I thought Richard had a great series of posts recently on how to make “the ask” and handle objections. It was really solid stuff.
Today, I want to talk about something that should happen way before considering “the ask.” That is…how well do you know what you’re selling?
This is a big deal that often gets overlooked.
Sometimes I get weird looks from Executive Directors or MGO’s when I talk to them about “knowing the product.” “We’re not selling a product, we’re trying to cure cancer,” they say. Okay, I get that, but hang with me here.
If you’re asking the donor to invest a large amount of money to ____( fill in the blank: curing cancer, building a new wing on a hospital, etc.), you have to be able to communicate exactly how the donor is going to make that happen.
You can’t do this without knowing what you are offering to the donor. Look, most donors can sniff out someone who is trying to blow smoke. I don’t care how good you are at selling something…if you don’t know what you’re selling, you won’t make the close.
Ever try to buy a new car? I have and I’ll tell you I know the difference between someone who knows all the aspects of that car and someone who’s coming in and winging it. You don’t want to be winging it.
Do you know anyone, perhaps yourself, who has tried to solicit a large gift and didn’t do their homework? You’re thinking, “Yeah, this donor loves to fund building projects, they can’t get enough of them.” So you go in with a model of the new wing and everything looks so nice, but the donor asks, “So, uh, how will this wing specifically help to serve the elderly when there is another one like this a mile away?” or “Tell me how this makes it easier for your surgeons to care for their patients when their offices are clear across the other side the building?”
Gulp!…backpedal, backpedal…aaannnnddd, you fall off a cliff.
Don’t ever get in that situation!
I’m not saying you have to be the foremost expert on what you are asking the donor to fund, but you have to know your stuff. You need to walk over to the program folks, sit down with them, understand their work and be able to intelligently talk about all they do.
Here are some practical things to help you:
- If your “program or project” is in a different location than where you are, get over there and experience it first hand. How can you really talk passionately about your work in Africa when you haven’t been there?
- Get to know the program folks. These people need to be your friends. In many non-profits we have worked with there is tension between development and program. The reason? : Because they don’t trust what the other does. Start holding presentations between departments, build personal relationships…go out to a bar after work and have drinks with your departments.
- Take program people with you on donor calls. This helps you in two ways: 1) You can have the “expert” in the room talking directly to the donor, and 2) The “expert” can see first-hand the relationship between a donor and how his program will be funded. Two very powerful things are happening here.
- Shadow folks who are working on projects.
- If possible, help work on some of these projects yourself.
You get the idea.
You can’t fake this stuff. Spend the time and energy in knowing your “product.” It will pay off in the long run and you will be better for doing the extra work.