I recently got suckered.
Let me rephrase. On Saturday, a 10 year-old reminded me how much I learned in my first fundraising job…selling Boy Scout Popcorn. As proof, here I sit, typing with one hand on the keyboard, the other in a bag of Chocolate Covered Carmel Crunch.
#1 Go where the people are
When I sold popcorn as a young scout several (ahem) years ago, I went door to door in my neighborhood and to several others around town. On a good night I could hit 100 houses, especially when I had Dad drive as it got dark or when the houses were too far apart for my little tired legs. Saturday I did what the majority of the country did – went to the grocery store. Turns out it’s a great place to sell food. Duh – hungry people, with money, planning on buying food, plenty of parking, tons of foot traffic (both in and out), etc. It made lots of sense from the start.
2. Don’t scare easily – be confident in your case
“Hi there” a cute little boy in uniform declared as I walked in the first set of doors. “Would you like to buy some amazing Boy Scout Popcorn?” He had no idea of my predisposition for scouting (or chocolate) or pride I have in earning my Eagle Scout and other skills I developed (including cake-making – yes, that’s me in uniform in the photo. I loved the annual ‘Father-Son Cake Bake). He approached every passerby with the same blind enthusiasm – never fearful of defeat or judgment. Confidence is key – especially at first.
3. Have plan B ready
“Sorry bud, I’m in a big hurry,” I said. It’s true, I was. “That’s o.k.! Think about it and we’ll see you on your way out, thanks!” His tone after being denied was as happy (or even happier) than before. And he knew he’d see his captive audience again, even prompting my brain & heart to yearn for chocolaty goodness for the full 45 minutes I was in the store (I had a long list).
4. Have a great product
So, I went aisle to aisle and all I could think of was that popcorn. I’d, of course, had it before. It really IS good stuff (see the link to order below). Whatever you’re fundraising for needs to be legit. You need to believe in it more than anyone. Any sign of questioning your own organization’s value will come across immediately in your communication to donors.
5. Follow up when you say you will
About halfway through my shopping trip I decided I’d buy. I found myself excited to see the kid and actually looking for him while waiting in the checkout line. Sure enough, there he was, waiting for me as promised. Follow up when you say you will. I’m not sure I would have donated had he not been there. “So, what do you think?” he asked.
“I’d love some of that chocolate stuff,” I said. “YES!!” he yelled with a fist in the air. Sort of like Michael Jordan after that championship game where he’s jumping and pumping his fist at the same time. It almost scared me. He gave another scout a high-five and sprinted over to the table to get my popcorn. At this point, I felt scammed because his quick response made me feel that way. He saved it though. “You’re gonna LOVE it!” He was genuinely excited for ME, not for HIM. And he wasn’t afraid to let emotion show. It’s o.k. to enjoy wins and progress. Be happy for donors when they choose your organization – and don’t be afraid to let it show.
7. Thank people better
We recently rewrote our thank-you letters after reading Pamela Grow’s post Do your organization’s thank-you letters suck?. The main point of which is using the ‘thank-you’ as an opportunity to reconnect, not just receipt. After getting my change, the young scout said “Thanks so much! This will help me go to camp!” Oh, sweet dagger in my heart – I LOVED scout camp. And now I felt 10 times better about what I just did. Remember, people make emotional giving decisions, not rational ones.
7. Have fun & be funny
Eager to engage with my new friend, “I loved scout camp” I shared. “You should come!” he quickly replied smiling. “Our basketball team needs help”. He knew I couldn’t go to camp and decided to make a ‘tall-joke’. I smirked. In his books and blog, Bob Hartsook often shares that it’s o.k. to use humor with donors, in fact, it’s preferred. Humor lightens the room, builds trust and relaxes people.
8. Test and retest
On my way out, with popcorn in hand, I noticed that the other boys were saying different things to new prospects. Whatever line worked best, they’d all start using. Wow, these guys were good. Whether they knew it or not, they were doing market testing and implementing on the fly. You don’t have to be mailing millions of pieces of direct mail to use ‘test packages’. Gauge what resonates best and hone your key marketing messages as you go.
9. Exclusivity works
As I walked out I also heard “only 2 boxes of microwave left”! Want people to want something? Tell them they can’t have it. One of the oldest marketing tactics. Why do you think QVC has a ticker showing the clock wind down or the ‘units available’ sell out? Same with giving. Whether it’s exclusive giving circles, parties for levels or the CEO’s monthly email to the planned giving council – create something they can’t have, then give it to them.
It’s easy for organizations and staff to get caught up in what we don’t have. An “if only” mindset can slow progress and quell energy. Instead use the Strengths Finder approach, turn ‘good’ into ‘great’ and forget about the rest. A friend of mine just moved from a mighty metropolis to the boonies hundreds of miles from his network. To bad for his Boy Scout son that just started selling popcorn too. Instead of giving up or suffering through cold calls in their neighborhood, I got an email asking me to order online.
Great timing, my stash is about gone.