I’ve noticed that top development people listen and look for connections and linkages that other development people miss. They somehow have an ability to connect the dots that average development people don’t seem to connect. They see opportunity where others see only problems.

— Senior Vice President, Resource Development

We live in a media-saturated world, and the abundance of information available to all of us can make it challenging to focus. Our minds work constantly to filter what is most important from what can be safely ignored. Consider driving a car: as you move through traffic, you remain in your lane, foot moving from the gas pedal to the brake as appropriate, without requiring much conscious thought. You can listen to the radio, converse with passengers, or reflect on your day without thinking about driving. When something out of the ordinary happens, however, your attention kicks back into gear to help you proceed to your destination safely. Over time, our minds have been trained to know when to pay attention, or not.

Working with donors, our minds are similarly honed to zero in on the details we think are important. As donors share information about their finances, philanthropic interests, and families, we make note of anything that might be important. However, research among top development professionals reveals that more details are important than many people realize. For instance, when a potential donor discusses their family, it isn’t enough merely to note who these individuals are. Top development professionals also pay attention to that individual’s level of influence. For instance, if a potential donor always mentions his daughter’s advice and experience, then it might be wise for the development professional to offer to include her in their meetings and discussions about philanthropy.

We can train our minds to focus on the important details by intentionally reminding ourselves of them in conversations with donors. Here are three simple places to start:

1. Remind yourself of the donor’s personality profile

What clues do donors give of the way they like to receive information? What do their personalities tell us about how they might like to be asked for a major gift? For instance, a detail-oriented person may appreciate a written proposal with specific information about how a gift will be used. A donor with a dominant personality may prefer to be asked outright and will then delegate the details to others. Practice incorporating what you know about a donor’s personality into every aspect of your strategy.

2. Pay attention to tipping points

As you learn what’s new in a donor’s life, you aren’t just shooting the breeze. The information you learn can help you determine if anything has changed the donor’s financial picture. For example, a potential donor who is the parent of a recent college graduate will appreciate your congratulations—but you should also note that, going forward, this person’s financial resources will be differently distributed. It is an opportune moment to ask the donor to consider how philanthropy will factor in; these opportune moments are a kind of tipping point. Train yourself to notice these and other significant life events that affect finances.

3. Study the Donor Development Chart

While every donor is different, the psychological processes around giving are generally the same. The Donor Development Chart is a tool for recognizing what questions a donor is currently asking that, if answered positively, will result in increased commitment. Remind yourself regularly of these questions and be on the alert for moments when a donor appears to be asking one, overtly or implicitly.

To learn more about the critical “dots” that top development professionals connect, consider attending Navigation Points for Accelerating Donor Commitment. You can also download a complimentary copy of the Donor Development Chart, as well as other key tools for your success, on the myAR platform.

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