Nonprofit fundraising is all about relationships. And creating strong relationships requires conversation.
But, if you’re like us, sometimes you find yourself at a loss for words… when you most need them.
Rather than stand in awkward silence or bring up the weather (again), follow our tried-and-true tips for acing small talk and getting something out of these casual conversations.
Always be prepared.
Look, it’s a fact of life: small talk will find you when you least expect it. Always be prepared with a few general questions to ask people when you’re faced with the inevitable.
It’s even better if these questions are a little off center, for example: What is your job like? Do you enjoy any hobbies? Have you read any good books (or streamed any good shows) lately? Where did you grow up? What’s your favorite place to vacation? What would you do if you weren’t a [insert occupation]?
With donors and prospects, being prepared might mean doing a little research beforehand so you can ask informed questions or address certain topics. A good way to get started is to ask about a person’s favorite recipient or cause.
And please, for the love of all things good, avoid controversial subjects. Keep. It. Light.
Consider your company and the environment.
Are you having coffee with a donor prospect, lunch with your new book club or working the crowd at an industry-related cocktail party?
How well do you know the person or people across from you? What kind of interaction does the social situation call for? Is the room too loud for a real conversation?
Context is an important driver in human relations, so take a moment to think about your company and observe your surroundings before plunging into conversation.
Listen actively and keep it light.
This goes arm-in-arm with the tips, above. If you’ve asked a question, stick around for the answer. Listen actively with eye contact and a smile and, if you’re in a group setting, don’t hoard one individual’s attention.
Keep. It. Light. It’s worth repeating.
Above all, be polite. Don’t interrupt someone who’s talking or intrude on groups already chatting. Saunter in but hang back. Read that body language and move on to the appetizers or the restroom if you need a minute to regroup.
Make introductions your signature move.
In groups, introductions are the key to small-talk success. When done well, they create natural breaks in conversation that allow people to come and go – and add new dynamics and topics to the mix. So, master the art of introductions to invite people in and share the burden of small talk.
Say my name.
If you know a person’s name, use it! Studies have shown our little brains light up at the sound of our own names. It might be one of our favorite words! Using a person’s name creates an instant connection – and is even more impressive if you’ve just met.
Don’t forget you’re not alone.
That’s right. We all suffer from “small-talk-itis” from time to time. And chances are, the person across from you is feeling a little awkward too.
Take a deep breath and acknowledge the feeling. Scan the room, smile and then dig out one of your prepared questions.
Consider starting with “How do you feel about small talk?”