When I was a young fundraiser, it delighted me to contradict the stereotype of the fundraiser as a gregarious glad-hander. My "secret weapon" was that I was a very good listener.
And so, when my colleague Andrea Kihlstedt recently showed me her system of Asking Styles, it helped me understand my strength. In the Asking Styles lexicon I'm a Kindred Spirit—an intuitive introvert. I am good at sitting back and listening. I'm a keen observer. And I feel strongly about the causes I work on. I'm not, perhaps, the kind of person people think about as the quintessential solicitor, but it turned out that I was good at it.
Now I have shifted from being a staff fundraiser to being a fundraising coach. Andrea's Asking Styles equip me to help a wider range of people find the courage to ask. Her simple system has proved to be helpful to almost everyone.
So I decided to ask Andrea some questions about Asking Styles and share her answers with you.
Paul Jolly: We often worry a good bit about knowing the donor's style so we can prepare a presentation that will suit him or her. How does your work on Asking Styles help us understand the type of presentation that will best suit our donors? Aren't they really the ones we need to attend to?
Andrea Kihlstedt: I've found that the harder we try to adapt ourselves to someone else's style, the more stilted and awkward the conversation. The most effective solicitations are genuine discussions in which people are willing to reveal themselves. And it turns out that the more we can be ourselves, the more we will be able to follow our donors' cues—adapting our presentations to match what they need. A bit paradoxical, I know, like many things in life.
Paul Jolly: I have run into many organizations where there is one person on the board who has the reputation as "the fundraiser." Usually it is someone with a lot of charisma and a thick skin. Being able to point to "the fund raiser" lets the other board members off the hook—the quiet, thoughtful, more introverted types can excuse themselves from soliciting gifts because they don't think they have the personality for it. How can you persuade everyone that they have a role in fundraising?
Andrea Kihlstedt: I've realized that people are right to have concerns. If they aren't naturally "real salespeople," no amount of training is going to make them that. But that's far from the whole story.
Whether you are an introvert or extrovert, analytic or intuitive, you can ask in a powerful and effective way. Some people are better listeners; others light up a conversation. Some are masters of facts and data; others prefer simple big ideas. Some quiet people are powerfully compelling when they share why they care. Others are more talkative and goal oriented.
Having a simple system of asking styles so that people can see the power in their own styles helps each person—whether staff or board—find the courage to ask in the way that suits him or her best.
Paul Jolly: My clients often want to know, "When is the right time to ask for a gift?" The textbook answer is "Ask when you know 'the four rights': the right solicitor, the right amount, the right project, and the right timing." Does the Asking Styles framework offer any wisdom about when to ask?
Andrea Kihlstedt: We've learned that some people are more inclined to "look before they leap" and others are inclined to believe that "he who hesitates is lost." So while you should look at the "four rights," you should also consider the temperament of the people doing the asking. Kindred Spirits like you, Paul, are more inclined to hold back until they are quite sure they'll get a gift. Kindred Spirits tend to be conflict averse and worry a good bit about not wanting to put a donor who is not ready to give in the uncomfortable position of having to say "no." However, to use the Asking Styles lexicon, Go-Getters and Rainmakers—the intrepid extroverts that they are—worry much less about "no." They tend to see it as just one more step toward "yes." So they're willing to ask earlier and more often.
Paul Jolly: You taught me that inviting donors to review drafts of plans for the organization's future is a powerful way of strengthening their sense of ownership and is likely to lead to larger gift. I've used that process at many organizations, and it has been very helpful. But some people are uncomfortable with this strategy and would rather refine and polish the plans before sharing them with a donor. Is that a matter of the solicitor's style?
Andrea Kihlstedt: Yes, some people are more comfortable with process than others. For example, the people we refer to as Mission Controllers—the analytic introverts among us—would rather present plans that are fully conceived and have ample facts and data to back them up. To them, presenting something in its formative state seems "half-baked." But give the same early stage plans to Go-Getters or Kindred Spirits, and they'll be happy to use them to stimulate a lively conversation about the open possibilities.
Paul Jolly: One final question. Is fundraising something that anyone can do, if they become comfortable with their own style?
Andrea Kihlstedt: I am convinced that anyone can be a successful fundraiser as long as they are fully committed to the cause. Understanding how to ask in the way that suits them best will help many people find the courage to get out and ask. But without a real and personal commitment to the cause, even the most skilled solicitor is likely to fall short.
Paul Jolly: Thank you, Andrea. I still remember my delight when I took the assessment on the Asking Matters Web site and learned that I am a Kindred Spirit. It was a big "aha" moment.
Andrea Kihlstedt conceived the concept of Asking Styles and developed it in the context of Asking Matters with her partner, Brian Saber. The Web site www.askingmatters.com features a brief assessment to help people determine their personal asking styles. Andrea is a writer, coach, and speaker specializing in individual giving.
Paul Jolly (www.jumpstartgrowth.com) is a fundraising coach and strategist who helps small and medium-sized organizations strengthen their relationships with their top donors. He has been a fundraiser for 25 years and lives in the Washington, D.C., area.
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