In this post, I speak with Anne Melvin, Director of Training at Harvard’s Central Fundraising Office.
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Watch the full interview above or read the highlights below.
What is Pivoting?
AE: We’re going to talk about having conversations with difficult donors. What is pivoting?
AM: Pivoting is what you do when a donor or a prospect gives you that incredibly difficult question that you have difficulty answering. At Harvard it’s always, “why does Harvard need more money?”
Or it might be a scandal that has happened at your organization. It’s something you can’t change, you can’t do anything about, but you have to deal with. So to deal with it, you pivot.
AE: Okay, so give me an example.
AM: Pivoting is basically reframing the conversation. It’s helping the prospect see a slightly different viewpoint. You might be looking at the glass half empty, and you might be looking at it half full. So for instance at Harvard we had a situation where a fundraiser was asking a woman who had been a co-chair of an earlier reunion and had made a significant gift, if she would be a co-chair and get more women on the co-chair committee at the next reunion. And, she said, “I already did that and we only got two other women to give.” So the pivot is to say, “Two women is fabulous. In fact, that’s more than many other classes have. That’s a great base to build on.” So the donor was seeing it as not enough, and the fundraiser was showing her, actually, it’s a great place to begin.
Pivoting When Told Your Organization Has Enough Money
AE: Give us an example of what you would say when someone says, “Harvard has enough money.” What do you say to that?
AM: My first answer is, “You’re right, Harvard has a lot of money.” Now, I didn’t say, “Harvard has too much money.” I said, “Harvard has a lot of money.” And then I’ll go on with questions. One of the greatest ways to pivot is to ask questions. One of the questions might be, “how much do you think it costs to run Harvard for a year?” I’ve had prospects answer, “$300 Million.” It actually costs $4.5 billion.
When they start to see the difference between what they thought and the actuality, they start to tell themselves, “I can see this in a different light now”.
If you’re talking about a scandal, move to the future. The past is the area of blame, and the future has not been invented yet.
The ‘Yes, AND…’ Pivoting Technique
AE: What’s another pivoting technique?
AM: Another one is called the “Yes, AND…”.
So the donor says something you don’t really agree with or that you would like to get away from … you agree with what part you can, such as, “Harvard has a lot of money.” “Yes, it does AND…” The “and” allows you to move the story forward.
For instance, “Harvard has too much money” … “It has a lot of money, AND it costs XYZ amount to run the 650 buildings we have at Harvard.” You start to reframe it that way.
AE: That’s so interesting, because I actually was facilitating a board retreat once and the organization had an endowment and so the board members said, “We don’t feel like we need to need to raise money, there’s no urgency, there’s no pressure, because we have a cushion.” I said, “What do you think they say at Harvard?”
AM: There’s another technique I call expanding. Often a donor will get down in the weeds with one picayune that they don’t like. What if there has been a scandal with a particular professor? You could say, “that’s true, there has been a scandal with that one professor, and we have 100’s of other professors”.
So when they start to see the view from 10,000 feet, they start to see it’s more than just this one thing, and hopefully they can get past the objection they’ve got.
Remember the BEAT? Acronym
AE: Any parting thoughts?
AM: I suggest fundraisers remember the acronym “BEAT?”
B – Change the field of Battle. Politicians do this a lot. They are asked one question and they answer another where they are on stronger ground.
E – Expand, don’t contract the discussion. Go to the big picture.
A – is for Yes, AND…
T – is for verb Tense. Don’t talk about the past. Talk about the future. What’s going to happen in the future?
Always remember the ? at the end of BEAT. Asking questions allows you to get the donor or prospect to ask themselves the questions to get them going in the direction you want them to go.
AE: Great! This is not something you should be doing on the fly, but preparing for. Remember BEAT?!
Watch the full interview for more words of wisdom from Anne.
Now it’s your turn to join the conversation…
Have you ever met with difficult donors? How did you handle the conversation?
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