Five Lessons that Fundraisers Can Learn from Sales Executives

The path to closing a major gift can be similar to booking a big sale. We sift through prospects to identify those with the most potential, work hard to build a trust-based relationship, match a prospect to the right opportunity, make the ask, and celebrate a win. 

So how can fundraisers learn from sales executives in the for-profit world? And where can sales learn from advancement? We traveled to the CASE District III Conference in Orlando to have this conversation on modern frontline fundraising with our friends at UVA as we talk about following warm leads, creating urgency, focusing on pipeline, and constantly honing our craft.

Molly Hall, Enterprise Sales Executive at EverTrue, and Adam Fentress, Director of Major Gifts at the University of Virginia, were the dream team for this presentation. Both have extensive sales backgrounds and expertise in the advancement space. 

Here are their five lessons that fundraisers can learn from sales executives: 

1. Donor awareness.

Donors and customers have lots in common. To start, they know more about us than we think. Alumni in particular have more channels than ever to know what is going on around campus. They might see on Facebook that a new building is breaking ground, or that a favorite professor is retiring, or that an athletic team recently won a conference title. 

News that has traditionally been distributed through alumni newsletters is now available to your constituents in real-time. Exciting, right? But what does this have to do with closing gifts?

A lot, actually. Did you know that digitally engaged constituents are 3.4x more likely to give to your institution? It’s time that we leverage these (not so) new communication channels to surface alumni that are following the activities of our university and raising their hands online.

In sales (and advancement), we call this surfacing leads. According to our data, 43% of the average institution’s high-capacity, digitally engaged donors remain unassigned. If we start identifying these leads and assigning them to portfolios, we can grow gift sizes and retain donors better than ever before.



2. Deliver value. Always.

If you were at RAISE 2018, you know to knock with your feet. It’s simple. Deliver value to your donors in every interaction. 

Inspire your donors with what is important to them, whether it be conversing about something you know they’re interested in or sharing new ideas and perspectives. Fatiguing donors with cold solicitations is the equivalent of cold calling the same prospects over and over. It’s not fun for you, and it’s definitely not a good experience for your donors. 

The best salespeople become partners with their prospects, working together to achieve a common goal. Imagine you go to the Apple store to buy a new laptop. You don’t want the sales representative asking you to purchase something at every turn. You want them to help you figure out which product is the best for your needs. What amount of storage do you need? Do you need a larger screen for your projects?

Building relationships with donors is the same. Find out what institutional priorities align with their interests and how they can inspire somebody to give.

3. Create natural deadlines.

Whether you are nearing the end of a fiscal year or are trying to secure scholarships for the fall, creating timeframes and natural deadlines for gifts can help move things along. 

Ask when your donor would like to see the impact of their gift. As long as you’re mindful about a donor’s priorities and build deadlines from the beginning, this can be a natural way to create a sense of urgency and close gifts sooner. 


EverTrue’s new Launchpad keeps gift officers on top of key metrics and propels the right activity.

4. Track data to build pipeline and close more gifts.

Are you measuring your activity as it relates to your pipeline and the results you can expect? How many proposals do you have out? How many visits are on your calendar? How many of these are with unique contacts? On average, how long are your donors staying in discovery? In cultivation? How many have been solicited already?

If not tracking information like this, it’s time to start. Donor visits are just another activity if you’re not talking to the right people and driving the conversation towards a purpose. 

Successful salespeople know exactly what’s in their pipeline and how they’re tracking toward their goals. It’s time for advancement to catch up. Tools like EverTrue help you understand where you (and your team) are on the way to achieving your goals. This can provide valuable insights into what you need to focus on and how you’re progressing.

5. Steward donors to ensure the next gift. 

With what company did you last have an exceptional customer experience? (The EverCrew raves about the customer service at Chewy and the level of personalization from JetBlue.) An exceptional customer experience has the ability to turn any of us into lifetime customers. And the same goes for donors. 

For-profit companies go above and beyond creating amazing experiences for our customers, and it’s time that donors get the same treatment. Personalize communications. Stay in touch (even if you’re not soliciting a gift). Share relevant content. Send treats or university swag. You name it. 


Read more from Adam. And while you’re at it, set up some time with us to learn how EverTrue can help you close more gifts today. 

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