What Does Detective Columbo Have to do With Fundraising?

Years ago, I learned about the “Columbo Approach” and how you can utilize this in prospecting and follow-up phone calls. It’s based on the old TV character Columbo played by Peter Falk and is, simply put, when you ask questions of someone and essentially ‘play dumb’ even though you know the answer. By asking your questions, you’re leading them to the answer all along.

I recently reconnected with a long-time friend and client, Tom Giddens. Tom is a fundraiser who’s had a great career and was probably one of Stelter’s first nonprofit clients over 35 years ago. He’s a consultant now and is assisting some great organizations with their planned giving outreach. As we were catching up and reminiscing, I reminded him of a story that he told me 10 or so years ago and how it’s been a great idea that I’ve shared with many other clients over the years.

Tom has always been naturally curious and an early adapter to new technology and techniques, so over a decade ago when Stelter rolled out our first email marketing program for planned giving, Tom jumped on it and found amazing success. What Tom identified is that there are “hidden gems” in the details.

The details in this case? Insights gleaned from our email reporting.

The Columbo Approach in Action

Tom took the data that we provided on donors who were consistently viewing and clicking through his emails and would call them and thank them for their support of the organization. He would then share with them something new that was going on at the organization and/or that he was going to be traveling in their area soon.

In one conversation, Tom asked: “You know, we’ve recently been trying to provide other loyal friends, like you, some educational materials on creative ways to be involved. I don’t suppose you’ve seen any of those come across your email, have you?” (knowing full and well that the donor had seen them).

The donor replied: “You know Tom, I have seen a couple things and was actually thinking about reaching out to you…”

This particular scenario—which was followed by other conversations—led Tom on a trip to see this donor in North Carolina and a nice six-figure gift.

Are you finding “hidden gems” in your planned giving outreach that allow you to put on your Detective Columbo hat? If so, have you found successful approaches to get donors to open up?

You can find both creative marketing ideas and information on engaging donor conversations here!

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