Advanced Cultivation Strategies: The Whisper in the Ear


by Karen Perry-Weinstat

By Guest Blogger Peter Heller of Heller Fundraising Group


The biggest and best gifts come from direct personal conversations built on strong relationships. But how do those relationships start? The people you hope to have as your donors are not always easily accessible. As major gift fundraisers, we need to be on the lookout for opportunities to connect with our prospects. Here’s one of my favorite strategies. I call it “The Whisper in the Ear.” It is both simple and elegant because it provides vital forward momentum in the cultivation process that otherwise might not happen.

Who is The Whisper in the Ear good for? This strategy is for prospects who are already in your organization’s orbit to some degree, but you have not yet gotten close enough to have an easy dialogue, phone or email relationship. They are not total strangers nor pie-in-the-sky prospects (like Bill Gates); they are also not usually your closest friends, though there are occasional exceptions to this when you can’t get your friend’s attention.

When would you use the strategy? Use it primarily at events of any size or meetings that your prospect is attending. The event or meeting has a purpose that does NOT allow time for lengthy, focused attention between you and the prospect, and even if it did, discussing your organization’s fundraising agenda and their giving would just not be appropriate in this context.

How does it work? I said it was simple, and it is. At your event or meeting, you commit to at least a few moments of polite, engaging conversation with your prospect. During the conversation, you say The Whisper: “I am hoping I could call your office next week to schedule a time to meet so that I can…”

You might complete The Whisper with:

  • “…get to know you and your nonprofit interests.”
  • “…learn what excites you about our work.”
  • “…follow up on Sue’s letter regarding our campaign. Your views will help us shape our next steps.”

When you have The Whisper — you might:

  • Be introducing yourself for the first time;
  • Already know the prospect somewhat or even pretty darn well, but you just haven’t been able to get that vital first meeting;
  • Not even be doing the whispering yourself but coaching your Executive Director or Board member to do the deed.

The Whisper in the Ear strategy rarely gets a negative reply and has started many long-lasting nonprofit relationships that couldn’t otherwise get off the ground. Give it a try!


Peter runs the Heller Fundraising Group located in NYC with clients everywhere. They focus on helping nonprofits build Capital Campaigns and Major Gift Programs, and they would love to hear from you: [email protected]


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