How to Open a Fundraising Conversation

The opener is the short conversation from the time the person says “Hallo” to the time you start making the case(a link is coming). A good opener can IMO actually double your cold calling success.

Open Door

I once conducted a semi-scientific test, where it showed that a bad opener would open about 20% of all conversations and a good opener would open about 70%. And that a good opener can actually double your hit rate.  NOTE: if you have a hit rate of 0,4 members an hour (m/h) with a bad opener you can get to 0,8 m/h, but if you make 0 m/h, you will still get 0 m/h.

The objectives of an opener

The main objective MO of the opener is to get the person to pay attention to your case(a link is coming). The case is the foundation of all fundraising. The main reason a person donate is because of your case. So the correlation between how many people who hears your case and your success is obvious.

Other objectives can be:

  • Get a positive impression of the organisation.
  • Make yourself seem important.
  • Take control of the conversation(a link is coming).
  • Qualify the person(a link is coming).

The tools to open

First and foremost, your opener must be a pattern interrupt! The person is not waiting for you to call, he is preoccupied in his own thoughts so you have to break him of his current pattern. Please read about Pattern Interrupt.

Speak loud and clear.

Ask a few questions.

Don’t ask for permission to talk. You will rarely get a yes – and it devalue your cause.

Your energy level should be slightly higher than his.

Practice. It is very important that you don’t make any speaking errors in the first 30 seconds.

And remember test, test, test. How to open is very different from cause to cause, from person to person and from fundraiser to fundraiser.

The best I’ve ever used

Here is the best I’ve ever used:

Hi, this is Martin from X, the worlds largest organisation who stops Y (where Y is a very emotional hot button).

I assume you are familiar with our work.?

A site note to this opener. Note that I use the frase “the worlds largest organisation who …”. A good fundraiser knows that you should only present one, max. two, cases! The reason is that you want an emotional respond, not a logical one. If you overwhelm the person with logical facts, he can logically see that it is a good cause, but he has no emotions attached to the cause, so he places no value on it – and hence he will not donate. By saying “the worlds largest” you have gotten the fact out, that the organisation, does a lot more than precented in the case – and you can comfortable focus on a single emotional case without running into the objection(a link is coming) “Is that all you do?”.

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Pattern Interrupt

The way to change a persons state of mind, without using logic or offending the person. It is a way of using confusion to get the person out of his “every day” state of mind in to a state of mind where he actually listen to what you have to say.

Pattern Interupt

A pattern interrupt can be used as an opener and a way to dismantle a disagreement or an argument(a link is coming).

We are all occupied with our own stream of thoughts AND we can only think about ONE think at a time. If the person is thinking about, say, greedy charity CEO’s (this is a myth btw.), and you want to talk about poverty relief – you have to change the persons state of mind, preferably without using logical forcing(a link is coming).

A pattern interrupt can be as simple as a handshake, on the telephone I found this process to be the most effective:

  1. Get the persons attention.
  2. Confuse him.
  3. Talk about what you want to talk about.

That’s it!

1. Get the persons attention.

Obviously the person has to listen to you. So you have to do something so he pays attention to you.

Ways to do it is:

  • Interrupt him(a link is coming).
  • Speak louder than normal.
  • Say: “Hey”.
  • Ask an unusual question.

2. Confuse him

When you are confused, your logical mind is preoccupied with thoughts, that means that every new information processed in your unconscious mind. And your unconscious mind is much more susceptible to new and positive information.

A way to do it is:

Ask a question:

  • Do you think it is important that we stop X?
  • Will you help us with Y?
  • What do you think about Z?

It is a good idea to ask a question that leads up to the next step…

3. Talk about what you want to talk about.

Now you you got a brief confusion window to change the frame(a link is coming) of the conversation.

For example:

“I’m very happy to hear that you think it is important that we stop X. You know … some people actually says NO to that question…”

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Token Resistance and the Power of the Covert Story

When NO means YES. What to do when the person “wants to support” but said no for some obscure reason.

Covert Story
Token resistance: is a symbolic resistance, where the person actually wants to support, but give some resistance, usually a logical reason why not to support. First thing to know NEVER NEVER NEVER get in to an argument with the person about the reason – YOU are a better debater than the person, so you can always prove the person wrong and win the argument – but you will never get his support after humiliating him. Second, don’t despair, verbalized resistance can actually be a good thing, it means that the person is so invested in the cause that he talks to you. Objections can actually be buying signals!

Power of the covert story

The covert story is to be used after the Ask.

Resistance means that the reasons you’ve given to support, hasn’t been strong enough. Don’t argue about money, if a person doesn’t want support, it doesn’t matter if you ask about 20$ or 1,000$. Give the person a new reason to support. It can either be a new story (a thing the organization does) or another way his support helps. I almost always use “your economic support really does a lot of good – and your membership support give us the strengths to put pressure on politicians”.

This is a covert strategy because when you first ask for his support, the person thinks he knows the all the reasons to support, but you are actually giving a reason he didn’t know existed.

Bonus advice on how to avoid token resistance all together

This is good strategy for closing. Instead of asking for money right away, ask first if he wants to support, and then tell the covert story. If goes like this:
You: Do you want to be a supporter.
Him: Yes. (if you have the balls – you can also continue if he sais no)
You: This is great! You know that the economic site is very important when we are helping X – and(a link is coming) the fight against Y is purely  a political fight – that is why you membership is so important.
And then ask for the money.
This strategy requires a lot of skills to pull off. The reason you should be very careful with this strategy is the “Talk too much trap” where you actually turns a warm person cold with the boredom of too many words.
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Guidelines for Call Back

Perhaps the most misused tool is Telephone Fundraising is the option to set a call to “Call Back”. Don’t get me wrong – the call back option is awesome! But most new fundraisers don’t know how to use it.

Apollo 12

The problem is that most fundraisers can’t recognize a hidden “NO – I DON’T WANT TO DONATE”.

  • “I don’t have time”
  • “I don’t have money right now, call back in a month”
  • “Can you send me something”
  • “I want to check your homepage”
  • “I have to talk with my wife”
  • “Let me think about it”
  • “I just need to go over my budget”

How to solve the problem:

Simply ask: Do you want me to call you again?

The Role of Thumb: Only set a common call back to a call YOU would like to take!

In most contact project the fundraiser is only/mostly recognizes for his hit rate – this creates an incentive to hit the “Call Back” button instead of the “Not Interested” button. Please read my “Why Hit Rate Suxx” post.

Please check out The guide to Writing Great Call Back Notes.

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How to Write Great Call Back Notes to your Fellow Fundraisers

Writing great notes when you decide that a person should be called back and you put him out in the common pool, i.e. you don’t create a “private call back”.


You should always think – Will this information help the next fundraiser or just waste his and my own time.

  1. Most of the time it is only nessesary to write the date and ”TA” (try again).
    “10-10-10 – TY”
  2. Copy/paste the note from above to save time.
    (just ask the person next to you)
  3. The REASON why the person can’t speak right now is NEVER necessary.
    “She had put her two year old child in the bed that had been in the creche all day and had been a little fuzzy because she missed her mom”
    “He was at work”
    “She was busy”
    “He was doing a raid in World of Warcraft”
    “On his way out”
  4. If the child picks up the phone and parents are not home – do NOT write it. It is not an important information.
    “The child took the phone and said that her mother was at work at Jensens Bøfhus”
  5. Only write notes if you started a conversation, or if there is an important information.
  6. Write how far you came into the conversation.
    “Precented the case”
  7. Write what you talked about.
    “Talked about street dogs”
    “Talked about bullfighting”
  8. Important information.
    “His father is a member”
    “Has previously donated”
    “Knows the organisation”
  9. If you started a conversation, write your name. It seems more professional if the next fundraiser can say:
    “I can see that you spoke with my talented colleague Martin last week,”
  10. Write why the conversation ended (only if the conversation was more than 30 sec.).
    “The doorbell rang.”
    “Could not find her account information”
    “Wanted to talk to his wife”
  11. Note if you talked to a man or a woman. Use he/she or write the man/woman.
    “He said …”
    “Talked with the wife”
  12. Lost connection always means that the person hang up!

Please checkout: Guidelines for Call Back

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Using the Yes-Ladder

The Yes-Ladder is the oldest trick in the book – anyone who has just spent a little time selling has used this potent and very easy tool.
The whole point is to get the person to say yes as many times as possible before asking for a buying decision.

Using the Yes-Ladder

Here is a quick example on how to use it: 

  • Do you think Global Warming is a big threat?
  • Do you think we should stop it?
  • After what we agreed about Organization XYZ, do you think we have a good chance at combating Global Warming?
  • Do you want to donate to Organization XYZ?

The reason why this works is twofold: 

  1. The Yes-Ladder can logically persuade the person to donate. Look at the example above – since he thinks WE should stop it and he thinks Organization XYZ is the solution – the logical thing to do is to donate.
  2. Something happens in our brain then we have said YES a lot of times – for some reason we just want to continue. This also work the other way around! So it is your job as a fundraiser NEVER to get the person to say NO.

Note: this is an example; please do not use this example without modifying it. The person will feel like you are manipulating him.

Posted in Building a Case, The Front Page | Tagged , , | 160 Comments