What I learned from Coutts Private Bank

Published by Rob Woods on

David Ogilvy, a pioneer of advertising once wrote that in the ancient world… ‘When Aeschines spoke, they said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke, they said, ‘Let us march against Philip’’.

When you speak to a potential donor, or you pitch to a company, do they give you nice feedback… or do they decide to give money to save lives?

Toy SoldiersThe fundamental error I have found that most fundraisers make when preparing to meet a potential donor is they think their role is to give information. Whereas in fact, their role is to find the things, and the way to say them, that will persuade the donor to give or take action.

When I trained a group of community fundraisers from the UK charity, Action for Children, one person found this distinction so helpful that following the course he re-wrote the ten minute presentation he had been planning to give in his next church visit. The result was a 28% increase in the total funds that the congregation donated following the talk, compared to what it had given in the four previous years.

Why does it make such a lucrative shift when we change our focus from ‘how can I explain what we do?’ to ‘how can I help them want to give?’

For one thing it causes us to search for answers to different questions.

The multi-millionaires’ perspective

A couple of years ago I spoke to a philanthropy advisor from Coutts, a large private bank. Her job was to help the bank’s wealthy customers make decisions about their philanthropy. I asked her the single most important issue that affected which charities received these large gifts?

Her answer was a single word.


Note, she did not say ‘these multi-millionaires give their money based on a detailed explanation of what your charity does, and how you do it’.

But what is it that most fundraisers are most likely to talk about? From working with thousands of fundraisers from dozens of countries, I can tell you that what fundraisers talk most about to donors is what their charity does.

For example, they talk about how many calls their Helpline takes and how dedicated or well-trained the counsellors are.

I appreciate the many reasons why this happens, not least because during the early years of my career I succumbed to the same pressures and experienced the same pain – supporters who seemed interested but did not give.

Two big reasons are firstly, your charity employs lots of people whose job is to focus on and deliver on this subject (e.g. give counselling via the Helpline). This is what they are expert in and when they talk to you, they are likely to think this is what you want to know.

Secondly your donor usually asks you ‘what does your charity do?’ It is true that some also ask you about the effectiveness of this service, but if this question comes, it usually comes later (after they’re already sceptical, so you’re already losing ground).

imagesHow to increase the chances they’ll say YES

So how can we become more skilful in helping a donor believe that our service delivers great results?

Firstly, understand that effectiveness can be conveyed in many ways.

Many fundraisers become indignant and disheartened when they discover that their organisation is not currently measuring the outcomes of their service as well as they should. Don’t be surprised, instead, focus on what you can do to build bridges and help your colleagues set up robust means of measuring impact.

In Good to Great and the Social Causes, Jim Collins suggests we approach the question of demonstrating effectiveness like a trial lawyer assembling a body of evidence. Ie gather a range of different concepts, stories and facts, all of which add up to a persuasive case. Just viewing it this way has enabled many people I train to search out and notice (and practice!) many ideas that they had not previously noticed.

Obviously if there are any measurable outcomes for your beneficiaries as a result of what you do, make full use of these.

One of my clients is raising money for a specialist machine that will reduce post-surgery recovery times from seven days to one day (you go home that afternoon). Her ‘smoking gun’ (ie most emphatic concept) is to plainly state the amount of money this will save the hospital every time they operate using this machine.

If your organisation does not adequately measure the impact of your service, do not give up. Almost certainly, somewhere in the world, there is another organisation doing a service similar to yours. ‘There are no new ideas under the sun’, even if there are some things that make your version special. And somewhere out there, there will be a study published outlining the effectiveness of this as a technique.

Very often your Chief Executive presented such a rationale before seeking approval from your trustees to implement this strategy. My question is, do you know of these other studies which make the case that this strategy works? A conversation with your head of programmes or some focussed internet research should turn it up.

But statistics are not everything. They’re not even necessarily the most persuasive thing. Recognise that lots of things that are most valuable in our lives and the lives of our beneficiaries are not easily measured. If we recognise this, we’ll be less apologetic and more proactive in using other concepts which can be just as likely to help evoke a YES.

Do you take advantage of these three tactics to help convey impact?

Here are three more techniques to practise in advance of meeting the trust, company or would-be supporter:

  • Before you go into any detail about your service, point out what is so difficult or special about the problem that your beneficiaries face. Only when you have evoked this properly, will the power of your service be truly appreciated.
  • Find a classic before and after story of someone whose problem was solved thanks to your service. Practise telling it concisely, and in the right order, so that you maximise the contrast.
  • Find a quote from or story about someone with Authority on this topic e.g. a Doctor, a teacher, some respectable trust that was impressed. (See Robert Cialdini’s Influence – Science and Practice to understand the astonishing influencing power of authority).

Lastly, and most persuasive of all, become utterly convinced of the amazing impact your charity’s service makes.

Allow this to come through in the certainty in your voice and your bold choice of words. Get off the fence! As Anthony Robbins points out, when there is rapport, the person who is more certain of something, over time, influences the other.

Rob Woods

Rob Woods (@woods_rob) is an author and award-winning fundraising trainer. Initially at the NSPCC, he has been giving courses that lift financial results for eleven years. He is a tutor for the IOF Academy in the UK and his clients include CRUK, Oxfam, Tate and UNICEF. If you found this blog useful you can check out Rob’s courses, blogs and more free resources, including How to influence supporters when you speak - the six common mistakes and how to avoid them at www.brightspotfundraising.co.uk


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