Finding the Car, Then the Dealership

It wasn’t that long ago (pre-internet, actually) that people interested in buying a car would show up at the local dealership and begin the process of being “sold” a car.  Those days are all but gone.  Today, when people are interested in getting a new vehicle, they first scour the internet for their choice and learn all about its pricing, options, and promotions.  They arrive at a dealership (if they do not buy the vehicle online) with purpose, knowledge, and a “not to exceed” number.  The process of buying a car has been turned on its head.  People are no longer “sold” a vehicle off the lot, they “buy” the vehicle of their choice.

This selling sea change has meant that the job of car salesperson is radically different today.  She is no longer there to sell an off-the-lot product.  She’s there to match the buyer’s particular interests (and knowledge) with the vehicle that best fits what she is looking for.  Her job has changed from”selling” to “matching.”

This is very much like our world in development.  Gone are the days when donors make significant gifts simply because it is the right thing to do.  Yes, altruism (however you might define that word) remains an essential driver of generous behavior.  However, more and more donors give significant thought to the impact they want their philanthropy to have.  They come to your institution with well-formed ideas about what they want to do (and what they don’t want to do).  They are not interested in being “sold.”

And just like the role of the car salesperson’s job – our job in development has changed.  There is no longer a need for the development officer as “salesperson.”  So, forget learning everything you can about your institution, your program, your initiative so that you can “sell” the next prospect.  Instead, become a better donor-opportunity match-maker by asking keen questions, listening, and leading.


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