What can we learn from "being in conversation"?

This piece was originally published for the FINZ Magazine for the FINZ Changemakers Conference 2021. You can view the original article here.

As fundraisers, we spend a great deal of our lives in conversation: we conduct events, we meet one-on-one with Major Donors, we speak to new and existing supporters via the phone, we meet new individuals every day in our Face-to-Face campaigns, we advocate for our supporters to think, and act, like changemakers.




With all this time we spend in conversations, it's often useful to take a step back and look at what makes an effective fundraising conversation and see if there are any adaptations you could make, or support you could give to your team to help them have even more effective conversations with your donors.


Tele-fundraising offers a unique opportunity to better understand and study how fundraising conversations work and facilitate our fundraising goals. Tele-fundraising is both visible and at a mass scale.


I have had the pleasure of working at Public Outreach, a Tele-marketing and Face-to-Face agency working with charities from Aotearoa since 2015. Here I work with a team that manages and views more than 400,000 conversations a year. I did double-take when the team reported back that number! I realised just how incredibly invaluable the insight this team has, into donor needs, motivations and behaviours.





By treating phone as a pool of knowledge, it becomes easier for us to gain a better understanding of many key questions fundraisers often ask;

How do the best 'fundraisers in the field' directly speak to the public to engage and inspire them to get behind a cause?

Who are our supporters? What do they think, feel, need and identify with?


The special sauce ingredient to understanding both of these questions is in the ability to bottle up and replicate 'Conversational intelligence (-IQ)'. C-IQ gives us the power to influence our neurochemistry of those we converse with, even in the moment.


Yes, science is helping us with our fundraising. And neuroscientists are helping to prove, and better understand, the power of amazing conversations which fundraisers have either naturally understood or learned on the job.





Conversations are complex and powerful. Neuroscience essentially highlights how the brain processes the words that we want to hear. By having a higher level of conversational intelligence, we are better. equipped as fundraisers to fundamentally shift how we, and those that would support us, communicate.


Have you ever had that moment when you're speaking to someone and you notice them close down and you can just tell it's because of something you either said or the way you said it?

Most of us have had this experience before, but why does it happen? Conversational Intelligence theory tells us that what might have happened in this instance is that Oxytocin turned off in the brain and was instead, sprayed with Cortisol which pushes an individual into "protect-mode" and halts further ability to connect with you.


There are ways to prevent this and ways to overcome this. tactics to ensure every donor conversation is a positive one, even if the outcome today is not what you were aiming for.


The quality of your fundraising depends on the quality of the culture. supporting fundraising, the quality of relationships you can build and maintain with donors, and the quality of conversations you have.




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