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The Whisper in the Ear: A Secret Fundraising Strategy for Galas

The biggest and best gifts come from direct personal conversations built on strong relationships. But how do those relationships start?

Prospective donors are not always easily accessible. As major gift fundraisers, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with our prospects. One of my favorite strategies is “The Whisper in the Ear.” It is both simple and elegant, providing vital forward momentum in the cultivation process.

Who is “The Whisper in the Ear” good for?

This strategy is for prospects who are already in your organization’s orbit to some degree, but you have not yet established an easy, comfortable, personable in-person, phone, or email relationship. They are usually not your closest friends, though there are occasional exceptions. Sometimes they are people you know pretty well but you just can’t get their attention.

When would you use the strategy?

Use it primarily at events or meetings that your prospect is attending. The event or meeting typically has a purpose that does NOT allow time for lengthy, focused conversation between you and the prospect. It is important to note that if an event did have time for that kind of conversation, discussing your organization’s fundraising agenda and a prospect’s giving would likely not be appropriate. You can use the Whisper in an introductory conversation. Introduce yourself and lay the groundwork for a relationship with the donor. You may already know the prospect pretty darn well, but you just haven’t been able to get that vital first meeting. Here’s your chance! Encourage your Executive Director or a Board Member to use the Whisper. Coach them through it and witness just how effective it can be.

How does it work?

I said it was simple, and it is. At your event or meeting, commit to at least a few moments of polite, engaging conversation with your prospect. During the conversation, say The Whisper:

“I am hoping I could call your office next week to schedule a time to meet so that I can…”

You might complete The Whisper with:

… get to know you and your nonprofit interests. … learn what excites you about our work. … follow up on Sue’s letter regarding our campaign. Your views will help us shape our next steps.

Paving the Way for Prospect Meetings

The Whisper Strategy is a simple, unassuming strategy that sets up a chain of action. Because, of course, once you’ve gotten a prospect to agree to meet with you, you can follow up without any anxiety. In fact, your prospect will be waiting for your call (Well…we can always hope!) This strategy has started many long-lasting nonprofit relationships that couldn’t otherwise get off the ground. Give it a try!

Originally published in the Heller Fundraising Group blog, “The Whisper In The Ear Strategy” has been featured on Capital Campaign Masters and the Event Journal Inc

Interested in learning more? Check out Heller Fundraising Group’s homepage for free tools and to find out how they help nonprofits raise millions of dollars through capital campaigns, campaign feasibility studies, major gift programs, and hands-on training. 


We’d love the opportunity to learn more about your mission goals and how we can help support your organization’s growth and ability to serve others. To chat with one of our nonprofit experts, contact us here.

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