I’m sure you’ve been on those Zoom meetings when it looked like the person was talking to you, but you knew they were reading from a script. Even if the person reads the script well, it just feels different and a bit robotic.

I suppose newscasters and others who read from teleprompters for a living can do it and sound authentic, but for most of us non-pros, scripts have a deadening effect. I’ve often wondered why.

Never Use a Script When Asking for a Campaign Gift

Reading from a script or spouting something you’ve memorized is certainly cleaner — no ums and ahs. No pauses and hesitations. And the words are carefully crafted. But most of the time when a solicitor is reading from a script they don’t connect. And, of course, connection is what good solicitation is all about.

People who don’t have a lot of experience soliciting gifts are often nervous and when they do ask for a gift, they are inclined to over prepare. They write out their case for support. They plan their script down to the last period. And even if they intend not to read it when they talk to the donor, it turns out to be very difficult for them to give it up when they are soliciting a donor. It becomes a crutch.

This problem is exacerbated on Zoom, when people think they can hide the fact that they’re reading a script.

And while they can hold the script off camera, when they’re reading from it, their inner robot takes over and rather than focusing fully on the donor, they focus on the script.

An Alternative to Using “Robotic” Scripts

In a recent Toolkit peer learning group, this challenge was on clear display. One of the participants was getting ready to solicit a donor and he used the Zoom meeting to practice.

This gentleman was the organization’s long-time Executive Director. His knowledge and understanding of the organization was deep and thorough. He could talk cogently and compellingly about his organization in his sleep.

But when he started his practice session, I could see him pick up his script and start reading. About two sentences in, I felt my eyes glaze over and I could sense other people losing interest too. So I said:

Jim, take your script and put it away. Don’t leave it on your desk. Put it out of your reach. Now, start again. And don’t start with your elevator pitch. Instead, start by asking your donor a question.

Jim tried again. Here’s a short summary of the way his conversation went:

Jim:  Dave, did you have a chance to read the material I sent?

Dave:  Yes, I did.

Jim:  What do you think of our plans?

Dave:  I think they’re great and I have a few questions.

From that point on, Jim and Dave embarked on a conversation sparked by Dave’s many questions. Jim didn’t have to tell Dave lots of information he didn’t need. Instead, he could focus specifically on what Dave wanted to know.

And once Dave’s questions were answered, Jim asked him to consider a gift. Easy-peasy.

Asking Questions Steers Donor Conversations

If Jim had stuck with his script, he would have spent his time describing what Jim thought was important when in fact, what he needed to address was what Dave thought was important.

It’s a simple idea really. When you solicit a major gift, your goal is to guide the donor through a conversation driven by the donor’s interests and curiosity. And if you do that well, you help them talk themselves into making a gift.

3 Simple Steps to Solicit a Gift with Authenticity

If writing a script isn’t the best way to prepare to solicit a gift, how should you prepare?

First, review everything you know about the donor:

  • What is their giving pattern?
  • How do they usually make decisions?
  • What is their relationship with your organization?

Second, write out two or three questions you might ask that donor. They should be questions that are appropriate and relevant:

  • Why do they give to your organization?
  • How does your organization fit in with their other giving?
  • Do they read the material you sent and if so, what they think?

Third, be prepared to respond to the following three questions your donor will want answers to:

  1. What are you trying to accomplish?
  2. Where will the money go?
  3. How can I help?

Conversations Should Center Around Your Donor

When you solicit a gift, your job is to help your donors make the difference in the world they wish to see.

Remember, your donor’s interests are at the heart of the conversation and a prepared script won’t help you put them there. Worse still, it will make you sound like a robot — and that’s a recipe for failure.


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