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Do you ever feel frustrated, wondering, “But this work is so important! Why aren’t they donating?!”

There could be any number of reasons why they don’t donate. Perhaps it’s bad timing, or your cause is just not their passion. The reason that they don’t donate may have nothing to do with you or your work.

But what if it’s not them, it’s you? While your work may be grounded in total integrity, the presentation of that work to potential supporters, donor and funders may be derailed simply in how you are communicating it.

Presentation skills have always been a steep learning curve for me. I am fortunate to have some very blunt people in my life to guide my growth in that department, and I’ve taken a few notes on little tweaks that can make or break a fundraising pitch.

Let’s look at ten reasons why donors may not take you seriously and how you can overcome that with confidence and leadership.

1 | Filler and Fluff

There is an old adage: “If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, then baffle them with bullshit.” However donors just don’t have the bandwidth to be baffled, and more importantly, they won’t donate if they don’t understand where their money is going. Second nature to copywriting pros and speech writers, you need to be concise, accurate and persuasive.

2 | Promises

Always stay true to your word. If you say you will follow-up with more information, then follow-up with more information. Do what you say you will do. This simple golden rule goes far is fundraising.

3 | Excuses

Donors don’t come to you to hear excuses. They come to you for solutions. After all, you are the expert, and it is up to you to inspire them to invest in your solution. While it is important to give context and layout the challenges that you face (illustrating why your work is so needed in the first place), take care not to allow the conversation to devolve into a blame game. Focus on how you are fixing the problem.

4 | Body Language

We’ve heard about the science of body language for a long time. But how can you leverage it for your fundraising? Consider this from the another perspective. Is your potential donor more likely to invest in a person who appears defeated? That would be a waste of money. What if that donor feels like you aren’t hearing her concerns about giving? When there is no connection then likely, there is no donation. Confidence and connection can both be nurtured by a few small body language adjustments. Check out Amy Cuddy’s TED talk for a quick primer.

5 | Upspeak

Coupled with body language, vocal tone can play a big part in your presentation. Upspeak (also called uptalk) is when your voice gets higher at the end of your sentence so that it sounds like you are asking a question rather than making a statement. Upspeak can make you seem like you don’t know what you are talking about and detracts from a confident, investment-worthy presentation of your work.

Politicians and public speakers have this skill nailed to a T. A great (and free) way to improve your speaking ability is to hop on either Youtube or TED and listen carefully to the pros. Then practice. Record yourself, listen to how you speak and note where your vocal inflection could use a dose of confidence.

6 | Appearance

All too often, our appearance dictates the first impression that someone will have. Those first impressions can make or break an ask. This doesn’t necessarily mean shelling out your emergency fund for a Stella blazer, but if you are having trouble connecting with your potential donor, you might take an objective eye to your closet.

7 | Sorry…

In my opinion, nothing shoots you in the foot quite like “sorry.” And I don’t mean an expression of apology when you have done something wrong. I am talking about the pervasive use of “sorry” in everyday conversation. It’s up there with “like” and “um.”

Sorry for asking you a question. Sorry for interrupting you. Sorry for whatever I am about to say. Sorry for bringing this to your attention. Sorry you didn’t hear me. Sorry you misunderstood me. Sorry I have to repeat myself. Sorry it’s three o’clock. It goes on and on. You get the idea.

What does all this do when you are talking with donors, hoping they’ll support your work? In short, it makes you sound small and inconsequential. And somehow I don’t think your mission is that insignificant. Curb the apologies when talking about your work.

8 | Attention

In fundraising (and in life) the deeper the connection, the more fruitful the relationship.

Foster a more meaningful connection by nipping distraction in the bud, paying attention to the donor you are with and listening with intention. You are here to ask someone for money, and that is a big thing to ask of someone. Your potential donor couldn’t care less about the latest notification on your phone or your epic to-do list. She cares about whether you are worth her time, money and concern. Honor that by making her the center of your world for the brief time you have with her. Remember, every donor wants to feel like the most important donor you could ever possibly have.

9 | Company

You are the company you keep. This concept may seem like a no-brainer, but it is worth remembering particularly in fundraising where success is dependent on relationships.

10 | Bringing Them Back

When I notice a donor zoning out of our conversation (you know, the glazed gaze, the furrowed brow or the eyes darting about looking for an exit strategy) I check my verbal communication with a few quick questions: Am I talking too fast? Am I enunciating clearly? Am I using acronyms or industry jargon that this person may not know but doesn’t want to feel embarrassed by asking what it means? Have I focused the conversation too much on me and not on what this donor actually cares about? Any one of these can kill a conversation.

A final note about all of this. One of the most useful mantras that I learned early on from a mentor in this business is this:

“Meet them where they are at.”

If this has been helpful to you, please consider making a donation! Your contribution is deeply appreciated and supports all of the free programming at Open Rivers.

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