Pivoting: The Secret to Successfully Handling Difficult Donor Conversations
nonprofit management tips

There comes a time in every prospect visit that can remind one of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. To paraphrase, “When the visit was good, it was very very good, but when it was bad, it was horrid.”

What do you say when prospects ask about the scandal that just hit your charity? How do you respond to that question about your organization that so many people ask — you know that question — where your answer doesn’t even convince you? Rather than sit there with your mouth open, searching for a response, you can pivot.

      As Anne T. Melvin, J.D., director of education and training at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., explained in her session “Pivoting: The Secret to Successfully Handling Difficult Donor Conversations,”pivoting allows you to reframe the conversation in a way that does not refute the prospects, but allows them see things in a different light, a light more favorable to your charity. Here’s are a few tips:  

  • You can change the “field of battle,” as it were, shifting the point in contention slightly to one where you can sway the prospects.
  • You can expand the topic, showing a wider and more inclusive picture that may override the flaws of the picayune point the donors were fixated on. You can agree with the prospects, essentially siding with their point, and adding additional information that shades the situation more favorably.
  • You can change the verb tense and talk about what will happen in the future: a marvelous wonderland where mistakes haven’t yet been made.
  • Most potent of all, you can ask open-ended questions that prompt prospects to look at things from another point of view, essentially allowing them to convince themselves of your viewpoint.

  “All of these pivots allow you to ride over that bump in the road that might otherwise derail a relationship with your organization or impede a gift,” Melvin said. “Pivoting is an essential skill that some understand instinctively and others can learn.”