Talking About Tools

My father ran a small heating and air conditioning company.  Summer was his busy season.  When summertime heat kicks in, people will do just about anything to get relief.  And if the AC isn’t working, they want it fixed. . . and fast!

During the summers of my youth I went to work with my Dad.  I can still recall him walking into homes and, after asking about the symptoms of the problem, saying, “we’ll get you cooled down in no time.”  You could see the relief on the customer’s face.

I learned a valuable lesson on these calls:  Talk in ways that show you understand what matters most to the customer.  When the AC is not working in the summer heat, they want to be cooled down.  In that instant, nothing else matters much.

Think about how this principle translates to our work as institutional leaders and development professionals.  In many instances we don’t talk at all about what matters most to our customers (read: donors, community, alumni, other constituencies).  We talk about what matters most to us!

As I’ve written about recently, most case statements focus on the proposed building, the growth of the endowment, the new program funds, etc.  But most institutions struggle to articulate fully why it all even matters.  What is the mission of the institution and what is the vision of how it will fulfill the mission more completely in the future?  This is what our donors care about.

The buildings, the endowment, the program funds are really just tools to fulfill the mission and vision.  And when we talk about the tools we should describe how the new building, the larger endowment, or the increase in program funds will allow the institution to serve more and serve better.

In short we talk far too much about the tools and far too little about the intended result.

Just imagine if my Dad had walked into the hot home of a customer and, instead of saying, “we’ll have you cooled down in no time,” said, “let me show you this new wrench I just bought. . . it’s made of the highest grade steel, is 2 inches longer than the old one, and makes it easier for me turn bolts in tight spaces. . .”

Talking about tools inspires neither a hot customer nor a donor.



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