Opinion: Third Voice - Don't treat fundraising as a form of salesmanship

Anna March,development manager for private giving at WaterAid

If an average fundraiser's desk exists, I assume it looks something like mine: fluctuating in-tray, scattered spreadsheets, well-thumbed Rolodex, the odd chocolate biccie and a low-level but constant flurry of training brochures and conference fliers.

Each of these brochures claims to offer me and my team a glimpse of that holy grail - failsafe strategies to improve income, donor loyalty and the case for support.

After a while, they begin to blur - the same old issues, trainers and theories rehashed, with only the occasional gem of newness (although just how 'new' is questionable when so much is poached from the US).

Over the past couple of years, however, I have noticed an increase in the number of courses claiming to teach neuro-linguistic programming or psychology techniques for the fundraiser. It goes without saying that we must all hone our listening skills and ability to interpret non-verbal cues - after all, in any relationship fundraising we would not get far without reading between the lines.

However, a slightly sinister overtone concerns me. One well-known training provider's leaflet promised its one-day course in influencing skills would "help you persuade even the most reluctant donor to give". It reminded me of the hapless would-be fundraiser handed a slice of lemon in an interview and asked to convince her potential employer to eat it.

Fundraising is not sales. Our job is not to convince someone to do something against their better judgement. People's motivations are complex and changing, but it is not the role of the fundraiser to coerce someone into making a decision - whether it's putting 50p in a tin or signing a cheque for £50,000. We are too often cast in the role of beggar or wily salesman - presenting training in this guise can only enhance that negative image.

We all have targets to meet, but let's not lose sight of how we can best reach them - by being articulate, informed, engaging and honest, and helping supporters understand how they can make a difference in ways that match their interests and motivations.

I'll go ahead and poach from the US anyway. Fundraising guru Karen Osborne talks about enabling donors to give joyfully. So, instead of manipulation, we should focus on upholding the reputations of our charities and fostering mutual relationships for the future. I would rather raise 5,000 joyful pounds than 10,000 reluctant ones.

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