Communications, Strategic Planning

Stefanie is one of the best salespeople I’ve ever met. She earns bonuses for her productivity and is often asked by the company she serves to lead trainings of new salespeople. She is persistent, provides great customer service, and believes in the company and the products they sell. But what makes her a superstar sales person who stands out from her peers is how effectively and creatively she uses one of the most powerful tools available to sales people and fundraisers, the personal referral.

I’ll never forget the day she cold-called me to request an appointment. She mentioned some of the other people on our campus who were her clients, several being very prominent, respected names. I thought to myself, “If these people buy products from her, I should at least hear her out.” We ended up scheduling an appointment and I became a client of Stefanie’s for several years. I purchased thousands of dollars in merchandise from her, and the lessons I learned from her in the use of referrals helped me, and now my clients, raise hundreds of millions of dollars.

Lesson #1: Sometimes, all you need is permission to use the referral’s name.

When Stefanie called me that first time, she didn’t say, “Jane said I should call you.” What she did was use names that she knew I would recognize because of their prominence in our campus community. She knew chances were high I would admire, respect, and find it impressive that they do business with her. It built instant credibility in her, a person I had never met, and created a perception of quality in my mind for the products she was selling.

As a fundraiser making a cold call or sending an introductory email, sometimes just being able to use the names of one or more well-known or prominent people from the community, the region, or the state whom (and this part is important) you know and who are donors you work with can make the difference between garnering the appointment or getting a reply. “Bob, I work with John Smith on behalf of the university. I know you know John well through your membership in the Rotary Club. Weren’t you also in a fraternity together at Alma Mater U? When we meet, he’s given me permission to tell you his personal story about our first meeting and how he re-engaged with the university. Would you have 30 minutes next Tuesday or Thursday morning for a cup of coffee?” This opening makes a cold call much warmer and will have a higher chance for success than outreach without a personal connection.

Lesson #2: Get permission to use personal stories about your other donors when you meet new prospective donors.

When Stefanie first visited me, she regaled me with stories about some of her clients. She would say something like, “Do you know Jane Smith? Oh, you do! Let me tell you about the first time I met with her.” It wasn’t overkill (who likes a name-dropper) and the few stories or anecdotes she shared were relevant and helpful to where we were in our conversation. It made our meeting feel more personal and the conversation more interesting and fun.

A good fundraiser will use (true) stories about the donors they work with as a way to build credibility, share examples, and make the conversation more engaging than just sharing a lot of statistics, information, and data. The stories mean more when they are about people your prospective donors know, but they don’t always have to be. Personal stories can help move the conversation strategically by building credibility and earning trust, planting seeds for further discussion and helping to overcome objections.

Lesson #3: Never forget to ask all your donors for referrals and for their permission to use their names and stories (without giving away any information they don’t want shared).

Stefanie would ask me for new referrals on every visit. Where she went one step further than the average salesperson is that she would bring me a name or list of names to review. Instead of me having to struggle through my mental Rolodex for a name to refer, she made it very convenient for me. Because she had asked to connect with me on LinkedIn (another great technique), she would bring a list of names from my LinkedIn network whom she had pre-qualified and wanted to meet. After I recommended a few and told her more about them, she would then ask for my permission to use my name when she contacts them. She rarely, if ever, asked me to contact them, so it was easy for me to agree because there was no follow up step on my part. She would do the work.

The top 20% of gift officers always ask for referrals. They’ll ask their donors if there are other people they know whom they believe would enjoy meeting with the gift officer. They’ll then ask if it’s ok for them to use the donors’ names when they reach out. Lastly, they’ll ask if it’s OK for them to share their giving journey without divulging the size of the gift or anything they don’t want shared. Like Stefanie, these gift officers bring a small list of names for the donors to review so that it’s easy and convenient for them.

If you follow Stefanie’s lessons in the use of referral names, you’ll easily garner more appointments, raise more money, and discover names you would never discover otherwise. Be bold asking for names and using the power of relationships, in creative and consistent ways, to open more doors and close more gifts.

Enhance donor satisfaction and engagement, while increasing the likelihood of closing future major and planned gifts. BWF can help you define viable plans, address process and procedures, and develop results-oriented donor relations strategies and standards.