings.  Your goal at those meetings should be to learn as much about the prospect as possible.  This information will later aid you in matching them with a project to potentially fund at your charity.  But you’re not going to be learning much if you’re doing all the talking.

Some prospects love to tell their life story (even if you don’t ask for it) and with others it’s like pulling teeth.  The key to make sure that you never dominate the conversation and always learn a lot of useful information is to have a handful of go to open ended questions that you use on a regular basis.  There are hundreds of these, but here are a few that I have used in my career with good success:

  • “Have you had a chance to take some time off this year?  Where did (do you want) to go?”
  • “What (other) charitable organizations do you support?  Why are they important to you?”
  • “What’s the best experience you’ve ever had in supporting a charity?”
  • [if meeting with a current donor] “Why do you support [charity]? How do you feel about us today?”
  • “Do you have any particular concerns you would like me to share with our executive director / board chair?”
  • And don’t forget to close with “May I suggest a next step of …”

One other key point to remember is that you don’t always have to counter with a similar experience from your life.  Yes, you want to be friendly, but the meeting is not about you, so you don’t have to share a similar story for every one that they share.  That creates an environment where you speak 50% of the time.  You ideally want to be speaking 33% of the time (or less).

So, always make sure you have a few key questions on hand to get your prospect talking.  This ensures that you maximize the meeting and really get to know them — not to tell them every tiny detail about your organization or how you become a fundraiser.