Solve Problems Quickly

My Scatty Chief Exec is Giving Me a Headache


‘Its driving me nuts, Rob. I work so hard to get these meetings with potential donors and then in the meeting my chief exec says all the wrong things…’


She’d come to ask for my advice at the end of a training session and there was anguish in her voice as she described what kept going wrong in these important donor meetings. She was certain she’d tried everything.


‘I like the influencing techniques you showed us today, but how can I possibly get my chief exec to stay on message to the donor?’


As a fundraising trainer I was keen to help, but my problem as a Daddy was that if I didn’t leave very briskly in the next two minutes I would miss the last train that could get me home in time for my kids’ bed-time. I needed to help her find good options quickly.


I said ‘My guess is that not every joint meeting with donors has been disastrous… ‘Is that true?’


‘Yes, some times have been worse than others’.


‘OK, can you remember one occasion when he remained at least fairly focussed on the key topic with a donor…’ She nodded. ‘Now, what was different about that meeting that may have helped?’


A pause, deep concentration. Then her face lit up. ‘The meeting with Mr C from New York, there was hardly any time, so instead of briefing him about all the different issues, I just told him the one thing that he needed to do. I only had time to tell him about that’.


It transpired that before each of the other meetings Emma had been giving the Chief Exec as much information as she would have wanted, and as a result (though he would never have admitted it) the information over-load had almost certainly increased his tendency to ramble off topic. The strategy Emma worked out for the future for this VIP colleague, was that she would radically reduce the instructions she would give him about a particular donor. To say one or two things and say them well, was her new plan.


When you feel stuck, what do you do to get un-stuck?


The million dollar question is, when you’re next faced with a fundraising problem that seems impossible, what will you do?


One Surprisingly Powerful Thinking Tool – Find the Bright Spots


One effective strategy is to search for what Chip and Dan Heath call ‘bright spots’. In their excellent book Switch, the Heath brothers explain bright spots are times when you have done well, or even just ‘ok’ in similar situations in the past.


This is so powerful because of the brain’s habit of generalising, for instance saying things like ‘I’m no good at networking’ or ‘I always procrastinate’, when neither statement is wholly true. There are bound to be exceptions. Until you notice these exceptions, you will feel under confident and probably less motivated to search for ideas.


But if you deliberately ask your brain to search for the bright spots that buck the trend, you do several things that make the problem more solvable.


So if your colleague asks you for help, saying they have no idea how to persuade a difficult donor / company / trust to meet them, rather than give them advice (which rarely helps them in the long term), you could instead help them find a bright spot.


For example ‘Think of a time when you have managed to persuade this donor (or a similar one) to agree to meet you?…What do you think caused them to say yes that time?…And what clues from that success could help you now?’


If you ask these questions with positive expectation that you will get an answer, invariably some positive exceptions will occur to you. And the instant they do, your current task becomes easier to solve.


This technique appeared too simple when I first read about it, but I have found it to be extraordinarily powerful. In fact it has never failed to produce something useful in the hundreds of times I’ve used it for myself and for coaching clients over the last five years. The only way for you to discover whether it could become as powerful for you, is to test it.


Why not give yourself two minutes now and try the Bright Spot problem solving technique? You have nothing to lose, and potentially a fantastic tool to gain, (in addition to progress with a problem that’s currently bugging you).


  1. Think of a current work challenge you’ve been meaning to take action on but feel short on ideas for what you could do.
  2. Ask yourself, in a state of positive expectation that your brain will offer you answers ‘where in the past have I had (even partial) success with this type of situation (or this donor)?
  3. What did I do then that probably helped on that occasion, and what could I learn from that occasion that would help me now?