Clare Segal and Bernard Ross explore the dynamics of perceptual positioning, and explain how to master the skill to attract major donors to your cause.

In order to change someone’s point of view, you first have to understand it. In this article we’ll explain how understanding and adopting a donor’s perspective can help you to:

Build rapport more easily Frame your case to inspire and motivate donors Anticipate possible objections

We’ve all been there – when two or three people leave a meeting, each with a conflicting take on what just happened. This is partly because we impose our own values, culture and beliefs on any experience. More specifically, we each have an innate psychological preference for one of three distinct perceptual positions through which we experience the world.

The three perceptual positions:

Position 1: the way you experience the world – your perspective on a situation, regardless of others’ views and opinions. Position 2: the perspective of someone else – stepping into another person’s shoes. People who prefer this position often talk about themselves in terms of how they appeared to others at the time. Position 3: observing from an objective or external position – assessing the action in a detached way. People preferring this position often discuss themselves in the third person, as though they’re watching a movie. Position 1: The Way You Experience the World

Position one is where everyone holds their values, experiences and even prejudices. It’s useful for fundraisers to use position one to clarify what you want to get, for instance, when negotiating benefits linked to a corporate sponsorship. In position one, you should ask the donor to consider your proposition from their perspective, thus helping them decide to give.

A pitch from position 1: persuading the donor to think from their own point of view

“I’m asking you to consider contributing to our village water pump program. This will help almost 6,000 children living in Northern Uganda – among them 10-year-old Hilda, a little girl the same age as your own daughter, Joanne.”

“I’d like you to think back to when you were 10 and compare your morning with Hilda’s. Hilda gets up at 5:30am to walk four miles along a dusty track to the nearest pump in the next village. There she fills two three-gallon jerry cans to provide clean water for her family. My guess is that when you were 10, you were woken by your mother way after 5:30 to shake you out of bed for breakfast. We’re worried that Hilda, and many other children like her, is missing out on school, and the chance to play as you and I did.”

Position 2: The Perspective of Someone Else

From position two, you can determine a person’s perspective, needs and experiences, helping you understand donor behaviour and reactions. (But don’t identify too strongly with the donor – you don’t need to understand why they shouldn’t give you money!)

For fundraisers, adopting position two can help explain why the donor feels something is important. For the donor, position two helps them identify with the beneficiary’s needs. It may also make them consider how others – especially people they admire – might regard them if they made a donation.

A pitch in position 2: putting the donor into someone else’s shoes

“I’d like to ask you to help with the village water pump project. Imagine you are Hilda, living in a small village in Northern Uganda. You are 10 years old. Every morning before school, you rise at 5:30am to help your family by walking four miles along a dusty track to the nearest pump in the next village. There you fill two three-gallon jerry cans with water. You balance one on your head, carry the other, and walk the four miles back to your house. You’d love to have time to play – but you’re always too tired.”

“How do you imagine Hilda feels about spending four hours each day collecting water How do you imagine her life might change if she just had the chance to attend school properly?”

Position 3: Observing From an Objective or External Position

Position three is like viewing the occasion as a movie – with you and the donor as the actors. Fundraisers with this skill can step outside themselves in a difficult meeting to assess progress and – if necessary – adjust their behaviour. This position helps you rehearse what you’ll do or say before solicitations. It’s also handy for reviewing a situation you might have handled better, thus learning from it and improving next time.

A pitch in position 3: inviting the donor to look in from the outside

“I want to find out if you could see yourself supporting our water pump project. It will help Hilda and 6,000 other children like her in Northern Uganda. Every day before dawn Hilda’s mother has to wake her to make an eight-mile round trip to collect water for the family, carrying two heavy jerry cans. This makes it hard for Hilda to get to school on time. Her teacher is concerned, but recognises that Hilda has to help her mother. You can see how Hilda, her mother, and the teacher are all stuck and unable to make progress. If there were a pump in the village, Hilda would get to school on time, and could even play with other children after school.”

“Imagine being able to tell Hilda she doesn’t have to get up to fetch the water – and then listening to the family chatter as they eat breakfast together. How do you imagine Hilda’s life would improve if she could join her teacher and classmates for the whole of the school day?”

All three positions are persuasive, but we each have a preference for one of them. Fundraisers will be more influential if they identify a donor’s favoured position, and present their ideas accordingly.

With practice, you can identify a donor’s preference in conversation. For example, when chatting informally, ask them about their recent holiday, or an event they attended. Ideally, choose a topic with a story involved. The way they relate that story will reveal their preferred position – enabling you to frame your proposition to match.

So a really skilful fundraiser pitching for the water pump project above, would move fluidly between the different positions depending on the donor they were talking to, each time matching the donor’s perspective to build rapport.

Perceptual positioning is a wonderful tool for understanding your own behaviour and that of others, communicating more effectively, engaging donors and winning their support. The same skills can help in any interaction where you hope to influence others – be it colleagues, suppliers or board members.

Tips for putting perceptual positions into practice Rehearse using perceptual positions in different situations with colleagues Chat with prospective donors to gauge their preferred perceptual position Prepare your solicitation using the donor’s preferred position Mentally step into each position to anticipate objections and prepare responses When you notice the donor shifting, adjust your position to match Review past situations and use the positions to assess and learn from them

Clare Segal and Bernard Ross are directors of The Management Centre, a leading UK-based fundraising consultancy. They are also co-authors of The Influential Fundraiser (Jossey-Bass), selected as one of the most important nonprofit management books for 2009 by / New York Times.

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