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Chatting to Rock Stars and Asking for Money: the Lessons of NLP for Major Donor Fundraisers


Imagine standing in the Ritz, nervously waiting for your all-time hero for walk through the door. They arrive to be greeted by a media frenzy and work their way through the room saying hello to everyone until finally they get to you. What do you say?

This is the picture Paul Cartwright, certified NLP trainer and major donor executive with eight years of fundraising experience, painted for us last night at the latest in a series of workshops co-hosted by the I Am Group and the Institute of Fundraising Major Donor Special Interest Group.

In his story, Paul was telling us about the first time he met Rod Stewart at a reception to welcome him as a new VP of the Royal National Institute for Blind People. The lesson he wanted us to learn from it is a key principle of NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming – that we are prone in such high pressure situations to forget that major donors are just people too and that seeing through stereotypes can be the difference between success and failure in fundraising.

NLP is rooted in the observation that the five human senses are having to process 4 billion different pieces of information simultaneously at any one time, as Paul revealed much to the amazement (and slight alarm) of the audience. We learnt that the brain manages this workload by prioritising what we need to know and ‘deleting’ the rest. The net result of this process is that we inadvertently ignore vital details and distort our understanding of the world around us by making sweeping generalisations based more on stereotypes than facts.

Perhaps the most directly applicable part of Paul’s excellent presentation, though, was his model of the ideal major donor fundraiser. Modelling is a technique used by NLP practitioners to isolate and then replicate the key actions and attributes of successful people. In a bid to complement the ‘seven steps’, which detail the procedures followed by all successful fundraisers, Paul interviewed one of his own role models in the field on the importance of a winning mentality too.

  • Environment
    Going into a room and realising that everyone there wants to talk to someone and that your role is to allow them to flourish.
  • Behaviour
    Taking a genuine interest in the person, not just the donor, and letting them talk about their interests.
  • Skills and capabilities
    Being fascinated and persevering. Remember one thing someone told you in your last conversation with them and mention it in the next one – this technique helped Paul persuade Duncan Bannatyne’s PA to arrange an introduction.
  • Values and beliefs
    Good rapport builders love talking to people and nothing satisfies them more than knowing they are good at making people want to talk to you.
  • Identity
    Being able to talk to anyone, whatever their station. In the words of Paul’s role model: “even the Queen is just another person with a job to do like me”.
  • Purpose
    The ultimate aim of the entire process: to build a lasting connection.

Paul left us with his THREE PROMISES: that most major donors are normal, most major donors are loaded, and all of them are just people.

Oh, and his inspired topic of conversation when chatting to Rod Stewart? The league form of football team Wolverhampton Wanderers of course.

To find out more about Paul and the training programmes he offers both individuals and organisations, please visit his website at https://www.paul-cartwright.co.uk. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your ideas for future talks and workshops. Please let us know what you would most like to learn about, especially if you have a speaker in mind who you can recommend.

By Tony Koutsoumbos, fundraising specialist for the I Am Group

NEXT EVENT: Quiz the Experts – how to find the right charity job for you on Tuesday 28th April

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