WHAT THE FUNDRAISING
21: How to Become a Magnet When You Speak and Fundraise with Heather Sager
“Everybody has the ability to show up in what I call a more magnetic way, but we’re unwilling to elevate our awareness for how we show up right now.”
– Heather Sager
In this episode of What the Fundraising Podcast…
I talk to the amazing Heather Sager, she’s a coach, speaker, trainer, and host of the top-rated podcast, The Heather Sager Show. Heather’s spoken on stages around the world and personally trained hundreds of 6 & 7 figure business owners on leadership, sales, and communication.
Heather knows that success is limited by your ability to articulate a vision and inspire others to take action. And many times that’s exactly what happens in the nonprofit world! Words definitely matter and today Heather shares her wisdom around how we need to be showing up to one-on-one conversations, fundraising events, and any other presentation.
Effective communication may only seem like using the right words, but trust me this one is more than tips and tricks. It’s about who you become when you are making that ask or giving that presentation. How do you want to come on? What do you want people to see in you? How can you blend all that with your authentic self?
Hop into this conversation now! Heather is so full of knowledge (and nonprofit experience) you’ll want to listen to this twice!
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Mallory: All right. Welcome everyone. I am thrilled to be here with Heather Sager. I’m going to let her define her work for herself, but I just want to say I’m such a fan of the way she talks about public speaking and energy transfer, both on video and in person. And I think she has so much wisdom for the non-profit sector around how we need to be showing up to both one-on-one fundraising conversations and also our fundraising events and presentations in general. So Heather, tell us a little bit more about yourself and what brings you to this moment in time.
Heather: I am so thrilled to be here.This topic that is very near and dear to my heart for a variety of reasons. My start at public speaking was in the nonprofit sector, so I’m sure we can jam out on that today, but for those who are new, I’m a speaking coach specifically for online entrepreneurs.
I work with business owners who are looking to sell products, services, digital courses, some lane of revenue in the online space, which is very warm, new, and welcomed for many business owners over the last eighteen months. I help people get better at speaking on camera, but also facilitating sessions or teaching courses, essentially taking the knowledge that’s in their head and articulating it in a way that not only teaches other people, but persuades them to take action.
So for business owners, it’s not just about speaking well, it’s about selling themselves and their services. Speaking is more of a function of marketing, not just a technical skill. So that’s what I do. I’m a former executive. I very much know all about budgetary things and conversations for companies saying yes to things and I’m a former vice-president of nonprofits. So that’s for a little bit of a warm love for the nonprofit sector.
Mallory: Oh, my gosh. I love that. And I didn’t know that at all. That’s such a fun overlap. It’s so cool, having this show and bringing people that are outside of the sector on that and then they tell me about their intimate relationship to nonprofits, that’s awesome. So I just want to dive right into the nitty gritty here, around how people feel even about selling a product right or selling yourself. I can hear the cringes around people’s discomfort, so talk to me about that. How do you think about and frame out what it means to show up that way?
Heather: We can take so many different directions, but let me just address the elephant in the room around that selling piece. We’re talking about fundraising, we’re talking about, it feels like convincing people to turn over their precious dollars and that can feel uncomfortable. I’m a little cheeky when I speak. So I often term this as when we start talking about money, that’s the moment people are clenching their butt cheeks, their whole tone and mannerisms change and what may have felt like a really natural conversation, it’s like when you’re on a date talking to someone and they say the wrong thing, and you’re like “Oh man, game over, this date is not going anywhere”.
That’s what happens a lot of times when people have to talk about money specifically or asking for money. What I like to tell people is this idea that when you’re communicating to other people, you’ve probably heard this before, you’re selling all the time. You’re selling your ideas the way that you’re explaining things to other people, you’re getting people to either agree or disagree with you and the more comfortable we get at using our voice to explain our ideas, to gain buy-in from others or help them understand different perspectives, the more comfortable we actually get with selling. But the struggle that I see so many people have is they go to say something and it doesn’t sound like it did in their head, which always sounds so much dreamier and so smooth. Then we go to say it out loud and it’s like this big, giant word vomit situation. And we’re like “Oh man, that didn’t go according to plan”. And then we berate ourselves going “Man, I suck at thinking on my feet”, or “I’m terrible at those one-on-one conversations or whatever other negative thing we say.
So here’s the most important thing that we have to remember: the ideas that we have in our head, when we think through what we’re going to say, when we imagine how a scenario is going to go, we have to recognize that speaking in our heads, thinking in our heads is not actually talking. So when we dream up those conversations are when we have all these wonderful ideas, those ideas are not a transcript of words. It’s not “Oh, I’m populating the transcript to recite when I open my mouth”. No. it’s a combination of images. And words and memories and things we can’t even describe because we can’t put words to them. So of course, when we go to speak, it doesn’t really make sense or sound the same because we’re not speaking in images and all that other interesting brain language.
We have to start understanding that speaking, selling, communication, it is simply a skill, but it’s a skill that’s a combination of technical components but there’s also a lot of emotional components and feelings around communication. And that’s where it starts feeling a little messy.
Mallory: Okay. There is so much in there. I think what you were saying at the very beginning, I hear it from fundraisers and executive directors all the time. I say “I became an accidental fundraiser, getting promoted in nonprofit and then having big fundraising expectations come with that”. And I hear all the time “I can go out there and I can talk about my program all day long”. It feels so smooth, so natural, but then exactly like you said, the moment, it transitions to a fundraising conversation, they become stumbly, or they don’t know exactly what to say, when it’s almost exactly the same thing. Maybe there’s one sentence difference, which is “Would you like to get involved?”.
It’s a speaking skill they feel like they had five minutes before when they were just talking about the program, and all of a sudden it’s gone now that there’s this moment of discomfort in the conversation for them, that’s filled with beliefs and thoughts and perceptions that we have about money and worth and all of these things around that uncomfortable moment.
That piece where we feel uncomfortable also needs to be practiced and said out loud, over and over again for us to start to develop our comfort around that part too.
Heather: Yeah, absolutely. And I would even argue that it needs to be practiced mostly because the things that we’re least comfortable with are the things that we need to build resiliency for us. So imagine an athlete. Think about a football player when they’re back in high school and they have this “Oh man, I really want to go pro one day” or “I know I really want to go big”.
They’re going to specialize in one position, but there’s probably going to be certain plays or certain skills that they aren’t as naturally talented in. What we have to think about is there’s this one thing about honing in on natural talent, right? We want to cultivate that, but there’s also other skills that you have to develop that are right outside of your “natural talent”.
A really good athlete, a really good gymnast, a really good, whatever, pick a professional craft, they practice the things that do not come as naturally to them so that they can elevate those skills so they can perform under pressure. Because here’s the thing we talk about this idea of speaking. A lot of people that I work with have compartmentalized the idea that speaking is for stages. And I’m like “No”. Here’s the thing, you talk to people every single day but for some reason, when we put a spotlight on it or put you on a stage or give you an audience, it becomes weird because of the pressure of “public speaking”. So what I do is, I shake things up on the head on the Ted for entrepreneurs by talking of how, even if you have no plans on speaking on a big stage, we’re going to train for the stage. We’re going to train for the Olympic level competition to make those everyday moments when you speak to people, when you ask for money, when you ask for the sale, when you get an objection and it’s uncomfortable, because they’re actually asking about the value.
We’re going to train for the stage so that those seem like a cakewalk. That to me is why I focused so much on speaking and why I’ve said I’m a speaking coach, not just a business coach, because I want people to train for the “big stage” so that the other stages in life, a stage is just a place to share your message…we want those to feel easier. I want people thinking that you have to practice those skills for those uncomfortable moments that require more practice on your part. And the more you practice, the more comfortable they’ll become.
Mallory: Okay. So I want to make sure we go back to that piece when someone is challenging the value around something. I think that’s really important, but maybe even before we go there, can we talk about the energy piece a little bit? Because one of the things I love that you talk about is you call yourself a speaking coach. I think people, when they hear that, might think that is really focused on the words that are coming out of your mouth.
And I hear this from clients all the time “What if I say the wrong thing. What if I asked the wrong question? What’s exactly the right thing to say if they asked me this question?”. You spend so much time. All of our perfectionist tendencies get activated in these moments of vulnerability. Something I work with clients around a lot is “That’s not the question”. The question is, how do you show up with the right energy, the right magnetic energy, connected energy in those moments, so then if you stumble over a word, no one’s going to remember that, it doesn’t matter. You ask a different question because what people are experiencing right now, what they’re actually feeling right now, more than the words you and I are saying is the energy that’s happening in this conversation.
Heather: And let’s define that a little bit because I think the challenge that people have, even if somebody doesn’t have a big fear of audiences, they might have a fear of being on camera on a Zoom call, or maybe you have to do a recorded video for your fundraising efforts and recorded video freaks you out. It was normalized that public speaking is a number one fear in the world. Jerry Seinfeld has this joke around how people would rather be in the casket at a funeral than delivering the eulogy. Were freaked out by it. And when I dig into it, the number one thing I hear from my students and clients is the real fear is that they’re afraid they’re going to get it wrong. They’re afraid that they’re going to go down a rabbit hole or their ideas aren’t going to make sense, or they’re going to look stupid. The whole thing comes back to them not wanting to look like an “idiot”. This is what they tell me.
And we dig into this and we say “Okay, let’s go behind this”. And there’s this disconnect between how we expect ourselves to show up perfectly. I want you to imagine for a moment when you see other people show up so perfectly and so grammatically and phonetically correct, there is an element of distress that you can actually put your finger on.
You’re like “I don’t know what it is about that chick, but I don’t like her”.When people are too perfect, there’s a distress that happens. However, we have this expectation for us to be perfect. And in fact, if you just listen and read the transcript of this interview, you’re going to hear I say the wrong words or I’m mispronounced and I fumble and it’s all well, and okay.
Because I just keep rolling and it’s exactly what you’re talking about. It’s not just about the words we use while the right words matter, and the wrong words will get you in trouble. The words are just a piece of it. When we communicate, we actually communicate in three different ways.
So we talk about energy. We can define it as the way we communicate in three different lanes. It’s the words we say, it’s how we say those words and then it’s all of our non-verbals. So our facial expressions, our hand gestures, our posture. If we’re standing, if we’re fidgeting with our toes, we’re pacing back and forth or we’re playing with our jewelry, that sends messages of “I’m not confident, I’m questioning myself”, versus in our voices when we deliver information, it’s through our tone, it’s through our pace, I’m a fast talker for sure. Is whether or not we breath or pause. If we use filler words, if we’re loud or really meek and soft, if there’s an inflection in our voice after every sentence where it’s more of a question and we’re doubting ourselves or that timidness, like I said, in our volume, all of those things communicate energy.
I like to talk about this as each of us has to define what I call our own speaking persona, where we get to determine how we want to be seen by other people. How do we want to be experienced? What’s the energy we want to bring? Because I think what’s really important is when they hear us talk about energy, it’s not about matching what you do, Mallory or how I talk or using my weird clenching butt cheeks, and really crazy hand gestures.
I speak in a really specific way, right? I’ve trained myself over the years to speak in this way. And you have your own element of energy that you bring, but if someone is listening, they might not be witty and humorous. I don’t know whatever it is. When you think about your personality, you have to define that for yourself around how you want to come across. Do you want to come across polished and professional? Do you want to be genuine? Do you want to be friendly? Do you want to be funny? Do you want to be inspirational? Do you want to be serious? We have to think about how we want other people to see us so that we’re not trying to become a puppet or a parent of someone else that we admire.
We have to get better at asking the question. It’s not just about having bigger energy and being louder. That’s not the goal because if that’s not authentic to you, it’s actually going to become a repelling mechanism for the people listening to you. So what we have to think about is how do we want other people to experience us and the way that I like to ask this question saying “When you were at your absolute best around your friends or your favorite business clients or people that you work with inside your nonprofit or delivering a jiving presentation that has nothing to do with money, you’re really comfortable. What are three words that people would use to describe you?”.
And then you have to ask yourself the question “How do I ensure that my tone and the warmth of my voice, the pace of my voice or my presence through my eye contacts, my body language being tall and confident versus hunched over and scared, can come together to portray that image that you just said was you at your best?
Because I would argue that everybody has the ability to show up in what I call a more magnetic way, but we’re unwilling to elevate our awareness for how we show up right now. So it’s less about “What are all the tips and tricks, Heather? What should I say?” Or “how should I hold my hands?”.
What I always say as a starting point for people is to ask the question, how are you when you’re at your best? And then you start asking, what does my voice sound like? When in confidence, what does it sound like? What’s it look like for me to be compassionate and genuine versus nervous and terrified? I think we’re a lot smarter and we know what that sounds like, and then we could start practicing it.
So that’s a lot to unpack under the umbrella of energy, but these are the kinds of conversations that I like to have with people, because it’s just that awareness paired with intention for how we actually want to be seen that becomes this big, almost like the clouds part. And it takes the weight off of feeling like we need to show up in a certain way that’s actually not us.
Mallory: Okay. I’m obsessed with you because I think one of the things I just want to go back to, and double-click on that is that perfectionism piece and the distrust, because I’ve never heard someone say that before, and nonprofits put so much pressure around the know-like-trust factor, but their perception of know-like-trust is perfection, right? They’re like “The donors will trust me when we’re perfect”. And then they become that robot. And so when you said it, my whole body got covered in chills, it felt so true to me. I’m like “Yes. When I see some LinkedIn learning with some robot woman in a suit, I don’t believe what you’re saying”. I don’t know how to at least make this real. Maybe what you’re saying isn’t untrue, but it’s not relatable in a way that can be true for me. I can’t even learn in that way. I think that it is really interesting what you said about perfection and distrust. I hope people really hear that and recognize that.
Look, if you’re listening to this podcast, that means you are following along with my journey in some way. And that means you witness a lot of imperfection all the time. But you’re listening to this conversation because there has been trust built and it hasn’t been because I’m always perfect, right?
On these podcasts all the time, guests are like “Actually no Mallory”. And my producer is always asking “Do you want to take that out?”, and I’m like, absolutely not. That’s part of these conversations. I’m learning too. So I really love that you’ve said that. The other thing I think is so interesting is identifying how we want to be perceived and being intentional there.
But also I’m curious what you think about this. The other thing that came up for me when you were saying that was “Okay, yes, for your ideal audience”, and then recognize that even though you make those choices and you have that intentionality around how you present, it’s not going to work for everyone. And you still might get some “negative feedback” from people about how you present. How do you help people navigate that? Do you even agree with that?
Heather: Okay, this is such a beautiful thing that you bring up because I do think there’s this balance. Especially when you’re in the line of fundraising, part of what you have to acknowledge is you have to be your authentic self, but you’re also represented in an organization. So you have to blend your authentic self of how you want to be seen, but then you also have to ask the question “How is the organization’s brand going?”. For example, when I worked in my former company in the medical space, we worked with private practice doctors and my company did the business side. So I taught them about training, about team development, about selling, which was a very uncomfortable thing for doctors. So I had my own way of speaking, “Hi, I’m a little cheekier. I’m okay with swearing”. Sometimes I use really plain spoken, somewhat pedestrian examples.
But the company that I worked for was a little more polished and elevated. I had to be very mindful that I’m not swearing on stage and I’m not using any crass language. That’s off the table. I can do it with my friends, but there’s no place on that first date. I had to blend my own authentic personality with a brand.
So the first thing we have to acknowledge is when you’re working in an organization or you’re an ambassador on behalf of an organization, it’s not just about you. It’s about the brand. I would do the same activity for the organization itself saying “What are the words, not just that define who we are, but how we want people to experience our organization? What are those words?”, because they might be slightly different and you have to figure out what that overlap is for how you authentically relay those words. So that’s one piece.
But then you bring up this other really fascinating piece, which is other people, we have to attract money in order for this organization to be funded. We have to balance those things, what we have to get comfortable with is the idea that we’re not for everyone. And as you said, not everyone’s going to love us. What I find to be really helpful, especially as an entrepreneur with my own brand, but also thinking when I work with other brands, it actually helps me have that layer of the brand that isn’t me to be able to say, “They’re not rejecting me”.
They’re not rejecting and saying I’m a terrible person. And quite frankly, I’m not trying to be friends with them. It’s a business brand that you’re building. It allows you to take the sting off of it a little bit. But it also, what I find is when you show up way more authentic and you really hone into those three words and show up in that way, the people who had jives with they will be far more generous because they’re going to stand up and say “Yes, this is what I’m looking for. This is what I want to throw my money behind”.
So it’s like a pendulum swing. It’s going to sting. It’s going to hurt if somebody says something negative. I remember I’d get feedback from people being like “you talk way too fast!”. And I’m like “Okay, but for you”.
There are times and places where I slow down my rate of speech. For example, when I’m speaking in Denmark to a group of people, who use English as a second language, I functionally need to be more mindful of that. But for the everyday person, there’s a replay. You can turn it at half speed. This is mostly how I speak and I try to vary it a bit. But that feedback, I took it and if I wasn’t really comfortable with how I communicate, I’d be like “Oh my gosh, I have to relearn how to speak. I have to learn how to talk”. It would just be very painful. I can take that and say “Is that true for me? Do I need to make a change? Or can I say thank you so much for the feedback?”. And then move back over to the lane that I feel comfortable in, which is part of my brand. I’m a fast talker.
We’re going to walk fast and act like we know what we’re doing. That’s like a mantra in life. You have to do the same thing for you too. The feedback’s going to come. It’s going to sting. But what I like to do is look at the results. So say “Are we hitting our numbers? Are we getting good feedback?”. Generally speaking, it’s a negative feedback foreign view and if that’s the case, it means that you’re big enough to be able to get that noise back. So I would say you’re on the right track.
Mallory: Yeah. I really liked that. I think when I was inside nonprofits I was much more nervous about not being for everyone and, niching down on what our donor community looked like and who was going to connect with our mission and who was going to connect with our brand as an organization.
I think sometimes we set the mission because we deeply want everyone to care about the mission because we care so much about the mission. We have a really hard time letting people go and saying that is not for them. And so I think this is just such an important point, but when we watch organizations get clear about who they are and represent that brand clearly both in themselves and in how they represent the organization, we watch that magnetism happen. Are they donors? No. Those are our people, that’s our organization. And I’m sure, when I tell people I get negative feedback, they go “Really? Yes, all the time”. I will have people saying you’re too hyper. And I’m like “Okay the good news is there are a lot of other fundraising consultants who are way less energetic than me”. So you have your pick around the energy that you resonate with and what’s going to work for you as a fundraiser. I want everyone to find the right people for them, the right organizations, but I only have that distance. Because sometimes those comments are said in mean-spirited ways.
I think the only way I can process those, is what you said, which I just want to hammer home this word “intentionality”. I have intentionally and consciously chosen how I show up and who I want to be. And because that has come from a real place of choice, when somebody doesn’t agree with it, that’s okay. It doesn’t work for them, but I’ve chosen this. I’m not going back, reanalyzing everything I do because I know who I am.
Heather: I think a simple question that I have learned over the years that I use in quite a few different ways is when I hear feedback that instantly stings oriented and get defensive on. I have to pause and ask the question: Is this helpful? Is there truth in that? When I was really young, part of my early journey, as I did a lot of volunteer work when I was a teen, because my mom died of cancer and we started a nonprofit when I was a teenager in my mom’s name, that’s where my nonprofit work came from and when I was like 19 or 20, trying to figure out how to pay for college, I decided to make a run at the Miss America organization. I competed for Miss America and that’s how I paid for school, but a big part of that was fundraising.
I remember this very vividly, it was after one of the local pageants that I did. One of the moms came up to me and she’s “Oh, you’re just so stellar. So wonderful”. I think I got second runner up and she looked at me up and down and she says “If only you would have picked a different evening gown”. I was 19 years old and this adult woman who’s the mother of another contestant said that to me and I remember at that point, luckily I was pretty secure in who I was. I just bit my tongue and I was like “Thanks so much for your feedback”. And then I see my dad, who’s like the most shy person on the planet, the least confrontational. I see him step up next to me and he just looks at her and goes “Walk away”.
I say this because if I had to have that moment of “Is this feedback helpful?” No, that was straight up hurtful. It was all about her. And I use this illustration all the time because when we get negative feedback from other people, we instantly have that defensive mechanism.
What I want us to start thinking about is to ask the question: is this helpful? And is there any splinter of truth that I can take from this? And if you think about it and say no, release it. But if somebody goes “Heather, you speak too fast”. I can be like “No, I just talk fast. That’s me. You get over yourself”. Or I could say “Is there truth to this?”. I do talk fast and it’s a good thing. However, I do recognize that sometimes it makes it harder for people to stick with me. So how could I make this true in a way that works for me, it’s where you take ownership in the feedback where it’s no longer their petty comment. It’s now your information to be able to use if you choose. Release the negativity around it and just say “What can I pull from this, if there’s truth?”, and then steal it, make it yours. Now it becomes your thing to do something with it versus somebody else’s opinion.
Mallory: Yeah, I think that’s such good advice. That’s been something I’ve thought about. I get the fast top feedback all the time, and it is a part of my personality, in all my personal conversations, but it has been something where when I’m speaking live where they can’t just slow it down, the recording, I’m much more sensitive to it because I do want to make sure people aren’t feeling lost and frustrated and like they can’t keep up.
I think you’re right. Hearing feedback in a way that isn’t defensive, allows you to filter through “Is this true? Is it problematic? Is there a way I want to address it and where?”. I think just those layers are really good. How do you break that down?
So there’s this other thing. Actually, I just want to tell you this, because I’m curious what you will think about it, but you said that piece around that people would rather be inside the casket than giving the eulogy. And I read this statistic recently, too, that women in general, 61% of women said they would rather talk about their own deaths than money.
And so I think about the combination of what you sat around public speaking and money and how fundraising is just like this crucible moment of our biggest fears coming together. When you’re working with entrepreneurs, it sounds like you sometimes start with the hardest moments and then work back from there.
So would you say for new executive directors, start working through their speaking around money in particular, because everything else is going to be easy from there. How does that component work into your work?
Heather: I think where we need to start is just the fundamental belief of our relationship for the money we’re asking for. And without getting too theoretical and talking about money mindset. I think what we have to really functionally think about is our issues with money and our limitations for money and how that actually influences how we communicate money, both the words we use and our physical reaction when we’re asking for it.
And I often think back to one of my very first jobs, I worked at a photography studio right out of high school. It was a high school senior portrait studio back when we were still masking negatives with tape. I remember I had this chance at 18 years old to sit in front of the table and sell photos. I would sell packages and the average selling price of the package is $500 for photos. While I was there, I increased that to $800, but I remember being like, “Oh, $500!” I think I had spent like $130 on my high school senior photos, and we didn’t have money growing up.
So the idea of these families coming in and just throwing all this money at it felt very uncomfortable. And then one day I had somebody come in who came late, they were driving a beater car. They were just all the things that just screamed that they’re not going to buy a lot and I worked on a commission. They came in and sat down and I swear in 45 minutes, they bought six giant 16 by 20 prints for their multiple vacation homes around the world. And they spent like $4,200 or something. Ridiculous. And that was the moment where I had the big realization of “Who am I to one prejudge what people will pay for something that they want to pay for?”
Just because I’m a broke 18 year old working for $7 and 10 cents an hour, it does not mean that other people are working off of that same budget. So applying this to business on our situation for fundraising, what we have to really recognize is this tendency, even though we know it’s not logical, we think when we’re asking someone for money, we’re taking something away from them that people are holding onto their dollars and they’re like “Oh, you have to convince me to pry it out of my fingers”. That’s this visual that we have. But when you’re fundraising for a nonprofit, you’re allowing people to have the opportunity to do good with their money. And it sets a shuttle shift.
I know those listening know this to be true, but I want you to really recognize how much you think “I have to convince them to give us money” and you are not doing that at all. Your job is to show them why the cause is so important and give them the gift of them being part of it. And that sounds so cheesy, but I will tell you the number one thing that you have to do is show people how they can feel better about themselves, their tax savings, their whatever other benefits come their way by them choosing to fund this cause.
You have to help them see themselves as a better person, a better organization, a more elevated, exciting philanthropist, whatever version of themselves. You have to paint that picture because it’s not about them and the money. It’s about who they become when they offer up the money. That’s what this is about.
So if anyone’s struggling with the money piece, what I would start sitting with is what is your relationship with money? Are you having a hard time thinking about “Oh my gosh, how would I ever give $50,000 to something? I don’t have that in my checking account”. That’s fine. But for the people that do, your job is to not have them give you $50,000, it’s to help them identify with who they will be and how they will feel when they give the money to that.
Maybe that doesn’t necessarily answer your direct question, but that’s the thing that comes up for me: the relationship with money. That’s what we’re struggling with. So we need to change the conversation.
Mallory: So much of what you talk about really aligns with my fundraising training principles. I always talk about the fact that I’m an executive coach. So I talk about this cognitive behavior loop and what are the thoughts and beliefs that inform how we feel, and then ultimately what we do. One of the primary ones that really shifted for me in this work, that sort of catalyzed what I do now, is that great fundraising is not an ask, it’s an offer.
It’s about partnership and opportunity and vulnerability and connection. Even as organizations move to more community centric fundraising principles, I think donors are shifting from just how it makes me feel in terms of, is this going to make the change in the world that I want to see? People are so frustrated by certain things that are happening around them. Addressing an issue is keeping them up at night, that’s a gift, to give them the opportunity to do that in partnership with you. So I totally agree.
I think the way we shift around that, and the other piece you’re saying around assumptions and money, is so critical. Like the numbers are just the numbers, $50,000 is the big number or a small number? We can’t answer that question. That’s a perspective decision. To me, it’s a big number to other people, to really small numbers. So we need to be careful with the assumptions that we’re making around how much we’re asking.
I’ve never seen someone get upset for being asked for too much. In fact, they’re usually incredibly flattered. I’ve had donors say to me “Wow, I am really flattered that you would think I have that much, or like I’m really flattered you think about my generosity that way”.
We make all these assumptions “Oh, they’re going to be so mad if I say that thing”, but you’re right, that’s related to our own money beliefs and what that number means personally, as opposed to the lens that the donor is looking through. So I think that is such an important point for folks to hear.
Heather: And we can make this technical and tangible for a minute. So you would ask before: what should we work on in that conversation? What I would focus on is figure out what phrases you’re using specifically in your questions. And I don’t know if it’s too granular or not, but a lot of times people are going to be asking a yes/no question “Would you like to donate?”, you’re going to get a yes or a no. One of the things that I really want people to think about is what we want to focus on instead are yes questions. So instead of saying “Would you like to donate yes or no?” maybe even offer to have sponsorship levels.
So describing “For donors who contribute in the blah, blah, blah organization that allow us to do X, Y, and Z”, right? Paint the picture asking “Would you feel more comfortable at the silver or the bronze level?”. It’s a yes or yes. Of course, if they’re going to decline, they’re going to say no, but don’t make that one of your menu choices. So the yes/yes question versus a yes/no question. That would be a little tool to put in your box and practice around. How could you make the conversation less awkward, and set yourself up for a less awkward “no”?
Put a little bit of awkwardness on them. If you’re like “Hey, would you like the gold or the silver level? Which feels like a more appropriate donation for you or more appropriate, whatever”. Put your language to it. They’re going to go “Oh”, and they’ll pause and then they will gracefully say “Actually not at this time” but give them a graceful way to do it. So if you’re like “Would you like to donate? That’s equally awkward for them. So don’t put them in that position.Try using a yes/yes question.
Mallory: Oh, I love that. And I think what’s really interesting about that is that especially when folks are meeting with donors in person, if you’ve gotten that far, the permission has been granted.
I think I talk a lot about getting the right permission before giving people the opportunity to invest in. If you’re meeting with someone in person and you’ve set up that meeting with a clear expectation around what’s happening in that meeting, because I do not believe in tricking or prizing donors, then, especially in that situation, if you’re giving a yes question then they’ve opened the door excited to make that decision with you. And the other thing I would really suggest for folks, I talk about in my master class, is the idea of the car salesman and how so many times as fundraisers, we feel like car sales people and why that is.
I talk about the fact that a car salesperson often make us feel uncomfortable because they want to sell us the car, whether or not it’s the right car for us. That’s why we do all the research before we go into the car shop, because we feel like they’re going to push a car on us, whether or not it’s right for us.
I think for fundraisers specifically, when we talk about how you show up to these conversations really being focused on alignment, look, if you’re in an earlier conversation with that donor, and it is clear, you are not vibing. Don’t give them a yes question, please.
This is also about being relating to the moment that you’re in and reading the signs and all of those things.
Heather: Let’s use a dating analogy for this because I resonate with this a lot. So one of the reasons why a lot of people reach out to me is because I just assume that people want to pay me money and work with me and not in a concerted or egotistical way.I just think of course everybody wants to work on their speaking. Of course, everybody would like to have a course. Is it true? I don’t know, but it doesn’t serve me not to believe that. So I just believe that.
When I show up on a call, here’s the dating analogy from when I was young. It was like “I just want a boy to like me”, as opposed to when you become an adult and you start dating, especially those who dated as grownups. I’ve been with my husband for 15 years so I haven’t done the whole app dating scene these days, but I know from my friends who are older now dating, They have very clear things, whether other boundaries, this is exactly what they’re looking for. And dating is a filtering thing around “Nope, that dude’s not for me”.
So you were just describing a very similar thing when you’re in fundraising or you’ll run a business, you get to go with this idea that “I’m a package. I’m a catch,of course this is a wonderful thing”, and actually these conversations are a way for me to filter ou who I work with, and that doesn’t mean you’re going to reject people and tell them to go away, but you can gracefully help people make a different choice, which might not be working with your organization.
You can gracefully put them into a different resource or direct them somewhere else, or just have a really good conversation. And it’s not like you’re out for that conversation “failing”. It was a beautiful opportunity for you to talk about your cause and your organization. I believe even when you don’t get a yes, that’s going to have a ripple effect, if you have provided a great experience and you brought that magnetism.
Even if they did donate, that will pay off when they talk about your organization to someone else, because most likely over time they will. So if we get more comfortable with this idea that everything doesn’t have to be a yes, we don’t have to be searching for our soulmates. We’re just dating and looking for opportunities.
When we find that jive, we make it a really great experience and it will naturally work out with that mindset. It allows you to be more comfortable and bring more of that magnetic quality we’ve been talking about.
Mallory: I love that. And I think what you were saying at the beginning about the used car salesman energy and that different belief than what I had said, which is “Yeah, of course you want what I’m selling, because this is a great car and you might not realize it yet, but you’re gonna be so happy once you have it.”
That’s a different field than what people perceive when they think of car salesmen. Which is they’re trying to trick me into something like I’ve had fundraisers come to me. And when they’re getting so uncomfortable about having a donor meeting and I’m like “Tell me about a purchase you recently made that you loved that you recently bought”. And I had a donor one time telling me about this bracelet. I was like “Tell me all about the bracelet, how did it make you feel? What do you love about it?” And so she’s getting all excited about this bracelet and I’m like “Okay. So tell me what the company did to sell you that. How did they give you an opportunity? Did they do something wrong there?” And she was like “No, I guess not.” That’s what this is. Are we aligned? Do you want to make this choice? Do you want this bracelet? And then when people are making the choice to give from that place to then it feels really good for everyone.
Heather: And I love that. People can feel really good giving money. And I know if you’re listening, I know, you know that to be true. Cause you could probably think of so many different experiences. We’ve had donors come back and thank you for the opportunity for them to make a difference.
So if we focus more on that and less on the “Oh, it was weird because they rejected me”. I always say the best way to grow your confidence is if you’re ever shaky in those moments, make sure that you’re keeping a wins list for yourself of your favorite donors or your favorite clients, or your favorite moments of people.
Just the words they give, or if they say something, write it down and have yourself a windows folder, because that’s what you want to keep front and center. When you’re going to new and uncomfortable conversations, remind yourself of what success looks like. Carry that energy into the awkward or uncomfortable new client meeting or new sales pitch or whatever that looks like.,
Mallory: Oh, that is such good advice. And that goes back to an episode we did with Dr. BJ Fogg around habits and behaviors, and he talks about in order to take any action, it’s about the relationship between motivation and how easy the behavior is to do. And that motivation is increased with hope and decreased with fear. I think what you’re talking about is what is your jar of hope when you’re having trouble taking a certain action? Getting certain words out of your mouth, clicking record on your video, whatever it is, how are you building hope within yourself? Hope about what’s possible when you make that video and put it out there. What’s possible. When you have that meeting with that prospective donor, that’s actually going to help increase your motivation to take the action you’re trying to take.
Heather: I love that. I love that. What a great example I have to come back and listen to that episode.
Mallory: Yeah, he’s amazing. Okay, there’s one thing I really want to make sure you talk about a little bit, which is, I think it’s called the 7% rule, around the relationship between you were talking about this a little bit before, but I just want to make sure that people are really hearing if they’re preparing for a meeting with a donor. And they have 10 minutes before they’re going into the donor meeting. How would you suggest they’re spending those 10 minutes? What are they focusing on in terms of how they’re going to present the best in that meeting?
Heather: Okay. I’m trying to figure out where you want me to go with this because I’m not familiar with the 7% rule. Is this a thing I’ve talked about before?
Mallory: I think in Haley’s you talk about how 7% is actually the words that we say.
Heather: Okay. The communication, which is the words, how we see those words, the body language. What you’re describing is the percentage of each of those categories. So when we speak, 7% of our message is the words we say, 38% is how we say it, and then 55% is the non-verbals and the body language. And that all comes from a study done in Southern California at one of the colleges by a psychology professor in the seventies, but it still holds pretty consistent.
So don’t get stuck on the numbers being so accurate. The spread of those is what I want you to pay attention to. What I find most people do is they obsess with, what exactly am I going to say? What’s the pitch? What’s the ask? What’s the setup? How am I going to open? What’s the icebreaker question?
All of these can be very powerful, especially if you are newer to this or you have a tendency to get really nervous and fumbly. If you want to write some stuff down to prep, I recommend it. If you do that, I would say focus on key questions. And think about your transitions.
Don’t worry about practicing your content, your organization, the people that you serve, the mission, where you can just come alive and talk about it. Don’t practice, you don’t need to take notes for that into the room. Stop wasting your time with that. instead of your post-it note or things to practice before, think about “Where do I typically get sticky”? That’s the first 10 minutes, I spend four minutes on how’s the weather. You waste it on icebreakers because you don’t know how to start the conversation. This happens all the time. We see people do it. So what I want you to do is have a planned ice breaker question because you got to have one.
After that initial chat about the weather, What’s the first line I’m going to do to jump right into it? What’s the question I’m going to ask? What’s the connection? What’s that first move? But then you know how to let it flow? What are some followup questions? But then you also want to plan that ask, as you mentioned the words It’s really only a small part of it. So when you think about prep for, let’s say you have a 10 minute meeting, do that prep work in advance, right? Have that done.
But the five minutes before you walk into that meeting, or right before you jump on a zoom call, what I want you to think about is to close your eyes and imagine the person you’re about to meet. Whether you know them or not. I want you to imagine that. Imagine what their day has been.
You might have to make it up like a completely fictitious example. I don’t even care, but you have to put yourself in the shoes of the other person and then ask yourself “How can I show up with the right energy in my tone, in my compassion, in my body language, in my presence, through my eye contact? How can I make their day better?
What I find is when you focus on that, naturally your instincts of humanism will take over. And if your mission is to brighten their day and then have this conversation that you’ve thought about you already know how to talk about it, but now you have some talking points for your sticky parts, where you clench your cheeks, right?
If you combine those things together and you focus on them, this beautiful thing happens where you’re focused on them and how they might be showing up at a meeting, how they might be. You did not have space or room to focus on what you’re thinking, which is you’re probably nervous and you’re worried.
They’re going to say no, or you’re going to get it wrong. The best way to show up magnetically is to focus on the other person. It’s also the secret to quelling your nerves. So if you’re scared or you’re up in your head, or you’re afraid you’re going to get it wrong, it means you’re thinking about yourself and you and I both know that when you’re focused on yourself, you can not be attracted to other people.
You just come across as all caught up in yourself, it’s all about you. And you become that used car person who’s going to sell them a car, regardless if they can need it or they can’t afford it. But when you think about them, when you really put yourself hypothetically or not in their shoes, you’re forced into compassion.
And then you communicate that realness and that authenticity and that presence that becomes really powerful. And that’s where beautiful conversations happen that don’t need to be so perfect.
Mallory: Ah, yes, because that empathy, that true curiosity is how you actually bond with someone right. Thank you. Thank you so much. Tell us how can people find you? How can they work with you? And then the question we wrap up with is a shout out to a nonprofit that’s near and dear to your heart.
Heather: Yeah. Okay. I love this, over the last couple of years, I’ve had an incredible opportunity to work with a lot of nonprofits who reached out. Just also give a shout out to the nonprofits first. So the Blind Athletes Organization here, Athletes Foundation in Vancouver, Washington, I had the opportunity to help their founder, last year for their virtual fundraiser, they did a big gala every year. It was the biggest way that they raised money and it moved to zoom.We worked together on their opening talk at the largest donating event that they’ve ever had. So huge shout out for that company, Billy who runs it is incredible. They’re near and dear to my heart.
If anyone’s listening and they’re thinking, man, I have a story I want to share. I want to learn how to better articulate it with my audience and just figure out what that sounds like to really feel confident, whether it’s for a gala fundraiser or something else. The best place to go is to my website. It’s heathersager.com. You can find resources there and reach out. We can figure out if you want to work together. But one of the other things that I would say I’m working on right now is filler words, so I’m actually working on a free training right now around how to kill those filler words and sound more professional when you’re speaking in those business settings with fundraisers. So if anybody wants to get a copy of that, it’s not quite done yet. So just shoot me a message on social media. I’m @theheathersager on all the platforms. Shoot me a message. Tell me that you saw the show, give Mallory a shout out and just let me know you want that. And I’ll give you the link as soon as possible.
Mallory: Perfect. Okay. Yeah. And I will make sure all the links stay updated around this podcast as well. Thank you so much for coming and joining us today. It’s such a pleasure to talk with you and thanks for sharing all of your wisdom.
Heather: That’s been great. Likewise. Thanks so much, Mallory.
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