This post comes from the Gravyty Fundraising Academy, a series that examines how fundraisers adapt and strategize to evolve what's possible through philanthropy.
Your guide for the Gravyty Fundraising Academy is Director of Customer Success, Lisa Alvezi. Lisa has worked with countless fundraisers across Higher Education, Health Care, and Nonprofit organizations to transform fundraising. As a former frontline fundraiser herself, her goal is to help you see better results from your fundraising efforts.
5 Principles of Great Communication
As fundraisers and advancement professionals, we don't have the option to be mediocre communicators. Instead, we need to be great communicators to steward relationships, inspire donors, and drive gifts back to our organizations. Not only do we represent ourselves with each conversation, but we also represent our organization's brand.
That's a lot to shoulder for anyone, even the most experienced of fundraisers. So how do we be the best communicators possible? Here are five principles of great communication.
1. Be Honest
What if you knew all of the donors in your portfolio like you knew your top 25-30. That would be amazing! But, it's rarely the case. If you are unfamiliar, "a little rusty with the details," or don't know that much about a donor, it's better to be honest than to make assumptions. This often happens when a fundraiser is new to a portfolio or asked to warm up a cold portfolio. Don't rely on notes to know everything about a donor – get to know them yourself, validate or discredit those notes. Remind them that they have a great relationship with your organization, but you're still getting to know them and want to represent their interests best. Honesty can unlock affinities and ideas for gift asks that you can bring to the table.
Another opportunity for honesty is when you admit your mistakes. There's a joke in fundraising about how we never seem to make mistakes with small donors – the errors seem to be saved for top donors. If the donor's name was misspelled, the gift processed incorrectly, etc., admit to the mistake. Then, explain what's being done to correct it now, and prevent anything similar in the future.
2. Keep Your Writing Simple
Some of us remember a time when communication standards had a certain formality. For better or worse, this type of communication isn't in style anymore. In general, people like written communication to emulate conversations. I don't recommend dropping all formalities. But, when you drop some of them, your writing becomes more simple, enabling the recipient to engage with it more directly.
3. Get to the Point Quickly
If you follow Gravyty's Fundraising Academy, you know that you have only 2.7 seconds to capture your audience's attention, depending on the medium. So how can you cut to the chase as quickly as possible? If you stick to the "writing simple" guideline above, you've already taken the first step by trimming the fat. Now you can lay out what this communication is all about. "Want to set up a time to chat?" "Will be in Boston. I would love to meet." There are just a couple of examples that could be subject lines or even the opening lines of emails. You can put the fine details after the ask.
4. Do Some Thinking
A lot of newer fundraisers get caught here. If a donor says yes, they generally have a rough idea of taking the next steps. But, what if a donor needs more information, time, or to talk things out in greater detail? Do you know how to approach those situations?
Pull in your manager or a seasoned colleague and help them map your route. What does a donor need to consider at different gift levels? How do you show the donor that your ask aligns with their affinity? Do you have materials for a follow-up? The more experience you have adapting donor journies to your individual donors, the less intrusive this hurdle becomes.
5. Be Available
People give to people. Donors need to know how to reach you. I'm not saying you should take calls at 2 AM or in the middle of family dinner. However, fundraisers should be comfortable messaging and responding on a donor's timeline. If that call happens to come while you are cooking dinner, send a quick text back to let them know that you will call back shortly. If that email comes in before you even wake up, respond to it early and give them some of your availability that fits into your waking life. Even if you are holding off on a response to a donor until you can speak with your manager, let them know that you received the message and when they can expect a response.
None of us are perfect communicators. But striving towards greatness is important for our donors and organizations because great communication dissolves so many barriers. So be straightforward and enjoy the process!
If you’d like to learn more about how artificial intelligence can empower your organization to have a culture of philanthropy, personally reach new donors, and inspire giving at scale, click the button below and let's connect.