In dance, a pivot is a quick turn you make to move in another direction. In the media, a pivot is a way to respond quickly to a question and get back to your key talking points.


What is a pivot for fundraising? It’s a way to guide the conversation back to what you want to learn or achieve in that meeting. In fundraising, it might be to learn more about a prospective donor’s interests, engage them more deeply with your work, or make some kind of ask.


As on the dance floor, the pivot is about both technique and flair. As board members, nonprofit executive directors, and fundraiser, we are all responsible for building relationships that result in revenue for the organization. As I like to say, no money, no mission. In order to engage donors, your relationships need to be authentic and genuine, but they also need to be strategic.


There are three key elements to a successful conversation pivot:


End the off-topic conversations

As you are getting to know someone, you absolutely want to learn about their interests and passions. But at a certain point, you might find yourself in a free-wheeling conversation about donuts. Don’t go down the rabbit hole. If a topic has gone on too long, simply stop asking follow up questions or sharing your next favorite maple-bacon donut story.


I have a couple of ways of putting a period on the end of an off-topic sentence too:


  • We could talk about that over drinks all night.
  • That’s not the problem I’m getting paid to solve.


Use a prop

Physical props are an effective way to guide the conversation back on track. Take out your notebook and open it. Pull the folder or presentation out of your bag. Even if someone it still talking, they will pick up on the fact that it’s time to get down to business.


Change the subject

Sometimes a board member or staff member might be contributing to the meandering conversation, so part of my role might be changing the subject – back to the organization. I promise you, it only feels awkward for a moment – and then everyone moves on in the direction you intended. Even an abrupt change of topic is better than never getting to the point of the meeting. These are my favorite ways to change the subject:


  • That reminds me of…
  • I love that story. Our founder used to say…
  • This is a little off-topic, but (ask a question)?
  • I could talk about this all day, but want to make sure I don’t forget to tell you/ask you…
  • Changing topics….


Of course, the best strategy for a fundraising meeting is to avoid the need for a pivot in the first place. There are two key strategies for achieving this: set and share an agenda in advance and be aware of time. Setting an agenda doesn’t have to be overly-formal or written down, but it’s always helpful to let the other person know what you hope to cover in the time you have allotted for each other. Speaking of time, you’ll also want to know when the meeting needs to end. Confirm at the beginning of the meeting, and make sure you have a watch, clock, or phone handy so you can stick to it.


Building relationships on behalf of an organization takes emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills, but also requires strategy and organization. By mastering the pivot and planning in advance, you’ll set you and your organization up for fundraising success.