Fundraising Tip: Ditch the Pitch

by Steve Yastrow

A friend of mine, who is on the board of a local charity, once gave this reason for turning down a lunch invitation from me: “I have an appointment with a potential big donor, and I’m going to meet with him and deliver my shpiel.”

I almost told my friend (but didn’t) that this was a sorry excuse for missing lunch with me, since he would most likely be wasting his time.

Why did I think this?

Because a “shpiel,” which is just a nice Jewish word for a sales pitch, is a very ineffective way to persuade someone to give money to a cause.

Leave your shpiel at home. Nobody wants to hear a sales pitch. Do you? When was the last time a hard sell worked on you? When was the last time you enjoyed hearing someone’s sales pitch? When was the last time someone “convinced” you to do something?

Your donors don’t want to hear sales pitches. More importantly, they are usually not persuaded by sales pitches. If you deliver a sales pitch and walk away with a check, you have succeeded in spite of your pitch, not because of it.

Why sales pitches don’t work

Every one of your donors is unique, and every one of them has a unique reason for giving. More importantly, every donor believes that he is unique, and that his reasons for giving are unique. If an individual donor is on the receiving end of a pre-scripted sales pitch, he will feel as if the pitch was written for someone else, not for him. The odds that a pre-conceived sales pitch will be right for a given donor at a given moment are about one in a billion.

If you want to connect with a donor, and walk away with a check, you need to identify her reasons for giving. Your sales pitch summarizes your reasons that she should give. As Aristotle said, “the fool tells me his reasons. The wise man persuades me with my own.”

Ditch the Pitch

If you want to improve your fundraising effectiveness, ditch the pitch. Tear up your sales pitch, and replace it with something much more effective: an improvised conversation.

Real conversations are unscripted, unfolding in the moment. What each person says, at any point in time, is informed by what was said before. When you ditch the pitch and improvise a conversation, you are able to create an experience for the donor that is informed by what you learn from him during that conversation. This makes the experience much more interesting and relevant for him.

You are already an awesome improviser

Some people rely on a sales pitch as a crutch because they don’t feel like they are able to improvise a persuasive conversation. But improvising is actually much more natural for human beings that delivering a sales pitch is.

Your days are already filled with improvisation. Every conversation you have at work or with friends, every time you navigate the aisles of a grocery store, every time you play a game with a child, you are improvising. Every hour of our lives is different than the hour that preceded it, and we use our skills of improvisation to navigate our ever-changing, unpredictable world.

How to Ditch the Pitch

My new book, Ditch the Pitch, outlines six Ditch the Pitch Habits that can help you develop the fluency to abandon your sales pitches and instead create fresh, spontaneous persuasive conversations.

Here are the six Ditch the Pitch Habits:

Think Input Before Output

  • In a conversation with a donor, let everything you say or do be informed by what you hear and observe.

Size Up the Scene

  • As you listen and observe, take stock of your potential donor’s character and situation to understand what this particular donor’s reasons for giving may be.

Create a Series of “Yeses”

  • A conversation only moves forward if both parties continually agree to let it move forward. Always find something to say “yes” to as you speak with your donor, avoiding the words “no” and “but.”

Explore and Heighten

  • As you engage your potential donor, look for ways to take the conversation to a higher level. Explore to find what your donor really cares about and then heighten by discussing why these things are important.

Focus the Conversation on Your Customer

  • Resist the temptation to talk about your organization. Instead, have a conversation that is mostly about the donor.

Don’t Rush the Story

  • Your donor won’t be ready to hear your ideas as fast as you come up with them. Let the story emerge through your conversation, at a pace your donor can accept.

Each Monday for the next six weeks, eJewishPhilanthropy.com will publish a series of articles featuring the six Ditch the Pitch Habits outlined above. If you practice these habits, you will improve your ability to persuade by ditching the pitch and, most importantly, your organization will thrive and be more capable of doing its good work in the world.

For one week starting tomorrow, from January 14th through January 21st, amazon.com is offering a special $3 discount on Ditch the Pitch. eJewishPhilanthropy readers can use this link to take advantage of this discount. For more information about Steve Yastrow and Ditch the Pitch, please visit www.yastrow.com.