Are You a Good Sales Person?

Ann Fitzgerald President AC Fitzgerald author

Ann C. Fitzgerald, President

As fundraisers, we don’t often think that we are in the sales business.  But successful fundraisers share many of the same characteristics of experienced, skilled sales people. And in many ways we have a similar goal: We are trying to convince or inspire (i.e. “sell”) donors (i.e. “customers) that our cause (i.e. “product”) is worthy of their support. So how do we adapt sales techniques to our fundraising efforts?

  1. Set goals. Your organization may already have certain financial goals but what about your personal goals as a fundraiser? Top sales people regularly revisit their goals and brainstorm on how to reach them. Goal setting should include a written plan against which you can measure your outcomes. For example, you may plan to visit five prospects each week. How many did you actually meet? What are the next steps? What opportunities exist? How many prospects did you turn into contributors?
  2. Organize your time and priorities. Sales people, like fundraisers, begin the year with zero. How you end the year is dependent on several factors but one of the most significant is you. Are you spending your time in areas that will produce the best results? Use the 80/20 rule: 80% of your gifts will come from 20% of your donors. How are you regularly cultivating the 20%?
  3. Research your prospects. You have a distinct advantage if you know something about your donors before you meet with them. Do some basic research to find out who they give to, how much they give, as well as information about their family and profession.
  4. Listen. We all like to talk but you’ll learn much more about your donors if you develop solid listening skills. When you really listen to donors, you learn about their background, motivations and interests. Entrepreneur magazine suggests one way to practice listening skills: Every time you meet a new person—at the airport, at social functions, in meetings—make it a rule not to share anything about yourself until you’ve discovered what the other person does and their interests.
  5. Develop a good “pitch.” When it comes time to ask for the “sale” (or the gift), good sales people have practiced what they are going to say. Your pitch should be persuasive and answer objections. It should also educate donors about your organization and make connections to what you’ve learned about their interests through listening to their story. Present your pitch with enthusiasm and create a good rapport with donors; this builds trust.
  6. Follow through. Be mindful of details and write up your notes from meetings, send thank you notes, and respond to donors. These are relationship-building activities that are crucial to cultivating donors and making them “friends” of your organization. Train everyone in your organization to do this.

Today’s Tip: Measuring Results

Good sales people are accustomed to measuring their results. Most have monthly, if not weekly, quotas to make. Set quantifiable goals for yourself and your team against which to measure your performance.  Goals could include: number of visits, phone calls, dollars, new gifts, and relationship-building activities.

Ask Ann

Dear Ann: We need to hire a fundraiser to visit our donors. What are the most important characteristics that we should look for in a fundraiser?

Answer: There are several characteristics that define successful fundraisers. Since this person will represent your organization to donors, hire someone with integrity and a passionate belief in your cause. A fundraiser should also be a self-starter with excellent communication skills (both oral and written), results-oriented, well organized, and have the ability to work well with a diverse range of people

Do you have a question for Ann? Send it to

Sources for Success

To learn more sales techniques and tips, read Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Red Book of Selling: 12.5 Principles of Sales Greatness.

Ann C. Fitzgerald is Founder and President of AC Fitzgerald, using her decades of experience in fundraising, management, leadership, and sales to help nonprofits build their capacity and achieve success. She is a sought-after speaker, writer, and advisor.

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