Three coaching tricks for managers – how to help your colleagues succeed

: Rob Woods

Rob Woods, Director of Brightspot Fundraising, gives his three coaching tricks for managers to help their colleagues do fundraising differently...

Have you ever tried to make a positive change, like do more exercise, and failed to make the change last? Or even harder, have you ever really needed to help someone in your team do their fundraising differently (eg pick up the phone to supporters instead of relying on email), and your attempt made no difference?

If the answer is yes, you are not alone! The truth is, making some changes to our habits is often much harder than most of us expect. 

In the last three years my team of fundraising coaches and I have helped more than 250 fundraisers and managers to make positive changes in their fundraising. And one of the key tools we use is an invaluable concept described in the best-selling book Switch, by Chip and Dan Heath.

To help us better understand the way Emotion, the Rational Mind and the Environment often sabotage our well-intentioned change efforts, the authors of Switch use the metaphor of an Elephant, being guided by a Rider, along a Path. The Elephant (ie our emotion) is much stronger than the little Rider (our rational thought) on its back, which explains why you may sometimes decide rationally that another cake (or alcoholic drink) would be a bad idea, but find yourself up wolfing it down anyway. When emotion and your rational mind are pulling in different directions, your emotion nearly always wins.

And the Path (environment) along which the elephant and rider are travelling can make a big difference to your chance of the change succeeding. If the environment is against you (eg you’re surrounded by delicious cakes) change will be much harder than if there are only salads in the house.



Three ways this metaphor can help you make a positive change:

1. Motivate the Elephant

Usually the biggest reason people don’t follow through is because we have not helped them focus on their own reasons for doing so, or helped them believe change is possible. For example, Emma, (who works at an NHS hospital charity and who attended my Major Gifts Mastery Programme recently wanted members of her fundraising committee to think of high net worth people to involve in the charity’s work.

Previously most of them had failed to come up with a single name.

This time before asking, Emma mentioned that one volunteer had come up with several names and this had already led to a coffee meeting with a well-known local philanthropist.

Guess what happened? Following this pre-frame of what Prof. Cialdini would call Social Prooffour out of the six volunteers now offered at least five names to invite to the next major donors event. Had Emma just used logic (The Rider), making the rational case for suggesting contacts, their unconscious reluctance to find names would have probably persisted.

2. Simplify for the Rider.

A common reason for inaction is being overwhelmed by the number of options. One powerful coaching move is to reduce choice and help people focus on very few key priorities. As coaches, we’re always looking to simplify the goal, or help people break it down into small clear steps so they are no longer over-whelmed.

For example, one of my coaching clients, the head of philanthropy at an animal charity, made huge progress when I helped him see that his team were not sufficiently clear how important it was to get meetings with major donors (as opposed sending them emails and doing numerous internal tasks). As soon as he realised he needed to help his team appreciate the disproportionate importance of getting contact time with donors, he came up with all sorts of ideas.

For instance, not only did he check in with them, just briefly, three times a week to offer to help them succeed with this task; he also recruited an intern to do many of the admin jobs which had sapping their time. His team really appreciated the extra support and as focus increased, so did income, including one new gift of £200,000.


3. Make the path easier to follow

You can raise the whole game to a new level if you make the desirable behaviours more automatic, that is, not requiring so much will-power every time. Eg Amazon dramatically increased sales when they reduced the number of clicks needed to make a purchase; and cars are now designed to emit an alarm if you leave the lights on.

One of my clients, Rose, had really struggled to get her trustees to suggest the names of people they knew in important companies. We decided to simplify things for the rider by choosing Rose’s Dream 10 Partners to focus on; and to make the path easier to follow by including these 10 names in her monthly report to the trustees. (Another client, Ally puts up A4 posters showing the logos of the 10 companies in the office and on the table at trustee meetings for her hospice, with a bold headline - ‘Do you know anyone at any of these companies?’ 

Time and again, we’ve found that when you shape the environment like this, people turn out to be dramatically better connected and helpful than they had previously appeared. For example, lots of people responded to Rose’s poster - within two months she had been offered introductions to 8 out of the 10 desirable partner companies on her list.

In the meantime, if you’re struggling to make a change, consider these three strategies:

1)    Motivate the elephant. How could you help your colleague find and feel their own reasons why the change would be in their interests? Or find social proof, ie examples of others doing this thing and getting desirable results.

2)    Simplify for the rider. How could you break the goal down into much simpler steps? Make far clearer the one or two simple things that are much more important to focus their energy on?

3)    Shape the path. How could you reduce the need for will-power by shaping the environment? E.g. Could you set your team meeting agenda so there is always a ‘story-sharing slot’…or put a poster in every meeting room which, for example, helps them remember the huge value of creating a great experience for donors.

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Rob Woods, Director of Brightspot Fundraising and IoF Academy trainer


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