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What have tennis and new business development got in common?

What have tennis and new business development got in common?

When Andy Murray finally won the Wimbledon tennis championship in 2013 he ended a 77 year wait for a British champion.

In the post-match analysis lots of questions were asked about what made the difference between his winning performance and previous attempts. Many things were said about the influence of coach and ex-player Ivan Lendl. When asked by journalists, Lendl talked about preparation and the importance of not letting pressure get to you; if pressure affects you it leads you to force your game.

The margin between winning in elite sport and coming second is very fine. Most top sports people talk about focus and ‘playing the point / set / match’ that is in front of you. They don’t think about winning a final until they play the final point and actually win it.

New business development – whether targeting relationships with companies or HNWIs – is no different. If we break relationship development down into a process it becomes easier to focus on ‘playing the point’ not ‘winning the final’. A simple approach is as follows:

1. Do your research

2. Get a meeting

3. Ask questions and listen – what is the prospect interested in?

4. Build the relationship over time – tailored follow up information; project visits; meeting beneficiaries etc.

5. Prepare a compelling and relevant proposal / ask

6. Follow up and close

At the start of any cultivation process fundraisers should not be thinking about getting money from a donor. You should be thinking about how to get to know them really well. Then you should use what you know to tailor subsequent interactions – how can you really spark their interest and delight them? You need to be able to show that you’ve understood where they are coming from and have something interesting and relevant to discuss with them as a result.

The other big aspect of any elite sport is preparation. Without the hours in the gym and much time spent practising key skills you will lose. Approaching a fundraising prospect is very similar: preparation is key. You need to do really thorough research first as this is what enables you begin an informed and relevant conversation with a prospect.

If you do your research and use this to shape your early interactions you will start off in a good place. The trick is then to build a solid relationship and deliver that relevant and engaging information. If you do this properly then moving towards a proposal or ask should be the most natural thing in the world – it should never feel forced; to use the sports analogy, when you force your game you lose.

Grahame Darnell is MD of Darnell Consulting, a specialist consultancy he founded in 2009. He is also a Partner at THINK Consulting.



Howard Lake is a digital fundraising entrepreneur. Publisher of UK Fundraising, the world's first web resource for professional fundraisers, since 1994. Trainer and consultant in digital fundraising. Founder of Fundraising Camp.

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