Episode 139: Generating major gifts momentum (from the archive), with Paul Davies

Fundraising is not a dirty word. It’s not all about money. And how I approach meetings now is its something that makes people feel good..

What can you do to build relationships, warm, generous relationships with major donor supporters?

If you are a high value fundraiser, or you manage one, I hope you will find this episode helpful and encouraging as I talk to someone whose fundraising practice, confidence and RESULTS soared over six months.

Paul is Head of Communications and Development for the orchestra and charity Manchester Camerata. Paul attended Bright Spot’s Major Gifts Mastery Programme between January and June 2020, meaning that he has been trying out the ideas and improving his strategies as the pandemic has unfolded.

In this conversation, Paul explains a range of ideas that he has used to transform his results, including: what he focuses on to feel so confident and excited when meeting supporters; how he has dramatically increased the number of donors he talks to, from four or five per month, to twenty per month and the amazing momentum this activity has created for their new appeal; and how one donor was recently inspired to give the largest donation the charity has ever received.

If you want to share this episode because you think it will help colleagues or other good causes – THANK YOU VERY MUCH! –  we are both on LinkedIn and on Twitter, where Paul is @paulj_davies and I am @woods_rob.

Episode overview

[04:09] Approaching meetings with curiosity and focus – Paul Davies shares how he approaches meetings with excitement, curiosity, and a focus on making the other person’s life better or easier.

[07:10] The power of listening and building relationships – Paul talks about the importance of listening, and shifting from talking to listening in meetings. As well as focusing on what the other person cares about and finding mutual ground.

[09:17] How to increase the number of meaningful meetings -Paul shares how his mindset shift and focus on building relationships has led to a significant increase in the number of important meetings he has in his diary, from a few per month to six per week.

[10:55] Don’t forget to just pick up the phone. Calling someone instead of sending emails has been a game changer in building relationships and getting things done for Paul and his team. Becoming braver in making phone calls has led to more conversations with supporters, managing expectations, and having enjoyable meetings.

[15:26] How do you approach the ask? Paul explains that being relaxed and direct in asking for contributions excites rather than unnerves, and helps make life easier for the donor.

[22:46] Sharing personal experiences to engage supporters. Paul discusses the shift in sharing personal stories and experiences to connect with supporters and convey the impact of music therapy.

Further Resources

Creative storytelling and inspiring stewardship, with Clio Gressani (Fundraising Bright Spots Episode 89)

How to use contrast and storytelling to inspire, with Ben Swart and Rob Woods (Fundraising Bright Spots Episode 90)

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Transcript of Episode 139

Paul Davies (00:00:00) – Fundraising isn’t a dirty word. It’s not all about money. How I approach meetings really is now. This is something that makes people feel good. I kind of go to meetings really excited and more curious than I ever did and open and kind of focus on making the person I’m meeting their life better or easier in some way and finding out more about them and their world than going to talk. I talked the person through our plan. I started off with the problem we’re facing and our solution and the impact we want to make, which is very impact driven and focused and all the things that chime with this person specifically. And they have given us what is the largest gift an individual has ever given our charity. Everybody feels good about it.

Rob Woods (00:00:58) – Hey there, folks. Welcome back to the Fundraising Bright Spots podcast. This is episode 139 and this is the show for fundraisers, looking for ideas and maybe a dose of inspiration to help you enjoy your job and raise more money. Firstly, before we get into it, thank you ever so much.

Rob Woods (00:01:18) – If you’ve been sharing this show either with colleagues or on social media, I really, really appreciate your help in spreading the word so that we can help as many charities as we can. Secondly, I can’t quite believe it, but we’ve been running this show for four years, and I’m so grateful that more and more people are listening and hearing and making use of these episodes. And yet a challenge that comes with this and the fact that the show has grown so much since those first tentative recordings I made in November 2019 is there’s quite a lot of people now who’ve been listening for certainly a year or two, but many of those people won’t necessarily have heard some of the early episodes we put out. And I think that’s a shame because some of those I’m really proud of, and we’ve got some great feedback over the years about some of the differences that those early shows have made. So when I get a chance, I do now share some of these episodes from the archive because many of the themes really are as relevant as ever.

Rob Woods (00:02:19) – And I think today’s one is a case in point, because back in June 2020, I had the privilege of talking to Paul Davies from a music charity in Manchester called Manchester Camerata, and he had joined our Major Gifts Mastery programme in January 2020 when the world was a very different place. So he started the programme with the live in-person masterclasses, and then halfway through that programme we changed to virtual and lots of the context of fundraising changed as lockdowns were kicking in. And he talked about various themes that I think are still really relevant, although some of the context was different, the themes and some of his ideas for how to make progress in your fundraising, I think are as important as ever. I’m talking about themes like how to connect with supporters when you actually talk to them and ideally be as curious as you possibly can and not say too much, especially early on about the detail of what your charity does, how to get a lot more of those kinds of conversations. And that really is then as now, the engine room, the driver of how you can lift high value fundraising results if you can increase the number of those conversations.

Rob Woods (00:03:34) – And Paul did that brilliantly. And another theme being the power of including real relevant examples or stories in the way you talk about your cause. Paul brings these themes and others to life in a really fresh, authentic way. That inspired me at the time. And I know that hearing Paul’s approach has helped lots of other fundraisers since we first released it. I really hope you find it helpful. So without more ado, here is my original interview with Paul Davies. Paul Davies, how are you?

Paul Davies (00:04:07) – I’m well, thank you. Yes, how are you doing?

Rob Woods (00:04:09) – Yeah, very good. Thank you. Thanks for making time to chat to you. Work for Manchester Camera and you’re Head of Communications and Development. Do you want to give us a tiny top line bit about that charity?

Paul Davies (00:04:21) – So we’re an orchestra and charity that essentially puts communities first and we do many different things, whether that’s playing and touring Mozart, whether it’s doing an orchestral rave at Glastonbury or pioneering dementia therapy, and we make a difference to people’s lives.

Rob Woods (00:04:38) – Fantastic. Yes. And I’ve enjoyed over the last six months hearing a little bit more about the difference the charity makes because you took part in the Major Gifts Mastery programme this year. Just before we get into some of the key things you learned, what was it like to do the Major Gift Mastery programme anyway? And I guess this year of all years.

Paul Davies (00:05:01) – It’s really nice meeting everyone initially. And there was a real fraternity of we’re all fundraisers, we’ve all got these opportunities and challenges and and fears in doing the job and all of that and kind of it was a real community and really nice to share that experience with people and get to know other people and learn from what they’re doing. And then lockdown hit and it became even more helpful and almost like really timely for me because it was like having this sounding board and support around you and someone running alongside you almost spurring you on. So it’s been gold to me. Fantastic.

Rob Woods (00:05:40) – Yeah. Many people have said that having that group of people in their corner doing their best to raise philanthropic gifts even at this difficult time, just that solidarity has been hugely helpful in addition to the content and in terms of some of the key distinctions you learned from the training days or through the coaching, you and I had a chat the other day and you were telling me some really interesting bits of progress you’ve made in your understanding and in your practice.

Rob Woods (00:06:07) – So do you want to tell me 1 or 2 of the things that you’ve taken from the programme?

Paul Davies (00:06:12) – So it’s fundamentally. Helped my confidence and almost my mind set to fundraising. So I feel like how I approach meetings, how I conduct meetings or events or coffees is just completely different. And I kind of go to meetings really excited and almost more curious than I ever did and open and kind of focus on making the person I’m meeting their life better in some or easier in some way and finding out more about them and their world than going to talk, which was was kind of it was more talk than listen before. And I’ve really benefited from that and I enjoy it so much more now and it’s so much more effective. And it’s about the relationship and kind of marinating in that and seeing the fruits of it.

Rob Woods (00:07:10) – Yeah, it makes such a difference. I know it’s kind of easy to say that many of us are aware of the importance of truly being open to hearing how the other person is doing.

Rob Woods (00:07:20) – And everybody talks about the importance of listening, but actually is early in one’s career as a fundraiser. It can be surprisingly hard to do that. So what would you say about how you’ve made that shift and the implications that now you have made that shift to have the confidence to approach meetings in that more win-win way? How does that come about or what are the implications of that for you?

Paul Davies (00:07:43) – So sometimes a lot of things to say about your charity. When I talk more than listen sometimes there is sometimes a feeling of pressure that I must not leave any stone unturned about our charity rather than really quickly give a bit of an overview and then just listen and relax into the conversation. And then as people are people, you focus on what they care about and where there’s mutual ground and a matching to be had rather than every because everything we do is really amazing, but it’s not necessarily of interest to everybody. And that’s it’s just kind of grasping that whole it’s so obvious when you say it out loud, but it’s transformational really.

Paul Davies (00:08:29) – And that win-win, I think that the mindset of fundraising isn’t a dirty word. It’s not all about money. And it’s how I approach meetings really now. This is something that makes people feel good. You know, if you’re giving to something you care about, that makes you feel good and it makes good stuff happen. And so it’s like you say, it’s win win. And that mindset has been a real gear change. But it makes the whole thing just really enjoyable. Yeah.

Rob Woods (00:08:59) – It absolutely does. And makes each of those meetings enjoyable. It helps solve another important challenge for a fundraiser, which is the excitement and enthusiasm to go the extra mile to get more conversations because they’re going well rather than sometimes they’re a bit awkward and pressured.

Paul Davies (00:09:17) – Yeah. So we’ve just launched what is our recovery appeal during Covid and we’ve taken a really considered approach. We’ve taken our time about it. We did nothing knee jerk. And that came from fundamentally why we exist and what impact we want to make and therefore what is our ask to people.

Paul Davies (00:09:36) – It’s not just about survival, it’s about what impact we want to make with people’s investment in us. And so that’s kind of been a considered approach. But now I’m at the stage of talking to people about it. I’m prioritising getting meetings in my diary, and my diary hasn’t been fuller. Like I could be doing, say, a handful of meetings a month now I’ve got six key meetings a week, which are really important meetings in my diary, and I’ve found that just jumping on the phone to somebody, I was saying to you that the amount of yoga classes or leisure activities I’ve interrupted by just calling people has been super productive because I’m interacting. I’ve got a little informal interaction with them, which you kind of are helpful anyway because you find things out about people and it just helps your relationship already. And kind of when you go into the meeting, you’ve got a bit of a human connection anyway because you know what’s going on in their life and it all helps you just to again, it’s just relationship building, but it’s nuances that really matter.

Rob Woods (00:10:39) – So a couple of things I wanted to pick up on there. The first was, did you say that before six months ago, you might have had 3 or 4 conversations with supporters a month and now you’re up to 5 or 6 a week. Did I hear that correctly?

Paul Davies (00:10:55) – Yeah. So that’s quite a big turnaround. But the game changer has been just getting on the phone. Emails just take forever and you know, email is just something for us all to do. And yet picking up the phone just helps the relationship but also gets stuff done And I’m I just feel more. Look for it and then it has a knock on effect in terms of the cash raised as well.

Rob Woods (00:11:19) – Yeah. And as you know, this is such a key theme of my philosophy on fundraising or certainly high value fundraising. And I’ve been talking to lots of other people who’ve made this kind of a shift. So just to be clear for the listener, it’s not appropriate to be calling people who don’t support your charity, but even when they already care and they already support you and you’ve got their phone number and therefore it is appropriate for you to make contact in this way rather than the safer feeling way of sending an email.

Rob Woods (00:11:54) – Your experience of becoming braver in that way has been richly rewarded. It sounds like it’s one of the key reasons why you’re getting so many conversations with people who care about your cause now. And it’s not surprising that that also helps turn into results. Just one thing to pick up is usually you don’t pick up the phone and then expect to have the whole conversation there. And then rather than send an email to request a proper chat, you pick up the phone to request a proper chat. Often they pick up and then they’re only too happy to put something in the diary for next week, for instance.

Paul Davies (00:12:29) – Yeah, because I want to consider chatting and conversation with people, but it’s always that what’s next? Which was another thing that was really useful on the course. I think my mindset sometimes was, and it’s just your negative chatter, sometimes it’s that it can be on the negative side than positive. So with just calling someone and it is our supporters, they might think I’m bothering them or I can’t just interrupt their life or maybe I cut and they’re just barriers.

Paul Davies (00:12:55) – And actually I had one person say, Lovely to hear your voice. And this was somebody that I’ve had a growing relationship with, but it’s grown all the more because of that. And now I’m having really enjoyable meetings with them and yeah, it’s going well, but it’s almost that. Next, what’s the follow up? What’s the next step? And again, I’m not being pushy by saying that because it was great. You know, when can I talk, When can we check in or you know, just setting in the next day and the next action?

Rob Woods (00:13:25) – Yes. And that again, it sounds easy and obvious in a way, but one only relaxes into feeling that that is the most natural thing in the world to say. If you’ve truly embraced the philosophy that people enjoy giving to a cause they care about, which is different from where some charities are at, which is, please, can I get money so that we can pay for stuff you’ve taken to heart? One of the exercises we did in the programme that really helps us emotionally embrace the notion that if someone ends up giving generously to a cause they care about, their life does not become poorer, generally their life becomes richer in the deepest sense of the word.

Paul Davies (00:14:07) – And in the same way, this helps with rejection, for want of a better word. Not everybody wants to give to our charity. And that’s right. And true enough, because our charity, like other charities, is amazing. We make an amazing impact. But in terms of if you get a no or a no right now, you know, it’s not for me right now, but maybe it will be in the future. That’s all good. And it almost helps you manage your own expectations and it comes into you doing your research and all of that. But sometimes it’s even in a conversation, you that’s all good. That’s not that’s not that’s not a bad thing or something that you need to kick yourself about. It’s all part of it and it’s really exciting. And again, it has a real impact. They make a real impact with us. Yeah.

Rob Woods (00:14:52) – And part of that, not taking it personally, being okay whether they decide they do want to give today for their reasons or they don’t want to give today for their reasons, being okay with that comes right back to one of the fundamental things we were talking about earlier, which is your goal is not to go out and get money, know or get people to give money, But if a key goal is to go and have as many conversations as you can with people who care about this cause, then you’re just working the process.

And some of those people, for their reasons, are going to be moved to want to give. Yeah, When.

Paul Davies (00:15:26) – I am asking people to consider giving a contribution and we can be specifically talking about an amount of money, you know that again I feel I can be I relax into that. It’s not a oh this is the bit or you know, this is the part where we’re talking about supporting us or I feel happy about it and I feel I can actually be quite direct about it. And, you know, you’re, you know, the person you’re talking to. But yeah, I think that’s the best way I can relax into it. I feel like it’s me, it excites me, It doesn’t unnerve me.

Rob Woods (00:16:01) – And I think I remember at one point you said that having all some fundamental principles of good steps in a good donor meeting, something I called the fundraisers donor meeting checklist. You mentioned that tool. You find it really helpful. And even after all this experience, you still look at that most days before your meetings.

Rob Woods (00:16:21) – Yes. Without mentioning any names or giving it away. Any details, could you just bring to life, for instance, with one example you’re pleased with of a meeting or an ask meeting that’s gone well? Yes.

Paul Davies (00:16:34) – Okay. So we started this fundraising appeal a couple of weeks ago. And one of the first meetings I did was with a current supporter. I went through all this in my mind beforehand. I kind of got myself in the zone. I’ve always been very prepared for meetings before I did this course, but sometimes I could even be hastily walking to a meeting or what I’m doing now is zoning into everything I’ve learned and that mindset before I go to a meeting. And a key part of that is how can I, as I’ve said, like to make life easier for this other person and really listen to them. And so this meeting we had quite early on, I talked the person through our plan and I started off with the problem we’re facing and our solution and the impact we want to make, which is very impact driven and focused, which and all the things that chime with this person specifically, they have given us what is the largest gift an individual has ever given our charity.

And it’s a five figure gift, but it’s a significant amount and everybody feels good about it.

Rob Woods (00:17:49) – Yeah, but I guess it’s also knock on effects of that huge result in terms of morale for your your colleagues or even some of the musicians who might be, you know, understandably, some of their morale might be taking some knocks in the last four months. The implications of you helping that donor do a wonderful, generous thing are far reaching.

Paul Davies (00:18:13) – Yeah. And interestingly enough, it was one of the very things that helped that person give more than they actually said in the meeting initially. And they were almost asking me to help them see the higher amount. And that was one of the things that really, really did it for them, because our musicians are, as we all know, at home, redundant. Their livelihoods are at risk, but their mental health is as well. And we want to get them playing again and for them and for our communities. And that really resonated with the person.

Rob Woods (00:18:51) – Congratulations, Paul, for putting all this into practice. So you’re at this stage of the appeal you literally launched a couple of weeks ago, and I don’t want to jinx anything. Everybody knows that these things are a long haul. However, well, you’re doing however generous donors are. We must not be complacent. No. But two weeks in, what are the results so far that you could be pleased with?

Paul Davies (00:19:16) – So we are at third of the target and it’s yeah, it’s a big amount the target and we’re a third of the way within two weeks. But again, I can only say that’s testament to this course.

Rob Woods (00:19:34) – Thank you. Congratulations on all the hard work involved. And so Paul, in terms of distinctions, you’ve learned about what to say when it’s our turn to do the talking about how our charity makes a difference. I remember you said that using real examples has become clearer for you and easier for you. Could you give me an example of how you might use a real example or story when you’re talking to some supporters?

Paul Davies (00:20:00) – What’s helpful is now I can quickly spot where we are trying to get something that’s clearly important to us and is no doubt important, but it’s essentially filler and it’s cutting out.

Paul Davies (00:20:14) – It’s almost like you don’t say what you cut out because essentially it could all be important. But what’s going to chime with a donor? And I always keep saying to the team, let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a donor. And that’s not disregarding our plan. But by putting yourself in the shoes of that donor, you’re going to get that match in your head because that match bit is the only way you’re going to get support. So it’s been really helpful in spotting and helping the team spot what’s filler. There’s a young guy we work with who has dementia. He’s in his 30s and so we work with people, people who are older, people who have dementia, but people who have a young onset and you know, that can be quite early on. And so this young man used to be in a band. He loves Nadal’s music and has had quite a rich musical life. And at the start of the sessions that we. We’re doing. He just looked very withdrawn and almost like he wasn’t in the room and didn’t say much, wasn’t very verbal, really, and was quite withdrawn and insular, almost like just looked numb almost within his eyes.

Paul Davies (00:21:31) – And so when we started the music session and making music, which is essentially a conversation without words, he was sitting on a drum that you can sit on and you can and you can bash And he just lit up. When I say lit up, he was fully connected with the room and he looked happy. And that light that I could see in his eyes just made my day. I loved witnessing it. And I’ve been to so many sessions and I see it every time. And this is somebody who, like I’m in a band, I write songs, I make music, I do that weekly. And for this, for this guy, he did that and now this is giving him that back. But it’s him. He’s doing it. He’s expressing himself. And it’s just seeing somebody switched back on almost in. It’s profound and it’s great. It’s a joy to see.

Rob Woods (00:22:30) – And just hearing you share that. I feel it. I get it. I connect. So is that the kind of example you’ve been sharing? You’ve been more likely to share proactively to a supporter now compared to, say, six months ago?

Paul Davies (00:22:46) – Yeah, and it’s transformational. So it’s going from, um, what dementia looks like and feels like, what’s the lived experience of that to what life can look like for somebody with dementia and music therapy in their life. And I see it in people’s eyes as I’m in a meeting with them. I see them get it because I’m talking about something that matters. It’s real. And I’ve experienced it and felt it. And I can authentically pass it on to somebody else. And of course, we invite people to see the sessions for themselves. And that’s all part of the process of engaging and involving somebody. But even in a meeting, when I’m saying that to somebody else and it’s a real story, it has an impact for somebody.

Rob Woods (00:23:32) – So, Paul, thank you ever so much for giving up your time to share these insights, these little stories, to help the listener understand more about high value fundraising. I really appreciate it. Huge. Congratulations on the progress you’ve made and the success of your new appeal so far. I think that’s amazing, especially this year of all years, and especially for an arts charity of all the kinds of calls that you’re proving that it’s doable is really inspiring to me, and I hope that the listener will find it helpful too. I look forward to catching up with you again soon, but for now, best of luck with your fundraising.

Paul Davies (00:24:09) – Thank you. Thank you so much. Bye bye. Bye.

Rob Woods (00:24:14) – So I hope you found our chat helpful. As usual, there’s a transcript and a short summary of the episode in the podcast section of our Bright Spot Fundraising website. And if you’d like to find out more about our two flagship programs, that’s the Major Gifts Mastery Programme, which is the one that Paul did, or the Corporate Partnerships Mastery Programme. These programmes start again in November 2023. These programs have now helped hundreds and hundreds of fundraisers to grow fundraising income over the last ten years.

Rob Woods (00:24:44) – And we’d love to help you too. Or if you’re interested in some in-house training for your team or some profound next level corporate partnerships consultancy with Bright Spot, check out the information on our website. All of these services are at brightspotfundraising.co.uk/services. Finally, I know there’s a good chance that you’ve already subscribed to the Fundraising Bright Spot show, but if not, please do follow us now so that you don’t miss out on the episodes we’ll be sharing in the next few weeks. Do let us know what you think of the episode. We’re both on LinkedIn and on Twitter. I am @woods_rob. Thank you for listening today. Best of luck with your fundraising and I look forward to sharing more bright spot stories with you very soon.

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