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Presenting to Donor Groups is Different

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If you’re in a management role with a nonprofit, chances are you sometimes have to give presentations to groups of individual donors and supporting institutions. And much of the time, you’re probably making a case for why they should support your organization.

What makes these kinds of presentations especially daunting is that your organization’s financial future can be riding on the outcome.

There are some key differences between this kind of presentation and others in which you are simply presenting information – the main one being that you have to convince your audience to donate to your cause.

microphone

Here are some strategies that may improve your chances of succeeding.

Don’t scrimp on the visuals.

A study by the Wharton School of Business found that presenters who used visuals were perceived by audiences to be more persuasive, professional and credible than those who did not.

However, visuals should enhance the content of your presentation, not comprise it. Never present PowerPoint “eye charts” – those busy, tiny-font slides that resemble an optometrist’s chart, which no one can read from more than 10 feet away. With PowerPoint, the fewer words the better (to a point), and interesting graphics are key.

Discuss – don’t just ‘dump information.’

Intersperse some questions in your slides or other visuals to engage the audience. They can be either opinion questions or factual ones that let people show how much they know.

Ask for feedback periodically. For example, “Would you like me to go into this further, or shall I move on to the next point?” Occasionally follow up audience questions by asking them a question – but only after you answer theirs.

Exude self-confidence, humility and passion.

Self-confidence and humility may seem like a contradiction, but they actually create a balance that makes a person both admired and liked.

Self-confidence comes from knowing your subject thoroughly. Therefore, practice your presentation in front of a live audience of in-house management. Role play your response to tough questions and get their honest feedback.

Humility involves respect for the audience. One element of this is refusing to become defensive when challenged.

Cushion critical audience comments with a response like, “I can see why you might think that, but let me explain why I don’t think it is the case.”

The third personality ingredient, passion, means showing that you care deeply about the subject. Smile, show feeling and use a variety of facial expressions. This comes naturally for some people. Others have to be deliberate about it.

Engage the audience members’ whole brains.

Facts, numbers and information are all processed mainly by the left side of the brain. If you want a whole-brain audience, you have to engage the right side of their brains as well.

Do this with stories, analogies and metaphors about the great things your organization is doing – and will do in the future with the support of the audience.

Paint a visual picture with words – known to writers as “Show, don’t tell.” Also, try to bring some humor into it.

Deal with any elephants in the room.

An elephant is any potential drawback in what you are proposing that is out in the open for the audience to see.

For example, you are asking for money for an ambitious new program, but you don’t yet have space in which to house it. The best strategy with elephants is to bring them up and discuss them in the best light you can.

What about skeletons in the closet?

Skeletons, on the other hand, are potential drawbacks that no one in the audience could know about at this point, but which they will probably find out about later. Here, the best strategy is usually to wait.

Let them see all the good things you are proposing. Give them a chance to form a positive impression first and explain the skeletons at a better time.

An analogy can be made with a first date – you probably wouldn’t tell your date that you are having financial problems.

If the relationship becomes serious, you will probably have to tell eventually, but let the person get to know and like you first. All of the preceding are just goals to aim for. You don’t have to be perfect. Just relax, be sincere, and do your best.


I am so pleased to have Gelman, Rosenberg & Freedman as a resource. I can’t remember ever being so thrilled with an accounting firm during my twenty-five year career. Terri McKnight is solid gold.

Marybeth Long, CPA |  Former Director of Accounting
American Psychiatric Association