Knock Their Socks Off
As a fundraiser, you often have to try and influence people: when you’re asking a major donor to help your cause; when you’re trying to get your colleagues to back your plan; when you need to persuade the board to adopt a strategic approach.
In each case, there are times when the influence message seems to arrive easily and times when “they” just don’t seem to understand. In “The Magic of Influence,” to be published by Wiley later this year, we explore how a range of psychological techniques can help fundraisers trying to win over others. This article explores one of these techniques — perceptual positions.
Perceptual positions is a more technical and sophisticated way to discuss something we all know is important — how to understand someone else’s point of view in a given situation. By understanding the other person’s preferred point of view, you can:
- build rapport more easily with different people;
- frame your own interests in a way that appeals to them; and
- anticipate possible objections, and possibly answer them.
There are three main perceptual positions to be aware of:
POSITION 1: This is the way you experience the world — the perspective you have on any given situation regardless of others’ views and opinions. Position 1 is where you hold your values, beliefs, experiences and prejudices. At best, by being clear about Position 1 you can understand what it is that you want in any situation and be assertive about your needs. At its worst, a perspective wholly based on Position 1 is self-centred and selfish, taking no account of anyone else’s point of view.
POSITION 2: This is about understanding the way someone else experiences the world — “stepping into his shoes.” From Position 2 you can gain an insight into the other person’s perspective — his needs, wants, experiences and desires. You can go into Position 2 to help you understand why you’re not connecting satisfactorily or why the person doesn’t share your interests. But you need to be careful. A total immersion in Position 2 can lead you to identify too strongly with the other person and his interests, losing your sense of self and your interests.
POSITION 3: This is about stepping out from an internal perspective and observing the interaction of both parties from the outside. This position is sometimes described as objective. James Ury in his book “Beyond Yes or No” describes it as “the balcony.” This detached position lets you weigh up both points of view and maybe decide which has the stronger merit. Unfortunately, such detachment also can mean being unable to decide either way or seeming detached.
None of the positions is inherently better than the others. But it’s important to know that individuals tend to have a preference for dealing with situations in one of the three positions: Some people frame everything in terms of their own point of view; some constantly talk about how others perceive them; and some talk about their experience as though it was a movie they were watching.
Putting positions into practice
Really successful fundraisers need to be flexible and to use all three positions — if necessary even in a single interaction. The simple workplace-based example below illustrates this.
Some time ago I had a colleague, Yuen. She started being late for work, gradually extending to five mornings in a row. I needed Yuen to change her behavior.
I took her into my office, sat her down and asked, “Yuen, don’t you feel bad about coming into work late every day?” I expected her be embarrassed and hoped she would be contrite. Instead she was apparently merely puzzled and said, “No.”
Clearly, approaching the challenge through Position 1 wasn’t going to have the desired effect. So I changed tack: “Yuen, how do you think I feel when I get into work early with a full schedule, and then make excuses for you being late?”
Again I’d hoped for some awareness of my feelings. But again there was genuine puzzlement. Yuen didn’t do Position 2 either.
I had one final try: “Yuen, imagine Claire [a close friend and respected colleague] was listening to us having this conversation. What would she say?”
There was a pause — a sudden dawning realization. “Well,” Yuen said, “she might say that it wasn’t fair that you have to take my calls.”
I had to get Yuen into Position 3 — the objective observer — to get her to understand the challenge.
In fundraising, we often need to do they same thing. In position 1 you treat donors as themselves — the foundation director with a duty to spend the money wisely, the wealthy business person with a commitment to corporate social responsibility, or the individual with assets and social values.
Water for Life is a fictional nonprofit. Let’s assume it works in Africa helping people gain access to water through wells. In doing this, it helps release young people from the tyranny of water gathering. The Water for Life fundraiser needs to convince a skeptical donor of the importance of this work. So he begins in Position 1.
“We’d like you as a well-established and generous donor to contribute to our village water pump program. This will help young people collect water for their families more easily and so have more time for school and play. We hope that as a parent yourself, you will feel it’s important to help our program — and feel a sense of pride in helping us to do important work in Africa for young people.”
If this ask doesn’t work, our fundraiser can try to encourage the donor into Position 2, where she can appreciate how important her donation is to the people directly affected rather than appealing to her own values and perspective. Our fundraiser tries again.
“Imagine you are 10-year-old Sagita. Every morning you rise at 5 a.m. to walk three miles along a dusty track to the nearest pump in the next village. There you fill two five-gallon jerry cans with water. You balance one on your head and carry the other. Stopping frequently to change hands, you walk the three miles back to your house. Only then can you wash and make some hot tea for breakfast. You do the same in the evening after school — even though you are frightened of the dark road.
“How do you imagine Sagita feels about spending up to four hours each day collecting water? If you were Sagita, wouldn’t it be great to have time to play and to see your friends?”
The fundraiser is asking the donor to step into Position 2 to experience what it’s like to be Sagita. Once she’s there, the donor with the preference for Position 2 might be better placed to give — and give generously.
But some people find it very hard to view the world from Position 2.
Let’s say our Water for Life fundraiser knows the donor he’s meeting with struggles to be “inside” a situation in another person’s shoes. So he takes a slightly different approach: Position 3 or the outside observer.
“Sagita is 10 years old. Imagine you had a Webcam in her village and could watch her rise at 5 a.m. to walk three miles along a dusty track to the nearest pump in the next village. There you see her fill two five-gallon jerry cans with water. She balances one on her head and carries the other. You watch as she stops frequently to change hands as she walks back to her house. Imagine at the end of school you hear her tell her friend she’s too busy to play since she has to help her mother by collecting more water.
“What could you say to Sagita to explain why she can’t have access to a well? What sort of child would you be looking at if collecting water was a simple matter of walking to the end of the village?”
The fundraiser is asking the donor to step into Position 3 to observe Sagita, to look into her world from the outside.
The learning here is simple but not easy. Next time you’re talking to a donor, notice how she talks about her experiences and if she describes them mostly through Position 1, 2 or 3. And then try and frame your ask in that position. Your ability to influence will increase.
Bernard Ross is the director of London-based fundraising consultancy The Management Centre (=MC).