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MORE Fundraising for Adult Literacy Organizations: Four Thoughts in the Mind of Every Prospective Donor: What Every Volunteer Solicitor Needs to Know

Before you speak even a word, the prospective donor you're visiting is already sizing you up. She's judging your appearance, reading your body language, and, perhaps most important, wondering just how well you'll address her pressing concerns about your forthcoming request.
In my book, The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, I take pains to prepare fundraisers for the full gamut of inquiries they can expect from donors. Here, I'll drill down to the four thoughts occupying your prospect's mind the minute you walk through the door.
1. "What's in it for you?"
When a donor thinks, "What's your particular interest in asking me for money?" the underlying question is "What are your motives?" And motives mean everything.
If the person you're asking feels you're dedicating your time to a cause, that your passion is genuine, and that you truly care how the gift will be used, then the question "What's in it for you?" is laid to rest.
If on the other hand donors feel you're deriving some personal benefit from asking, he's far less likely to be interested.
2. "Have YOU given?"
One of first lessons I learned in fundraising is that it's difficult to ask if you yourself haven't contributed. Imagine if a donor asks the solicitor, "What have you given?" Does the solicitor inspire a gift by replying, "Hey, I'm giving my time—that's MY gift." That's when the would-be donor stows her wallet and says, "Sign me up for a few hours this Saturday morning."
There are no inspiring or successful answers if you haven't given generously yourself.
3. "Who else has given?"
It's natural to want to know what peers have given. No one wants to feel he's giving away the farm or giving too little.
Not long ago I heard the story of a donor who each year donated $25,000 to a favorite cause. This time around, however, he was asked for $10,000. An obvious mistake. When the group's newsletter appeared with a list of donors and amounts contributed, he saw that virtually all his peers were in the $25,000 range. The man was outraged and embarrassed. The extra $15,000 was relatively immaterial to him. What counted more was the perception of his peers.
This story holds two lessons. One, accurate records are a must. Two, by and large people want to give at the level of their friends and colleagues.
4. "Do you really believe in this cause?"
Ever notice how the best salespeople are those who believe in their products? Their enthusiasm is real—and contagious.
In the same way, a person asking for a gift must convey his or her own passion. A fundraiser needn't be flamboyant or even a skilled salesperson. But the individual asking does have to communicate his or her belief that this is a wonderful and worthy cause.
Even better is the solicitor who's personally touched by the cause. If, for instance, someone is approached for a gift by a cancer survivor whose life has been saved by the laboratory research, it's immensely powerful. The same would be true if the asker is a businesswoman who grew up in poverty. Then, thanks to a summer camp program funded by this organization, her life was turned around. How could you not be inspired to give?
When approaching prospective donors, always bear in mind that the first thing he or she judges is Y-O-U. And how you respond to these four concerns in every donor's mind will in large part dictate whether your visit will result in more than a token gift.
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