Three Key Words to Get Donors Donating and Sponsors Sponsoring

There’s a regional bank in the Midwest with a catchy tagline: “Ask, listen, solve.” When you think about it, that sounds pretty good! This tagline may be made up of three important words, but it’s also landed on one very impactful concept.

How does this relate to donors and sponsors? Glad you asked.

Next time you’re in a meeting with a current or potential donor, take a piece of paper and write “Ask, Listen, Solve,” making it visible for everyone in the meeting. It helps keep people focused on the three things that matter most. Big corporations, small companies or individuals who want to get involved — people want to be heard and understood.

  1. Ask.

    When I consult with companies or organizations, one of the first things I do is find out if they’re asking the right questions. But what are the right questions? Well, to start, it’s not about you … yet. It’s about them and their goals. But not just their partnership goals — bigger goals. For example, a potential donor’s high-level goal may sound something like, “My father died a few years ago and I recently lost my mother. I don’t want them to be forgotten.”

  2. Listen.

    Remember, there’s a reason we have two ears and only one mouth. After asking a question, it’s easy to think, “I know what they’re going to say,” and dive right in to a solution. Sure, sometimes we get it right. But when we let our minds wander and our mouths gets in the way, we block ourselves from really hearing what people are saying.With a little prodding (and a healthy dose of active listening) the potential donor in our previous example might have added: “My mother loved dogs and my father was a carpenter — we always had cool doghouses.”

  3. Solve.

    Now, if you asked the right questions and really listened to the responses, you’re well on your way to a solution. So how might that look in our example? Maybe a good listener would suggest building a “cool doghouse” (her words), creatively painted by the staff (or the family) as a permanent and lasting way to honor both parents. Your smart team might come up with something better, but you get the idea: By asking and listening first, you can position a donation or a sponsorship in a more meaningful way.

Prepackaged donor and sponsor solutions might make things easy, too. But if you really want more donors and sponsors, ask the right questions, listen to what they say, and solve in a unique and significant way.

Ask, listen, solve. It works!


Tom Tholen

Tom Tholen is SAWA's Senior Vice President of Marketing & Development. The SAWA member has served as President of Companion Channel, a cloud-based digital screen media service that streamed into partner shelters. Tom is perhaps best known in the animal welfare industry as the former President & Chief Marketing Officer for Callahan Creek, which was the agency of record for Hill’s in the early days of their shelter program. Over the years, he has worked for several agencies, as well as major corporations including Hallmark, Sprint and General Electric. A Colorado native, Tom received his BS in Journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder, and he lives with his family in the Kansas City area.


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