Meeting an important supporter? – do this and get the edge

A couple of months ago I was coaching a community fundraiser who was struggling to hit her targets.


Following the session she went and took more action than she had in months. As I tell you the simple idea that led to the change I’d like you to try an experiment.


Whether you are standing or sitting, deliberately adopt a more powerful, open pose. Un-hunch your shoulders, raise your chest-bone so you are more open, and un-cross any limbs that are crossed. Be BIG not small. If you were looking serious or neutral, allow yourself a half smile. Obviously this sounds a bit silly, but hardly anyone’s watching and you have nothing to lose.


At the start of the session, my client who I’ll here call Caroline, seemed pretty far from confident. I first asked her what was going well for her. After a little prompting, told me about a new supporter she had called who had happily agreed to do a sponsored event which would be worth £500. It was such a great story that I really wanted to know how she’d done it. Going into the detail, Caroline’s body language changed completely. She was leaning back, doing big open gestures, and most noticeably, she was grinning broadly.


Once we got into the areas that needed work, she chose networking skills, which took 45 minutes and making phone calls.


We had 15 minutes to tackle a three hour topic and I wondered what one idea would make the biggest difference to her phone results. I asked her to score out of ten her feelings when she made fundraising calls. ‘Minus 3’ she said with feeling.


I said, ‘Caroline…when you were talking to the guy about the £500 sponsored event place…could you show me what you were doing with your body at that moment’. She looked baffled, and then quite easily re-created the big, open body position and even the grin. Her energy had clearly changed. I asked, ‘And now what number from 1 to 10 would you mark your feelings as?… Are you at 5, or 6 or 7?


‘I’m an 8 now. Yeah, at least an 8 at the moment…I feel great now’.


‘Caroline’ I said, ‘do that whenever you make phone calls.’


She looked back at me.


‘Are you seriously telling me that everything will get easier if I just sit up straight and smile on the phone?’


‘That’s right’. She deliberately sat way more confidently for the rest of the session, and even though she was doing it ‘on purpose’ the thing that struck me was that she started smiling warmly – her real smile – and her voice was now less hesitant.


At the start of my courses fundraisers often arrive believing that what’s holding back their results is the lack of some clever strategy or skill. Certainly there are that you need to know…but often the biggest shifts in results are made by doing surprisingly simple, even obvious things, really well, and DOING THEM EVERY TIME.


Caroline felt far more confident in a heartbeat, because she deliberately changed her physiology. If you’re sceptical about the power of this simple idea, take a look at the science behind the shift. As Professor Amy Cuddy of Harvard Business School demonstrates in this inspiring TED talk –, adopting power poses, even only briefly, affects the hormones that your body releases. Specifically, testosterone, (the ‘dominance hormone’ which affects assertiveness and among other things, willingness to take risks) goes up and the level of cortisol (the ‘stress hormone’, which makes you feel worry) goes down.


As Cuddy points out, most of us are dimly aware that our body language affects how others perceive us. This is worth remembering next time you go to meet a powerful donor (or your Finance Director?) and don’t want to get pushed around. It’s one thing to be aware of it and another to improve your skill at controlling how others perceive you. For more on this, a great read is Pitch Anything by Oren Klaff.


But her main, often over-looked, point, is that your body language affects how YOU feel. When presented with this idea, some people say they don’t want to be fake by acting confidence they don’t feel. Professor Cuddy points out that by doing the comfortable-seeming or small body poses, you are actually being inauthentic.


Doing these poses in the presence of powerful donors makes it difficult for you to express what you really think and feel with conviction. But if you fake it till you become it, ie deliberately practice making yourself big (in private) just before your crunch donor meeting, you are activating hormones so that you’ll feel the confidence to think, act and speak at your most authentic best during the meeting.


If you did the posture experiment while reading, how would you rate your feelings of confidence right now?


If you’d like to improve your results with important donors, there are three more little known techniques that I will explain in depth, on The Secrets of Successful Fundraising on 12th September 2013 in London.