As prospect development professionals, we are often called upon to leverage data to drive decisions.

Whether we are creating a predictive model or analyzing the success rate of solicitations, we know that data can and does tell a story.

However, we also recognize that humans are complex creatures, and so there is often more to the story than what the data tells us. Yet, it can be easy to fall into the trap of “data tells us this” without taking into consideration the complexity of human nature and the role it plays in development work. This can cause discord and a feeling that we are speaking two different languages. In order to have data-related discussions with our frontline fundraising colleagues, we must build mutual trust and respect to promote a willingness for meaningful, strategic conversations. Prospect development professionals must establish and maintain positive working relationships with frontline fundraisers in order to be seen and heard as a strategic partner in achieving fundraising success.

prospect development

Here are four ways to build rapport and improve communication with development staff:
  1. Put yourself in their shoes. Understanding another person’s perspective is a powerful bridge builder. For example, if you are visiting with a fundraiser about their discovery prospects, pause and think about what would make them excited about talking to a particular prospect. Perhaps the fundraiser loves pickleball and you’ve learned that the prospect frequently plays the sport. Humans are wired to connect. In this instance, pickleball acts as a connector between the fundraiser and the prospect. Being able to approach your response from another person’s point of view allows you to have a more impactful discussion because you are attuned to their needs.
  2. Employ the Socratic method. The Socratic method is a form of cooperative dialogue based on asking and answering questions. Typically, this method is used for teaching since asking questions requires the use of critical thinking skills. Therefore, the method is relevant in the world of prospect development. Asking a series of questions can assist with strategic discussions and understanding a fundraiser’s perspective. If you are unsure where to start, then try to come up with a “why” question such as “why is this prospect in solicitation?” You may think your question is too simplistic or silly but ask it anyway! You may get an unexpected response that could lead to further questions until both participants gain clarity about the prospect.
  3. Remain honest and transparent. The quickest way to gain trust is through honesty and transparency. Similarly, trust is lost through dishonesty. In the absence of information, people will make it up. Therefore, even the perception of dishonesty through a lack of information can be devastating to a team, which means it is imperative that prospect development professionals remain transparent with their processes. A simple solution is to implement, maintain, and share your organization’s relationship management policies and procedures as they demonstrate how your department supports, directs, and tracks prospect activity.
  4. Own your mistakes and weaknesses. No one enjoys being wrong. However, being authentic by acknowledging your mistakes and weaknesses cultivates trust and credibility. People don’t expect you to be perfect, but they do expect you to be open, honest, and transparent about your mistakes and weaknesses. We all want to avoid potentially embarrassing situations. If you find yourself in a situation in which you are unsure of the answer, then it is completely acceptable to say, “Let me look into this and I’ll have an answer for you shortly.”

Building rapport does not happen overnight, but you will start on the path of creating lasting, trusting relationships by following the steps described above.

At BWF, we work with prospect development professionals to solve complex problems that strengthen organizational fundraising. We’d welcome the chance to make a difference for you. It’s a privilege to help. Reach out to Jacqui Coones today to get started.