7 Negotiation Techniques for Better Fundraising

What can master negotiators teach you about how to be a better fundraiser? Turns out a lot.

All great fundraisers are great negotiators – even if they don’t think of themselves like that. Getting to a yes from a donor requires many of the same skills master negotiators use.

Be Prepared

Information is the foundation for all great negotiations. It’s impossible to create a compelling case without knowing as much as you possibly can about the person, couple, foundation or corporation you are interacting with. The more you know about why they care, what motivates them, what they are trying to achieve through their philanthropy, and how they like to be solicited — the more effective you will be in interacting with them.

Have a Strategy

Winging it is the opposite of what great negotiators do. Great negotiators, and fundraisers, create detailed plans for how they will build the relationship, how they will gather the information they need, and how they will invite the donor into deeper and deeper conversation.

Build Trust

Trust is essential when building towards a positive outcome in negotiations – same is true when building relationships with donors. Trust doesn’t magically appear. It must be built through being consistent, expressing appreciation and being transparent.

Don't Make it About You

Framing is key to negotiating effectively. Framing the opportunity you present to a donor around their philanthropic goals, the impact they want to make through your work, and how their gift will help advance the legacy or change they want to create changes everything. In short, take an empathy-focused approach where you get into the donor’s shoes and frame things from their point of view.

Listen Longer

We will never convince anyone better than they can convince themselves. To capitalize on that phenomenon, get your donor to do most of the talking — and you do most of the listening. If we listen well enough, we will “listen our way to the gift” — meaning we will learn what makes the donor tick, what they are looking to achieve, and what programs and opportunities to present that will be most appealing to them. Fundraising isn’t about pitching, it’s about listening.

Use Effective Silence

Silence is a powerful, underappreciated, negotiation tool. Silence is most critical right after you’ve made a request or asked for a gift. So many of us fill up the space between asking and waiting for a response as a way to manage our own anxiety.  Letting the donor have the space to think and formulate a response is not only respectful, it’s also strategic.

Their Answer is the Beginning

We all want to have our request or proposal accepted as is, but fundraising rarely works that way.  The more agile and flexible we can be, the more likely we will get to a mutually agreeable “yes.” Remember even if a donor says no, it’s important to dig into what are they saying no to: Is it the timing? Is it the amount? Is it the program? Is it who did the asking? All of those you can overcome with some creative thinking and flexibility.

Learning about and mastering essential negotiation skills will help you skyrocket your fundraising. By incorporating these seven negotiation skills and principles into your work with donors, you will build better relationships and be more effective.

Amy Varga

Amy Varga


Amy Varga is a beloved fundraising trainer, coach and consultant. She and her team at The Varga Group have guided over a hundred nonprofit clients to raise millions of dollars through their services in capital campaign counsel, major gifts training, leadership coaching, and board development projects.