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Emotional Intelligence in Fundraising – Part 1

Emotional Intelligence in fundraising

Fundraising is about Influence – winning people over to your point of view.

The starting point for influence in a not-for-profit setting should be a personal drive to achieve some wider social good. To be an outstandingly successful influencer and fundraiser you need to have a real desire – a passion – for that change. This drive will sustain you when you encounter challenges. At the same time, as a practical fundraiser, you know that passion has to lead to a concrete specific financial result.

In part 1 of this this blog we concentrate on the importance of framing and organising your passion or personal motivation to help you achieve the outcome you want. This ensures you can express, but aren’t overwhelmed by, your own passion or emotional commitment to the cause. It also ensures you don’t begin by assuming that other people will immediately share your passion.

Part two of the blog, next week, specifically looks at the Daniel Goleman 5-stage framework for EI and how to use that in fundraising.

People gathering around a brain

Successful influencers – focusing and sharing passion

For almost 15 years we’ve worked with and studied successful influencers. We’ve seen a range of approaches work and witnessed some outstanding examples of individuals actively engaging others in different ways. These examples include Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, ‘selling’ a challenging change of direction to a tough group of donors using a sheet of A4 paper to illustrate how little space a chicken has to live and die in. Also Giles Pegram, formerly Director of Fundraising for the NSPCC , taking just 15 minutes to inspire 1,000 people at a conference in with the story of the Full Stop campaign.

In addition, we’ve studied outside the non-profit world, assessing the approaches used by leading politicians, religious leaders and business figures. We’ve noted when they succeeded in getting their message heard and analysed how they did it. Our conclusion is that there is no single, ‘best ‘ approach. But one common characteristic of successful influencers – whatever their styles – is that they all seem to have a clear personal motivation – a passion. Not only that, they’ve shaped and refined their passion to have the greatest impact – greatest influence – on their audiences.

The range of sophisticated techniques and approaches in this book will make a significant difference to your ability to influence effectively. But even excellent technique is not enough on its own. You are the most important resource your organisation has when it comes to influence. And if you don’t believe passionately in the cause for which you are raising money, or if you can’t focus and share that passion, you won’t be a truly effective influencer.

From both our own experience and the research we carried out, we believe you’ll succeed in your ambition to actively engage donors and supporters if you are able to balance two characteristics:

  • emotional engagement- which we deal with here
  • emotional intelligence- which we deal with next week

Emotional engagement

The starting point for your motivation is your emotional engagement with the cause. This is the fuel that:

  • inspires you to greater creativity and imagination when you’re working to influence someone
  • gives you the perseverance you need when things get tough and you’re knocked back
  • prompts you to discipline and organise your thinking and feelings in order to learn and apply the techniques explored here

It’s difficult to keep trying to influence people sometimes. This is especially true if your cause is ‘unpopular’ or unattractive and you experience a lot of rejection, or seem to spend your whole time having to overcome prejudice or ignorance. (Unpopular or unattractive can mean a range of things from abortion rights in parts of the USA, to contemporary atonal music concerts in a working class estate in the UK.)

To carry on in the face of obstacles and outright rejection, you need access to the emotional energy that comes from real engagement. It’s your emotional engagement – your commitment to the cause – that will make you keep trying different approaches until you get a result. It won’t necessarily mean a 24/7, high-energy, flushed face, rushing around (there’s only so much one body can take). Emotional engagement can, in fact, be quiet, low-key and purposeful. But whether it’s high energy or quiet it needs to show in the things you say and do.

A quiet influencer

One of our influencing heroes is Giles Pegram, for 25 years the legendary Director of Fundraising at the UK’s NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children), and part of the leadership team that created the inspirational Full Stop campaign. (He’s now a successful consultant.)

Giles is essentially a quiet man. When he was raising money he didn’t wave his arms around. He spoke softly and with gentle humour. He chose his words carefully. So his emotional engagement is not of the florid kind. But he had- and has- a marvellous way of winning people over to his cause. One way he did this was through a refrain he uses when he was selling a difficult idea. He finished with, “Can we just for moment consider- what will this mean for children?” So when he asked a donor to make a significant step-up gift, he asked the donor to consider ‘what your contribution will mean for children?’ And when he asked his colleagues to undertake a challenging re-structure, he acknowledged the pain and difficulty and then asked them to reflect on “What this new structure might mean for children.”

People who work with the NSPCC – whether as volunteers or staff – are bound together by their concern for children. When Giles used his “What will it mean” refrain it was both an emotional touchstone and an intellectual benchmark. He was asking his colleagues to live up to a quiet, reflective, shared passion.

(If you’ve read our book Breakthrough Thinking, Wiley 2002 you’ll know how much we admire Full Stop. This hugely ambitious and successful campaign designed to ‘end cruelty to children’, reinvented many of the ‘rules’ of volunteer-led major campaigns.)

Communicate with yourself

To check your current level of engagement with your cause, try this test on yourself. Stand up and say your organisation’s mission out loud as if explaining to someone what it is you do. Can you remember it? Assuming you can, as you say the mission what comes to mind? What images does it conjure? How does it make you feel? If your response is “Nothing” or “Very little,” then our advice is to get a new mission. Or a new job. Or learn to communicate better with yourself by re-engaging with your organisation’s mission and the passion it should generate.

To ensure you and your team are engaged with your work, try:

  • thinking back to the first thing that attracted you to work for your current organisation – was it an experience, or the job advert, or a meeting?
  • making a list of reasons why you work for the organisation you’re influencing and fundraising on behalf of.
  • sharing your lists and comparing notes as a way of exploring the core values that bind you

Talk passionately

The most common form of communication is language. Unfortunately, charities/not-for-profits/NGOs can be worse than government bureaucrats for ‘jargon’ – lifeless and impenetrable, often technical language. If we use jargon, we’re in danger of both dampening our own passion, failing to light a spark in other people. Plutarch said, ‘The mind is a fire to be ignited not a vessel to be filled.’ But how many charities set out to ignite people in the way they talk about their cause? To capture their interest and imagination with sizzle? More often charities and those who work for them seem to speak a bizarre, convoluted language that leaves people confused or – worse still – bored. That language can also help kill our passion.

Here are some real examples of such ‘lifeless’ language killing the passion behind hugely important drives to improve the lives of the poorest people on the planet. We got them from individuals working in the organisations. Note that the organisations that produced these pieces of language do excellent work. But how engaged will people from outside the organisations be if this is what they hear? And if the starting point for passion should always be simple and direct communication – fire-lighting not fact filling – how do these compare?

  • ‘Perinatal mortality through maternal HIV transmission is 35%.’ (UNAIDS – the United Nations agency charged with dealing with the HIV/AIDS pandemic.)
  • ‘Almost 25% of the world’s under-12s are malnourished.’ (UNICEF – another UN agency, charged with protecting the interests of the world’s children.)
  • ‘Primary education is denied to 85% of female children in the developing world.’ (Save the Children Alliance – the Alliance is the international network of agencies with a goal to ensure all children receive at least a basic education.)

It seems unlikely that any of these statements has lit a fire for social justice in you or in anyone. Worse still, we’re not sure that many people would be completely clear what they actually mean. We think the very smart and very committed people who wrote those things were trying to say something along the lines of:

  • ‘One in three babies born to mothers who are HIV positive die within 6 months if the illness is passed on at birth.’
  • ‘One in four children under 12 goes to bed hungry every night – that’s almost 3 million children in sub-Saharan Africa alone.’
  • ‘Almost 3 out of 4 girls in the developing world are denied the chance to learn basic skills like reading and writing.’

Put the information across in straightforward language, and other people will certainly understand what it is you are trying to say.

As important, when you speak simply and clearly about important issues your passion should be fired – and if your passion is fired, there’s a much stronger chance your donor’s will be. Begin with passion – and then use the ideas and techniques in the book to focus and frame your passion.

Your elevator pitch

You’re probably familiar with the elevator pitch idea. The pure version may be Hollywood apocrypha but broadly this is the way it goes. As a budding film director keen to have your film made, you fix it so that you get into the elevator with the big producer on the first floor. The producer is heading for his office on the 7th floor. So you have six floors – or 30 seconds – in which to ‘sell’ your idea. Apocrypha or not we think the discipline of the elevator pitch is a good one, and we often spend time coaching fundraisers or even CEOs to help them create their own.

Here’s the framework we use. Every elevator pitch should have three elements: think, feel and do. These elements are designed to help shape your thinking and to answer some very specific questions. See below for how this works.

ElementQuestionsExample (Chair of development committee speaking to the board
ThinkWhat is it you want your audience to know or understand as a result of this communication?“We have recently heard that donor X will match any gift we can secure from a company up to $1M.”
FeelWhat emotion do you want them to have as they receive the communication. (This could be anger, concern, shame etc. But it should be a specific emotion.)“This is great news and I’m sure you share my excitement about the possibilities it creates for us to finish the capital appeal.”
DoWhat specific action do you want the listener(s) to take as a result of this message?“I need you to call all your corporate contacts and ask them to commit any funds they can in the next 6 months.”

Of course if you change the audience and the purpose you can use the same formula to create a very different kind of impact.

ElementExample
Think“Without a gift of $.5M in the next six weeks the theatre workshop will close. The 500 underprivileged children who attend the weekly drama classes will be denied access to the creative outlet that they have had for almost 5 years.”
Feel“I’m really distressed about the idea of having to break that news. And I’m sure that, like me, you would feel ashamed if a town of this size had no creative arts opportunity for children aged 5-10.”
Do“I’d like you to consider shortening the timescale we’ve discussed for the gift you’ve agreed to make.”

Next time you have to present a message to a key audience in a quick and insightful way, try using the Think, Feel, Do formula. That way you can make sure you’re clear about the outcome you want in terms of: the core information in your message and the emotional response you expect it to stimulate. That should then lead you to specific action you need.

Note that the order is specific and should be followed as far as possible:

  1. Begin with the people that you want to influence – individual or group – and be clear on exactly what action you want them to take
  2. Imagine the emotion or feeling in those people (not you!) that is most likely to move them to take that action.
  3. Finally, select and shape the information or data that you think is most likely to create that emotion – if people only knew it.

This blog draws on material from Bernard Ross’ and Clare Segal’s book The Influential Fundraiser, published by Wiley 2008.

What’s Next?

Keep reading – part two of Emotional Intelligence in Fundraising.

For practical help and advice with transforming your fundraising including major donors and capital campaigns or to find out more about influence in fundraising contact Bernard Ross, Director on 0207 978 1516 or email bernard@managementcentre.co.uk.

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Bernard Ross

About Bernard Ross

Bernard is an internationally regarded expert in strategic thinking, organisational change and personal effectiveness. He works in Europe, USA, Africa and South America. His assignments have involved a wide range...

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