Selling and Fundraising- Are They the Same?

Michael Cymbrowsky / Consultative Sales Enablement

Having personally held positions in for-profit and non-profit organizations, I have experienced first-hand what it takes to close commercial agreements and to secure voluntary donations.

B2B salespeople, once viewed as transactional order takers, must now be consultants who propose comprehensive solutions to complex problems.  And fundraisers, who were viewed as ungrateful beggars, must now embrace polished consultative selling skills so they can cultivate meaningful financial relationships to ensure continued support.

As practices for salespeople and fundraisers have evolved and become refined over time, the two professions have become very similar.

Enhanced Skills for a New Reality

Until the ‘80s, selling into the commercial for-profit world had been primarily transactional.  The customer was the industry expert and the salesperson was often the order taker.  But with the advent of global competition and advances in technology came workforce reductions, less face-to-face meetings, and a time-stressed corporate world.

Today, many buyers no longer have the time or staff to evaluate all the potential supplier/vendor options available to them and must rely more on informed, consultative sales professionals to provide critical information.  Salespeople, therefore, must be credible consultants and trusted advisors able to uncover needs and provide solutions that address market trends and competitive threats.  And to help salespeople make the transformation, Sandler, SPIN, Miller Heiman, Holden, and Challenger sales training methodologies were taught and embraced.

Over the last 10 years, the nonprofit environment has changed as well.  The number of registered nonprofits nationally has increased by approximately 150,000 to 1.5 million.  With more nonprofits knocking on their doors soliciting contributions, prospective donors want to be assured that their funds will materially impact a meaningful cause.  To effectively cultivate and steward beneficial donor relationships, development professionals must recognize each donor’s dream, objectively measure results, and convincingly reconcile donor expectations with realistic outcomes.

Segmenting To Understand and Prioritize Prospects

The first step for a sales consultant or development professional is to determine who is likely to invest in the company’s solution or the charity’s cause.

After prospects are identified they can then be categorized into segment type which could be defined by . . .

  • Channel (e.g. individual donors, corporate sponsors, foundations, events)
  • Demographic (e.g. age, gender, income)
  • Behavior (e.g. usage, decision-making authority)
  • Psychographic (e.g. lifestyle, activities, interests, opinions)
  • Geography

Then, based on expected or estimated revenue potential, and whether a prospect wants, needs, or demands a solution, opportunities can be prioritized.

Tools and Terms to Track Relationships

Within the for-profit world, HubSpot, Microsoft Dynamics, Pardot, Salesforce, are popular Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software tools. These tools are used to archive important customer and prospect information, and to track interactions between sales stages which are often defined as:

  1. Prospecting
  2. Qualifying
  3. Presenting
  4. Negotiating
  5. Closing

eTapestry, Donor Perfect, Neon, Raiser’s Edge are software tools used by non-profits to track “moves” between fundraising cycles which are typically defined as:

  1. Identifying
  2. Cultivating
  3. Asking
  4. Soliciting
  5. Stewarding

The commonalities within both environments are the need for a CRM software tool to manage communications and to define critical steps throughout the process.

 A Disciplined Process to Ensure “Win-Win” Outcomes

Before asking a prospect probing questions, rapport needs to be built and a relationship needs to be cultivated.

Whether via phone, e-mail, social media, or at a conference, prospects should be engaged or “touched” several times to create a personal “connection”.  Once a connection is made, a candid discussion can occur.  And by asking well-crafted questions and carefully listening to responses, a prospect’s budget, decision-making ability, need, and timeline can all be determined.

For a prospective donor, the decision to make a donation can be for altruistic, social, reciprocal, tax, or egotistical reasons.  By synthesizing this information, a convincing narrative can then be told.  A story that encompasses the prospect’s dream will engage and inspire while facts referencing the desired impact will help to justify their “equity” investment.  Usually, a non-profit that tells the best story will be the one that solicits the most funds.

As with conventional product and service brands, making an “emotional” connection with the prospect is key. Thus, personalizing the appeal on some human or emotional level is critical to achieving positive fundraising outcomes. The pitch must resonate on some level to have impact!


Successful B2B sales consultants and development professionals have many similar qualities.  Both must be strategic in identifying, qualifying, and prioritizing prospects.  Both must be excellent listeners and domain experts to build meaningful relationships.  Both must embrace today’s software tools to effectively manage pipelines and portfolios.  Both must be effective story-tellers to close opportunities and move prospects into giving.   And both must follow-thru to ensure continued support and long term growth.