For Impact


Ask Mindsets

Funding | | Nick Fellers

“When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world.”

Carol Dweck, Mindset

Across thousands of visits, we have learned that — above preparing presentations and scripting visits — the most valuable preparation is usually the time preparing the fundraiser’s mindset: how to think about the prospect, the visit, and the ask. This mindset is the invisible construct, guiding the conversation. The mindset influences the words we choose, and dictates our tonal quality. It is the lens through which we interpret the prospects’ words. (Our mindset even influences our physical posture!). 

I want to bring awareness to mindset. Without attention to this, so many fundraisers, and so many organizations, just have one mindset (for better or worse). I want us to ask ourselves, “What mindset do we want to bring into this conversation?” In doing so, I hope that we have more range (through more mindsets) and more effectiveness (by choosing the right mindset for the right moment). Choosing our mindset is the greatest contributing factor to fundraising success within our control.

  • Whether we view our plan as a hypothesis to be tested, or an imperative worthy of the greatest pursuit.

    If you’re not 100% certain your organization can deliver on the plans, you are not alone. This is one of the biggest hesitations we work through. Focus your mindset on your convictions (toward attempting the impact) instead of our uncertainties (in the plan). So many times I’ve said to a client, “I don’t need to believe that this plan will succeed. I need to believe this is worth attempting!”
  • Whether we believe we’re asking for money, or presenting the opportunity.

    The first brings a cautious and sometimes apologetic tone. The second removes mind games to focus on the impact that needs to happen.
  • Whether we’re here to make a pitch, or solve a problem (for the funder).

    Instead of focusing on how our deck flows, let’s focus on asking the right questions.

    Every funder has a challenge: to give away the money in a way that will ACTUALLY have an impact. Very few fundraisers lead with a listening-ear toward finding the funder’s true problem. Instead, we tend to think we have something to prove and present accordingly.
  • Whether we’re asking for advice, or aligning key stakeholders around a vision.

    Ask for advice and we’ll get advice. It can be more powerful to say, “Follow me! We have a vision to change the world and I want to bring others along so that we can make this happen!”

For Impact (our name) represents a “master mindset.” The conversation we’re having with a funder is about impact (not income); if we do a great job engaging around the impact then we can present-the-opportunity to invest toward that end. From there, there are infinite possibilities for framing a conversation with a funder. These are your ask mindsets. To name some that we use in our preparation:

  • Assumptive Mindset. You start by assuming the prospect is ‘in’ — the ensuing discussions are simply to work on the mechanics of the commitment.

    This mindset has a lot of utility, but it’s most used when we don’t want a conversation to go backward. Example: The prospect said they would fund this project but needs time to think about the specific commitment. You don’t need to circle back to ask them if they’re still in. Keep moving the conversation forward! Remind yourself that the commitment has already been made. Now the conversation is about mechanics: timing, commitment-level, cash-flow, etc. 
  • Leadership Mindset. This is literal. You focus the conversation (framing and tone) around where you want to lead the organization: the vision. This is very much about inspiring or asking someone to follow.

    It’s easiest to contrast the Leadership Mindset with a Permission Mindset, or Advice Seeking Mindset (see below). In those mindsets you’re trying to get permission to make an ask. The Leadership Mindset allows you to be a little more forthright, “I’m sharing this funding plan with you now because I am hoping you will be a part of it.” Or, “I’m sharing this with you now and hoping to bring you along with us. We think we can make this vision happen and we need 4-5 funders on board to help us get there.”
  • Discovery Mindset. This is a little more passive. The orientation is about learning (and using that information to help qualify or engage the prospect). I’m against discovery as a visit-goal but am okay with a discovery mindset and posture (from time-to-time) especially when we don’t know the prospect’s interest or capacity.
  • Advice Seeking. This mindset needs to be named just so that we can shift away from it! Too often fundraisers glom onto some maxim: “Ask for advice and hope for money.”  To the extent that that works at all, I think it could be narrated alternately as: creating engagement under a false pretense but also hoping to make the prospect feel important enough that we’re invited in for funding.

    Advice is a natural byproduct of dialogue. There are times when we genuinely want advice, but as an ask mindset this can be very, very limiting.
  • Solution Selling. This is really powerful, especially as you start to work on larger gifts and partnerships. Every funder has a problem – every funder is trying to have an impact – if we think about giving them the solution to this problem then we hone in on listening and ‘needs analysis’ and then we can present our impact, or organization, or project in the context of their needs.