4 Questions That Get Your Boss to ‘Yes’
You have a great idea. You run it up the flagpole to leadership. They love it! Then, nothing happens. You wait. You push it up there again. They love it again. They gush over your creativity and forethought. Then, nothing happens.
Turnkey faces this same dilemma with our clients. “Great idea! It will raise us money! It will make our world better!” Then… nothing. We needed the same kind of help that our clients need—how do we get decisions made? Heck, we’ll take “no,” just give us any decision, so we know whether to keep trying or move on.
We recently hired Dan Schultheis, the author of “Willing to Buy, a Questioning Framework for Effective Closing.” What strikes you first when you meet Dan is how much he looks and sounds like the guy on those Farmer’s Insurance commercials.
That’s not really him, but Dan has his own level of coolness. Dan’s tried-and-true framework was designed to help account executives figure out which prospects are real and ready to do business and which are not. His method helps us know where to invest precious time.
It turns out that this same process can help fundraising executives understand if their initiatives are likely be adopted by their own leadership or if their time is best spent elsewhere.
I’m translating the language a bit from sales and into nonprofit as we move forward, so if you read Dan’s book you will note the differences. Here are the four elements to understanding if your leadership is ready to move forward:
- Is the organization’s leadership willing to act?
- Is the justification for the project/product/service evident to leadership?
- Are the resources/money available?
- Is the decision cycle clear?
If you just ask the elements above as questions, your leadership will say “yes” to each and then do nothing, like almost always. The magic in Dan’s method is probing more deeply. For example, in regard to the first element—whether leadership is ready to act—if you just ask, “Hey, are you ready to act?” the answer is yes. They will say, “That’s really interesting. Let me think on it, and see how it fits with other priorities.” Here’s the magic: you say, “What if we don’t do it?” You gently continue, “What makes this a good time to do this? Why today? Why not wait? What does it really cost not to do it?”
What you are looking for is a really important reason why it has to be done now, like, “If I don’t turn revenue around, I am out of a job by October.” Or maybe you might hear, “I have a directive from my leadership.” Or maybe you’ll hear, “It’s just a good idea.” If it’s just a good idea, that means it will probably not go forward, and you can go do something else. Typically, the lack of a compelling imperative to act is not diagnosed, meaning everyone continues to invest energy and time as if it is a viable effort. I could have saved years of my life if I simply had asked for the compelling reason to go forward in each and every conversation with clients and moved on when it wasn’t there.
Element No. 2 is about justification. This is about more than return on investment. You are asking your leadership, “Can you pitch this successfully up your food chain? (Think: board of directors). How are you going to do that? What makes it an imperative to your leadership?” If they can’t tell you, they probably can’t move it forward.
Elements No. 3 and No. 4 are pretty straight forward. Basically, “Do you have the budget?” and “Who else is in this decision-making cycle?” When you ask, be nice, of course.
If you can’t get these answers, your likelihood of moving your project forward with your superior’s blessing is low.
It is so easy to take, “I love it” and run with it, pretending that you’ve come to agreement when all the thinking probably hasn’t been done. For Turnkey, we are looking for the reasons clients should not invest in our services. If we can help prospective clients determine that they really aren’t ready, we can leave the conversation more gracefully, freeing us to work on initiatives that will happen. Often, when we go through this question framework, we help the client understand their own situation better, gaining clarity on where they should spend their own time… what’s smoke and mirrors and what’s not.
When we hear, “We have to stand up a peer-to-peer campaign across all our affiliates next year,” our question will be some form of, “Or else, what?” Change is hard, and if there isn’t a compelling reason to invest the energy and resources needed to overcome inertia, your chance of success is going to be low. And it’s always better to find that out sooner than later.
Katrina VanHuss and Otis Fulton have written a new book, Dollar Dash, on the psychology of peer-to-peer fundraising. Click here to download the first chapter, courtesy of NonProfit PRO!
Otis spent most of his career in the education industry, working at the psychometric research and development firm MetaMetrics Inc., Pearson Education and others. Since 2013, he has focused on the nonprofit sector, applying psychology to fundraising and donor behavior at Turnkey. He is the co-author of the 2017 book, ”Dollar Dash: The Behavioral Economics of Peer-to-Peer Fundraising” and is a frequent speaker at national nonprofit conferences. With Katrina VanHuss, he co-authors a blog at NonProfit PRO, “Peeling the Onion,” on the intersection of psychology and philanthropy.
Otis is a much-sought-after copywriter for nonprofit fundraising messages. He has written campaigns for UNICEF, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, March of Dimes, Susan G. Komen, the USO and dozens of other organizations. He has a Ph.D. in social psychology from Virginia Commonwealth University and a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Virginia, where he also played on UVA’s first ACC champion basketball team.
Katrina VanHuss has helped national nonprofits raise funds and friends since 1989 when she founded Turnkey. Her client’s successes and her dedication to research have made her a sought-after speaker, presenting at national conferences for Blackbaud, Peer to Peer Professional Forum, Nonprofit PRO, The Need Help Foundation and her clients’ national meetings. The firm’s work is underpinned by the study and application of behavioral economics and social psychology. Turnkey provides project engagements, coaching, counsel and staffing to nonprofits seeking to improve revenue or create new revenue. Her work extends into organizational alignment efforts and executive coaching.
Katrina also regularly shares her wit and business experiences on her and Otis Fulton's NonProfit PRO blog “Peeling the Onion.” When not writing or researching, Katrina likes to make things — furniture from reclaimed wood, new gardens, food with no recipe. Katrina’s favorite Saturday is spent cleaning out the garage, mowing the grass, making something new, all while listening to loud music by now-deceased black women, throwing in a few sets on the weight bench off and on, then collapsing on the couch with her husband Otis to gang-watch new Netflix series whilst drinking sauvignon blanc.
Katrina grew up on a Virginia beef cattle and tobacco farm with her three brothers. She is accordingly skilled in hand to hand combat and witty repartee — skills gained at the expense of her brothers. Katrina’s claim to fame is having made it to the “American Gladiator” Richmond competition as a finalist in her late 20s, progressing in the competition until a strangely large blonde woman knocked her off a pedestal with an oversized pain-inducing Q-tip. Katrina’s mantra for life is “Be nice. Do good. Embrace embarrassment.” Clearly she’s got No. 3 down.