Handling objections and difficult questions – here’s The Key

‘We like the work your charity does, but we don’t think we can give to you because… you are too small and local OR too big and not local enough OR we have a problem with your charity’s position on XYZ issue…’

Whatever organisation you work for, you have probably found there are a handful of objections which act as the major sticking point and so prevent otherwise interested donors and partners from giving.

In over 16 years of working as a major donor fundraiser and training more than 8000 fundraisers, I have found the challenge of handling donor objections is absolutely solvable. This does not mean that you’ll be able to help every donor to give every time, but it does mean that if you prepare in the right way, the vast majority of difficult questions and objections can be confidently handled.

And this means you can increase the number of times you help a donor give. It also means you can look forward to and enjoy such meetings, knowing you have a system.

The first and main reason for receiving lots of scepticism is a lack of understanding about what we should have said to the donor in the first place. This happens either because the fundraiser has not found out enough about the donor’s point of view because they talked too much, too early; or because the fundraiser spoke as if human beings make decisions based on logic alone… whereas in fact they make decisions based on what they feel (which is usually then justified with logic).

Today I want to focus on the second big reason why fundraisers often struggle to handle donor’s objections. It is this:

When objections arise, the fundraiser reacts. In reacting emotionally both parties feel that the fundraiser is defending what they have said against the objection.

Though this is entirely understandable, the key distinction made by really successful fundraisers is to not react against, but to align with the other person.

Align with them

In defending, you send the signal that you oppose the other person, that in some way they are wrong. Opposition hinders persuasion.

Your job is to align with the person who has the objection, and solve it with them.

As Blair Warren says in One Sentence Persuasion, ineffective influencers seek to correct and convince…instead, the very best influencers seek to validate and intrigue.

How do you help them feel validated? You don’t need to agree with what they’ve said, but you do need to empathise with why they might have said it, and at the very least find something in their intention that you could respect and build on.

This comes down to the decision you make about how you interact with other people, especially those who seem to be different to yourself. (If you think it sounds easy, remember how you felt about those who voted differently to you in any recent election, or for instance in the referendum over Britain’s membership of the European Union.)

Precisely because it is often not easy to align with those who say things contrary to our own beliefs, I have found that will power on its own is often not enough. To help succeed, I have found nothing is as powerful as the following technique:

Not ‘yes….but’

In his book Unlimited Power, Tony Robbins offers the strategy of ‘Yes…and…’ to help you find common ground and align with others with whom you disagree. Too often we pretend to listen to what someone is saying, then go on to re-state our position anyway: ‘yes….yes…yes.. but…’ as soon as we say ‘but…’ the other person feels like we think they’re wrong, or just as bad, we were only pretending to listen to what they had to say.

To help fundraisers discover the power of this shift during the Confidently Handling Objections module of the Major Gifts Mastery Programme, I set up a debate on a divisive topic. The first time, most people find the discussion stressful and their partners aggressive or arrogant. Then we repeat the exercise with just one change – they are only allowed to start their turn to speak with either ‘yes…and…’ or ‘I agree with….and… ’/ ‘I respect…and… ’ ‘I appreciate…and… ’

At the demonstration session I did on the recent Major Donor SIG, participants discovered that though this activity at first appears both simplistic (and difficult!) it had a dramatic effect on the level of stress and conflict they experienced.

And most powerful of all, they reported that the techniques forced them to work much harder at listening to what the other person had to say. As a result, they were able to find common ground / the building blocks of agreement and influence, where before there had appeared to be only lack of respect and intense difference.

There is more to growing your skill in handling objections – Align is only the ‘A’ in my AURA model – but it is the most important. This is because even if you are far from perfect in the other steps, such as how to craft ‘re-frames’ for your most common objections, if the other person feels that you are truly on their side, and are doing your best to understand their point of view, your chances of helping them solve the sticking point, and so reaching agreement on a gift or partnership, will be greatly improved.

Do you need to increase major donor income this year? Find out more about The Major Gifts Mastery Programme here.