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How to use an Engagement Tool

In this video I share three quick tips around how to use an Engagement Tool.
(Download the sample Engagement Tool PDF.)

I suspect we will film many more videos around this topic. I could offer 50 examples / tips.

In this video we cover three things:

  • The engagement tool is not the presentation.

    It’s a tool. It’s not meant to be used (necessarily) in a linear and ‘unabridged’ monologue / delivery.

    In order to illustrate how little we ACTUALLY need to support a conversation we use a placemat drill in some of our trainings. Try walking through your story and an ask using a blank piece of paper or a placemat. Draw on it as you communicate. When you finish, you will be surprised to see that you made your complete presentation using only 5-6 words, a terrible picture and a lot of scribbles.

  • No prose paragraphs!

    Only prompts or framing devices are placed on the tool, as well as figures or words that CREATE engagement.

  • Use the whitespace, listen and write to create engagement.

    The best message in the world begins in the prospect’s head. Use THEIR words (when you can). This isn’t a sales device, it’s a relationship and communication device!

    Note: stay away from dark back grounds or gloss on the paper. Go with white space so you can write!

  • See also: What is an Engagement Tool?


A Framework that Works for Every Visit…. ever.

Having made 2,000+ visits I can share that only three went EXACTLY as scripted.

However, in all of those visits I cannot think of ONE time in which the Presentation Framework was not totally valid.


On every single visit these three things are really important.

Authenticity. Authenticity makes you and immediate sales expert.

I’ve found — through our workshops and trainings — that I need to be very dramatic about this. Here, I might even say BRUTALLY authentic.

One time I made a visit on behalf of a monastery. There were 33 monks praying for the visit. That made me nervous. I started the visit off by saying, “I do this all the time but I have to tell you, I’m nervous. Right now there are 33 monks praying for our conversation!”

Or, if you’ve been on the job for two weeks get out an make visits. You can be totally authentic, “I’ve only been on the job for two weeks, you probably know more about this organization than I do!”

Discovery. By discovery I mean the process of asking questions and… LISTENING. Most people don’t do the first part and when they do, they forget about the second part!

2,000+ visits and I can’t recall one time when asking questions and listening was not important. WOW!

Engagement. Engagement is a dynamic with a relationship which holds attention, heightens interest and motivates action. (My definition.)

We’re in the process of posting some Daily Nugget videos to illustrate ENGAGEMENT.


  • Visual
  • Simple
  • (Again) Asking questions / Listening

We tend to put a lot of preparation on what we want to SAY but almost no preparation into how we will create engagement and what discovery questions we will ask.


What is an Engagement Tool?

Most organizations and sales teams don’t have ENGAGEMENT tools. They have brochures, binders, or pitch decks. What are you using to DRIVE engagement on a visit?

Is is simple? Visual? Does it SUPPORT the conversation or constrict the conversation?

In a later video we will show you ways to use an engagement tool.

Download / view the For Impact engagement tool.
See also: Guidebook – On Engagement | Guidebook – On Visual Engagement


No More Endowment


This is an issue that I believe impacts all FOR IMPACT ORGANIZATIONS. We’re caught up in an endowment arms race. We’re communicating that “We need ENDOWMENT now to build and preserve ENDOWMENT for future generations.”


ENDOWMENT, in and of itself, is NOT the goal! The goal is and always should be around Saving Lives, Changing Lives, Impacting Lives, etc.

And if that doesn’t get your attention, how about: No More Cash For Endowment.

Cash is a very, very expensive and difficult way to increase endowment. Very few investors want to give you their money so that you can invest it, generate an average 5% return, and then use that interest to fund an important priority. Plus, many of these investors are making five-year commitments/payments and would have to ‘wait’ to see the results and actual use of the funds.

Here’s a pretty simple way to look at it: a 5% IMPACT vs. a 100% IMPACT.


Money to endowment (5%)


Money to fund people, programs, and places that help deliver your IMPACT – now (100%)


Note: As a serial entrepreneur and someone who works with a lot of business and social entrepreneurs, I would ask this question: Would a great business or business model (one that is growing and scaling their IMPACT) take revenue (cash), put it in the bank, and then try to fund their growth from their INTEREST INCOME?!!!

What every truly successful entrepreneur would do: They’d go to a bank, or to angels, or to the market, and BORROW MONEY (not put money in) so that they can LEVERAGE every dollar in order to GROW and SCALE their IMPACT RIGHT NOW!


Team Selling

These 3 Concentric Circles represent a great way to look at your organization’s TALENT and how it might be most effectively used.

The Blue-Red-Green Team is a great visual that helps with roles and responsibilities within the Sales Process.

  • Use your ‘Blue’ Team to help with predisposition, open doors, and even set up the visit. Blue Team represents best example of ‘3 Degrees of Separation’ (Kevin Bacon/6 Degrees is actually less than 3 moves (2.78) from any other actor).
  • Note: In many cases, you are only 1 person removed from who you want to see. This is especially true in Ireland and North Dakota.
  • Blue Team can be engaged before the visit or after the visit.
  • Blue Team can be on the visit but never leading the visit. There can only be one leader and it must be a Green Team member.
  • Blue Team never goes alone/solo on a visit!
  • Note: We don’t do ‘peer-to-peer’ solicitation which is just ‘trading dollars’. So, there is always a professional staff person engaged on visit.
  • Green Team is always the R.M. (Relationship Manager). No exceptions to this.
  • Red Team can help with visits, especially with phone follow-up and call backs.

This visual provided a real eureka moment for a College Sales Team: Deans can help get the visit, but the Deans don’t have to be on every visit. And they (as the Green Team) don’t have to set up every visit themselves.

Note: This framework works for a Business Sales Team as well. Share it with your Board as a nugget they might find helpful.


In our trainings (see link below for upcoming engagements), we do a card trick to demonstrate the greatest sales tip ever:

ASK a question… LISTEN to the answer… ASK another question (based on the previous response)… LISTEN to the answer.

Asking questions is the best way to do DISCOVERY, the best way to create ENGAGEMENT, and an absolutely marvelous way to be able to PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY!

Here are 3 quick tips on how to be a great listener:

  • Get people to tell their story. Most people love to talk about themselves and share their stories with you. This is a perfect fit with out IMPACT –> INCOME | SHARE THE STORY –> PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY. (It’s not just you who should share the story… but they should also share their story with you.)
  • Take notes. In my mind, this is a great way to show respect, show that you’re listening, and show that you care. The best thing about notes for me is that it helps me focus on listening, and then when the prospect is finished I can refer back to the notes and quotes.
    *It’s also a great way to capture as much of the visit as you can for the Memo for the Record, which, of course, you are going to complete as soon after the call as possible.
  • Totally focus. Actually sit up and engage with your eyes and ears as you focus on exactly what the prospect is saying.

Download our For Impact Guide to Power Questions and Transition Questions. Then:

Note: Read the article ‘Are You Listening?’ in Selling Power for 8 more positive listening skills, and another FI blog on Asking the Right Types of Questions.

To see the card trick live, come to our Boot Camp!

Tuesday, April 28 – Wednesday, April 29 2015
Ostrander, OH
Wednesday, June 17 – Thursday, June 18, 2015
Ostrander, OH

The Clueless Close

Of all the closes we cover, the Clueless Close has resulted in more gifts for our coaching and
training alumni than all the other closes combined.

It represents the EASIEST way to ask, especially if you have no idea what to ask for or you have some fear and need a go-to line to make the close.

Use the Clueless Close for visits where:

  • You have great timing, but your lack of information lowers confidence; or
  • You have a qualified prospect on a first visit.
In its simplest form, the Clueless Close is one question:

Where do you see yourself?

One great way to do this is with an engagement tool that includes a funding plan or
traditional campaign pyramid (examples below).

Goal: 500 Families @ $1000/Family
1 @ 100 Families
2 @ 50 Families
4 @ 25 Families
10@ 10 Families
20 @ 5 Families

Hospice House: $5.0M
1 @ $1M
2 @ $500K
4 @ $250K
10 @ $100K
20 @ $50K

Example 1:

After you’ve walked through the vision and funding priorities, you come to the
funding plan and ask:

Based on everything we’ve talked about, I would love to ask you about being part of this plan. Mrs. X, I’m not really sure where to go. I don’t know much about your capacity but you’ve indicated you would ‘like to make a really big difference’.

We have several funders on board with us [checking off – with a pen – committed gifts]. I
would like to go this route and ask you, where do you see yourself?

(You can let the prospect think about it and respond. As with any question, it’s critical that
you LISTEN to the answer and PROCESS the response.)

The prospect responded by saying “I think I could only do this [pointing to $50,000] this year.” Key words: THIS. YEAR.

Important note: Obviously you can’t use the Clueless Close when you’re with your top prospects. If you know you NEED to ask for $1M or you NEED to ask for project funding (tied to a specific number) you can’t afford to be clueless. Use the Clueless Close with first time funders when your funding plan is not dependent upon a specific commitment.
Be prepared for the answer.

Example 2:

On a different visit for the project, I tried to ask the same question, but that prospect started laughing before I even finished. “Nick, I’m not on your chart.”

I paused and said: Could you tell me more about what that means?

He responded, “My wife and I are committed to seven big projects right now.”

Key Words: RIGHT. NOW. These are big community philanthropists in the middle of some huge funding commitments. He was telling me that though he loved our project, it couldn’t be one of his top projects right now.

At the end of that visit, he committed to $10K. The goal of every visit is to maximize the relationship at this given moment. In this case, there was a lot of potential for the future as he and his wife finished up with other projects, and I now had more information about capacity than I had before.

The Takeaway: The Clueless Close is a great way to ask when you don’t know what to ask for. And you will no longer be ‘clueless’ after this close.

Click here to download audio on on the Clueless Close + 19 more Closes.


Don’t Skip the Open!

Brian Tracy, one of the best sales trainers in the world, says that 50% of salespeople don’t ask for the sale. Jack Canfield, of mega-phenom Chicken Soup fame puts the number at 60%.

As the old (and only?) song by the Monkees goes, “I’m a believer” when it comes to the importance of closing. (More on that tomorrow.)

With that said, I am convinced that the OPEN, not the CLOSE, makes the SALE.

If sales is defined as the forging of a human connection, then skipping the open means skipping the human connection!

In our For Impact Presentation Flow, the open is comprised of three elements:


If you don’t tell/own your story, this is the story that will be told for you:

I’m Nick. As you can see from my title, I’m a major gifts officer and so I’m coming to talk to you about money.

Instead, talk about: Who are you? How did you get here? What makes you passionate about this work?

An open also puts you in the driver’s seat for managing the flow of dialogue:

I’m looking forward to our conversation, would it be okay if I share a little about myself to start?

This works whether you are brand new or the founder of the organization – the prospect just needs to know you as a human being.


Knowing as much as you can about your prospect is great preparation for a visit. But you need to hear the prospect talk about themselves, in their own words:

I can google you (and did) but it would be even better to hear you tell your story.

P.S. When a person’s eyes glaze over, it’s because there is no engagement. Getting them talking early and often will set a tone for dialogue and engagement (vs. monologue/boredom, followed by a ‘pitch.’)


No matter the order you do these, this is simply the time to talk about what or who brought you together:

I’m so happy that (Board Member/Champion) made this introduction. As I said in my note, I’m really excited to share our story/vision and talk to you about how you can help us make it happen.


I know that (Board Member/Champion) thought it was important for us to meet. Could you tell me what you already know about our organization (or our impact)?

In summary:

Do an OPEN!

It’s a VISIT, not an appointment. Talk about yourself and ask about the prospect. Then you can move to the purpose of the visit.


1,000 Day Action Plans

When people talk to themselves, it’s called insanity. When organizations talk to themselves, it’s called Strategic Planning.

Most ‘Strategic Plans’ are an internal work of fiction usually prepared by left-brain, accountant-types who love outlines, charts, 5-year projections, etc. If you’re looking for an undecipherable, unimaginative, unread, super-thick binder to use as a bookend or a doorstop, then by all means, do a strategic plan!

Note: The old-line, old-school Case Statements worked in their time, but that time has passed. There’s no engagement, no sharing, no dialogue, no involvement, no support.
P.S. I feel the same way about no more ‘Business Plans,’ but I’ll save that rant for another day.

There is too much to do, too many lives to SAVE and IMPACT, to get caught up in ‘strategy.’ Instead…



If you really, really, want to achieve your Vision, fulfill your Mission, live your Message: then prepare an Action Plan that will provide focus and direction for the next 1,000 Days (11 Quarters, 33 Months, almost 3 Years).

Your 1,000 Day Action Plan should include:

  • 90-Day Goals and Priorities
  • Monthly Checklists and Measurement
  • Timely Celebrations

This will engage your team and leaders in a focused manner.

P.S. Match this with a 1,000-Day Funding Plan and you will be well on your way to success.

Read more in Nick’s Note about the difference between Strategic Planning and Strategic Clarity.

Do the Math to Simplify Your Funding Story

Doing the Math means owning and internalizing an understanding of your numbers. Your numbers tell an important part of your story.

Doing the Math also means taking the time to simplify the numbers in a way that others – Your board, your prospects and your staff – can understand.

In our For Impact World you must:

DO THE ‘BLUE‘ MATH around your Cause and Case and Impact. i.e. How many people/families/students/patients/kids do you impact? Or how many people/families/students/patients/kids NEED this impact?

DO THE ‘RED’ MATH around your Staff, People and Operations.
i.e., What are the people or operational costs associated with delivering your current or desired impact?

And DO THE ‘GREEN’ MATH around your Income, Funding Plan, Goals, etc.
i.e, What is your total need for the year or next 1,000 days based on the BLUE and RED and how will you get there?

Note: Here is a list of questions you can ask your CFO or CEO to get the information you need for math.

Next, use this Math to frame your Funding Rationales. Funding Rationales help to answer your Prospect’s question, “What do you need from me?” and help you get ‘numbers on the table’ tied to a Person, a Program, a Project or a Funding Plan. For example:

A unit of Impact.

One of the simplest ways to do your math is around a Unit of Impact – A Person, A Student, A Family, A Village, A Patient – You get the idea. Quick math:

You can use this math to ask a prospect, “Can you help us by underwriting 10 students this year?” or “How many students would you like to underwrite this year?”

Your Gap, or even better, the cost of EXTRAORDINARY Impact.

Gap math is a common way to do your math and simplify a funding rationale.



I recently worked with a fantastic Hospice organization who refuses to talk about the gap and instead asks prospects to fund Extraordinary Care for every family. This Hospice has (fluctuating) revenues from reimbursements, but they don’t cover everything. This is where philanthropy comes in – For $1000 you can underwrite Extraordinary Care for one of the 3000 families they serve each year.

The true cost of programs.

This is a big one. Organizations frequently underestimate the true cost to deliver a program, which is essential to a funding rationale. Knowing the real numbers boosts confidence in the ask and helps the funder buy in. You can ask someone to underwrite part or all of the program.

Along with the previous point, you can do the math to tie programming costs to impact in multiple ways. Here’s a clean and simple example to illustrate the concept using the example above. The Read Aloud Program impacts 1600 Kindergarteners and their families (80 classrooms/20 students per class at 40 schools.) You can do the math to create simple funding rationales:

$80,000 to underwrite the program for one year, or;
$2,000 per school, or;
$1,000 per class, or;
$50 per student.

Funding a Project or Priority.

This is commonly used with a ‘campaign mindset’ – projects or priorities that have a larger funding goal than some of the examples above. Casting a vision, packaging up three year Priorities or Projects and then understanding a dollar amount/funding rationale for each.

For example, “As we discussed, our vision is to be there for every family who needs Hospice Care in this community. Part of achieving that plan is to secure a Hospice House where we can care for people who can no longer stay at home, or have no home. Can we talk to you about being part of this plan?”


“We’ve put together a plan to scale and innovate in our three core areas – Family Literacy, Read Aloud Programs and Teen Services – that would require $1.3M of the next 1,000 days. Here’s what we would use the funds for – 1000 Families in Literacy Program, increase 1:1 teen Mentoring by 30%, excellent data and evaluation, 5-10 new school relationships…”



Define Your Ideal Prospect

I’m absolutely stunned, amazed and flabbergasted that so very few organizations and sales teams actually take the time to define their ‘IDEAL PROSPECT’! (This is just as true in the ‘FOR PROFIT’ world as it is in the ‘NOT FOR PROFIT’ sector.)

The IDEAL PROFILE is one of the most powerful TOOLS that we use during our IDENTIFICATION PROCESS.

Don’t blow by this one. It has created many, many ‘MILLION DOLLAR’ prospects and INVESTORS.

Here’s the concept:

If you can actually come up with a PROFILE of your BEST PROSPECT/ INVESTOR then you simply have to MATCH this IDEAL PROFILE with REAL PEOPLE!

In essence, this IDEAL PROFILE would be a simple ‘list’ of absolute best characteristics of your PERFECT (IDEAL) PROSPECT that should include examples of how we know the following:

Unlimited Capacity (Or Capacity to Make a ‘Major Gift’)
ex. Have multiple homes in expensive zip codes, Recently sold a business, Could drive a Ferrari, but drives a Tesla, etc.

Relationship To The Cause (Kids, Education, Health Care, Cancer, Workforce Development, Disadvantaged Populations, Etc.)
ex. A Cancer Survivor or Spouse/Loved One of a Survivor

Geographically Connected
ex. Someone who may not live in your Community, but who has strong roots or ties

Interest/Connection To The Priorities, Programs Or Projects

ex. Has given significantly to other organizations, especially those working on the same cause

Note: You can come up with more than one ‘ideal’ profile. For example, for a Campaign, for a transformational gift, for a legacy commitment, for President’s circle etc.



Commit to Sales

If you’ve ever been heard me speak, you’ve heard me say:

You’re in Sales, get over it.

I’ve made a commitment to help more organizations and development professional embrace SALES.

In ALL of our work with clients, speaking, training, etc. this part of our message is always the same:


We have worked with some really impactful organizations that, like many of you, came late to the idea that:

“God gives every bird food. He just doesn’t throw it into the nest!”

All of you are deeply committed to your CAUSE and your ORGANIZATION.

Yet, none of you have been ‘TRAINED IN SALES!’

(You’re not alone. Even the Nation’s business schools provide no SALES TRAINING. Yet, in this ‘FOR PROFIT WORLD,’ SALES drives [almost] every company. Without it, all products and services remain ‘on the shelf.’)

I’ve spent my whole adult life in SALES, much of it selling ‘INTANGIBLES’ (large gifts/commitments for great causes and cases).

We are often with some amazing people who are changing the world, but don’t like the idea of “sales.” Nick quotes a great line from an author named Bob Burg that works really, really well for these people.

Burg says, “Selling – at its core – is not a business transaction. It is first and foremost the forging of a human connection.

We are out ‘PRACTICING’ forging human connections every day.

Here are three really big things that may help you on your next VISIT/’SALES CALL:’



  • Write this on a little card.
  • Look at this every time you go to visit/meet with a Qualified Prospect or Potential Investor.


Where’s the best place to find out ANYTHING you want to know about your INVESTOR/PROSPECT??? FROM THEM! Remember: SELLING IS NOT TELLING! ASK QUESTIONS. More importantly, LISTEN TO ANSWERS!

Here are three great questions to help you with your DISCOVERY.

  • WHY are you engaged/involved with us?
  • Which of these three things (buckets) is most important to you?
  • Can you help us Fund this Vision?


SHARE THE STORY is exactly that. SHARE. THE. STORY. Everybody in the organization can share THEIR ‘story.’ You must also be able to capture the ‘STORY’ of your organization, your cause or your vision.


  • It’s about PRESENTING THE OPPORTUNITY for them to make an IMPACT!

Special Note: Ask your Board Members or Volunteer Leaders whether they’d rather go out and ‘ASK THEIR FRIENDS FOR MONEY’ …or SHARE THE STORY and PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY.


First, this is about being YOURSELF! If you just started with the organization, say so; and then explain why you made that decision. If you spent 10 or 15 years working with your organization, explain WHY you devoted that kind of commitment to this cause. Additionally, AUTHENTICITY is about total candor. Sometimes even BRUTAL HONESTY. (“You’re one of our top investors. You helped us build this plan and we know you want to see it succeed. Can you take the LEAD?”) A great line that is about as AUTHENTIC as you can get. “I have one goal with you today: to have your jaw drop at the unbelievable impact that this organization is having on children. That’s it.”

For those of you out VISITING and PRESENTING … I hope you can use these simple but powerful reminders.

For the rest of you …

Get out of the office. (GO PRESENT OPPORTUNITIES.)

Stop doing research. (DO DISCOVERY … ON THE VISIT.)

Stop doing proposals and grant writing. (GO SHARE THE STORY AND PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY.)