What if it’s not what you say but how you sit, stand, or twitch?

You’ve summoned up your courage to ask for that big gift. Perhaps you’ve gone so far as to role-play with a colleague your solicitation pitch. At last, you’ve found your fundraising voice and you’re eager to use it.

But wait. There’s another “voice” that needs your attention. It’s the one that donors “hear” by observing your body language. As communication expert Lillian Glass warns, the way you look says as much (or more) as the words you speak. Unfortunately, most of us aren’t very good at seeing ourselves as others see us. As a result, we don’t “hear” what our body language shouts at others.

bodylanguage-1If you’re uncertain of what’s included in the category of “body language,” consider this definition from author Michael Michalowicz. He writes:

Body language includes all the things that are being said by everything from your posture to the way you play with your hair in the midst of a conversation. Believe it or not, all these things express what you may not be saying verbally, and the person on the other side of the table is picking up on every non-verbal word!

And a lot of those non-verbal words say things you’d rather not have others hear.


I’ve seen lists that include 20 or more body-language misspeaks, all of which are better off avoided. However, the following four from Glass’s top culprits list are especially lethal in a solicitation context.

Hunched shoulders. According to Glass, a slumped posture causes others to view you as weak. Worse, lousy posture could harm your own self-perception. A 2015 study published in Health Psychology found that a perpetual slouch can increase negative moods and lower self-esteem. So sit up straight, shoulders back. You have an important message and your body language should show it.

Bowed head. If you mumble through a fundraising call, eyes and chin down, you’ll look beaten down. And that’s not an impression that inspires confidence. There’s comfort in talking points or a conversation “cheat sheet,” but it’s a problem if you keep your head low, eyes glued to your notes. Better a less polished presentation with chin up than a scripted pitch read with head bowed.

A frightened expression. Okay, so you’re quaking on the inside, but you don’t want to seem anxious or worried. That deer-in-the-headlights look might get you a sympathy gift, but that’s not what you’re after. Smiling, on the other hand, puts the prospect at ease and creates a positive impression of you and the organization you represent.

A shifty gaze. Don’t avert your eyes when making your case. Doing so communicates nervousness — or worse, dishonesty. Maintaining direct eye contact for at least 3 seconds when making a point can connect you with your conversation partner, leaving no room for misinterpretation.

Now back to the scenario with which I began.

You’ve summoned up your courage to ask for the big gift. You’ve scheduled the visit. It’s ready, set, ask. The last thing you want is your body language to get in the way of a well-planned solicitation pitch.

Fortunately, if you work at matching the spoken and unspoken, scrupulously avoiding the issues identified above, your body will reinforce, not drown-out, the words of your mouth. Message communicated, heard and seen, understood as intended.


What's your take on this topic?

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