Confessions of a Fundraiser and Salesperson at AFP Congress 2018

I recently attended the AFP Toronto conference which brings together a thousand fundraisers into the same room to educate and inspire the best in the sector.  This year’s theme was “Disrupt Philanthropy”. Disrupting philanthropy is arguably the most challenging but important message for our industry. Innovation in fundraising has been a long-running bailiwick of mine, but innovation and disruption are critically different. Innovation makes change optional; disruption makes the change necessary.

I want to share some insights from my experience as a leader in both fundraising and sales. For those outside of sales, the word often conjures images of used cars, duct cleaning, and high pressure decision making. As someone who’s run both fundraising and sales teams, I can honestly say, “That’s true!” But, it’s only true of bad sales, not the vast majority of the profession.

The best salespeople are first and foremost great problem solvers, effective communicators, thoughtful consultants and intent listeners. When I first entered sales, I was surprised how much of my fundraising skill-set translated to my new position. While the widget being sold was solving a different issue than what a major gift would, the process was immediately familiar. The communication skills, problem solving and disciplined approach?  All the same. The skills of great sales teams are attentiveness to to-do lists, commitment to details, and great project management.

Something that was very different from fundraising was the vast amount of tools that could help my sales team. One thing you will see across all good sales teams: no one sells only using their CRM. Productive sales teams use a lot of different tools to power their work and remain organized. For reference, here’s a thin slice of the tools sales teams have, just for productivity:

sales enablement tools

Sales Enablement Tools

A similar map for fundraising teams would be pretty empty. In fundraising, we prided ourselves on our ability to “make do” with limited resources. But disruption has come to the charitable sector and we need all the help we can get to engage with donors. While nonprofits don’t compete with each other, we do compete for a shared pool of large donors.

This change will cause disruption that takes many forms: increased competition; new technologies; changing demographics; redistribution of dollars; new and novel communication channels; a focus on authentic relationships; and rising expectations from clients. My teammates in sales recognized the above challenges in the not too distant past… and just ahead of the charitable sector. Disruption came to sales and firms had to innovate, evolve, and change to keep up.

We started Wisely to translate the best tools for sales for a noble purpose. To give fundraisers some of the tools sales professionals are using today.

I couldn’t think of a better time to do our work.  I hope other industry leaders decide to follow our lead and help our sector not just survive, but  thrive through this period of disruption.

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