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  • Writer's picturelauramccartytufano

The Art of the Pivot

You are a well-prepared fundraiser. You’ve researched your prospect, you’ve set the date, you’ve chosen the meeting location, you’ve prepared your talking points and your call to action. And then something happens. You get a subtle (or not so subtle) cue that it's time to pivot.

Sometimes you find out that a donor is upset about something the organization did or didn't do. This can mean it's time to pivot to a damage control stance. Listen intently and apologize sincerely.

Sometimes a donor says something that indicates that now is the time to talk about planned gifts. Time to pivot!

Perhaps you learn of corporate connections or clout that were previously unknown to you. Time to talk about sponsorship, corporate foundation support, gala table sales, or team volunteer opportunities.

Despite your best laid plans, conversations with prospective donors don’t always go exactly as you envisioned. Are you prepared to pivot?

Being Prepared to Pivot

You can't prepare for every scenario that might play out in your meeting, and it wouldn't be a good use of your time to try! On the other hand, you don’t want to be caught off-guard, and you don’t want to miss an opportunity to deepen your relationship with a prospect. There are ways to set yourself up for successful pivoting.

Be an Active Listener.

First, you must be an active listener. If you spend your face time with a donor or prospect thinking about the next part of your pitch, you may not be hearing the subtle clues they’re giving you. To build productive relationships with prospects, you must truly listen to them. The words they use, their body language, the topics that capture their attention the most - pay attention and adjust accordingly.

Know Your Case.

I’m currently working on a capital campaign for a small theater company. While their primary case for support is based on theater as an art form that inspires, provokes, educates, or entertains its audience, there are secondary components at play.

In their small town, the theater also boosts the economic vitality of their charming downtown district. Theater-goers spend money at nearby restaurants, stroll through local shops before the show, buy gas at the station a block away, sometimes make a weekend of it and stay at the local hotel.

Another secondary component is their youth programming. The group offers youth theater camps in the summer and opportunities for children to audition for roles in certain productions.

There’s also the vitality they bring to a historic landmark, the century-old theater that had fallen into disrepair and stood vacant for years, but is now undergoing a major restoration and will soon be home to our theater company.

So, is your prospect most excited by the art form? The theater’s role in the economic vitality of their downtown? The educational programming for youth? Preserving and revitalizing a historic building? It’s your job to listen and find out, and then adjust your approach accordingly.

Know Your Needs.

Before a meeting with a donor or prospect, make a list of all the ways the they may be able to advance your cause. You likely won’t make more than one ask, but you may pivot during the meeting. For example: you may be meeting with a donor because you’ve determined that they are ready to be asked for a major gift to support your annual programs. You need that annual operating support. But the donor could also help you achieve other goals, if they:

  • Make a planned gift

  • Make a memorial gift

  • Make a one-time capital gift

  • Open doors with their employer for sponsorship

  • Open doors with their employer’s foundation for grant funding

  • Invite friends to join them at one of your events

  • Organize a group of colleagues for a volunteer day

  • Organize a supplies drive


You’ve identified a $500 donor to your organization that you think is capable and interested in becoming a $5,000 donor. When you meet with them, they mention that a close family member recently passed. You might suggest that they make a $5,000 gift to honor their loved one.

Detour Ahead road sign

You chat about their work at a large corporation. You still ask for the $5,000 gift, but you may also explore how they might be able to make introductions or open doors to the corporate foundation. You may ask if their employer has an employee giving matching program. You may ask if their corporation might be open to a conversation about sponsoring your next event.

They mention a major life change. Perhaps their last child just finished college. Perhaps they’ve recently retired, or recently hit the age when by law, they are required to take a minimum distribution from their IRA. Perhaps they share a story of their first encounter with your organization 20 years ago. Now’s a good time to ask if they’ve ever considered leaving a legacy gift to the organization.

Practice Makes Perfect

The path through a conversation with a prospect can meander, and you may encounter many forks in the road if you keep your eyes and ears open. With practice, your ability to guide and be guided by the flow of conversation will grow and flourish. Keep setting up meetings, keep talking to donors, and keep practicing your pivot!

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