Eight Principles to Practice
1. Keep it Simple. I once spoke with a very successful Defense Attorney. He said, “If you argue ten points, even if each is significant, when they get back to the jury room, they won’t remember any.” Be a master of exclusion. Relentlessly prioritize. You don’t need to keep it short. Just keep it simple.
2. Seek the Unexpected. You need to keep their interest. That can mean breaching a person’s expectations. Engage a person’s curiosity. Set off sparks. Ignite a blaze.
3. Be Concrete. Be unambiguous. Very often mission statements, strategies, and visions are meaningless and difficult to follow. Keep your ideas full of enticing concrete images.
4. Be Unforgettable. Your case has to be memorable. In trying to build a case for support, many instinctively grasp for hard numbers and statistics. But this is most often exactly the wrong approach. President Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy. Instead, he asked a simple question most could identify with: “Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago.”
5. Make it Emotional and Dramatic. In order to get people to care about your ideas, you need to make them feel the breathtaking power of how you touch lives. Research is clear that people are more likely to make a gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region. We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.
6. Make It Urgent. Your program cannot be put-off. The need is urgent. Time will not wait.
7. Tell Stories. You get people to move to action by telling stories. Hearing a story acts as a kind of mental flight simulator. Stories help a donor go from the heart, to the brain, to the checkbook.
8. Answer the Vital Questions. Those you call on want to know: Why your Institution. Why this project. Why now. Why me.