Review: To Sell is Human by Daniel H. Pink

I am a fundraiser. This is not an easy career for me, nor did I intentionally fall into it, and the necessities of the job often chafe against my natural inclinations and passions. I find fundraising to be incredibly important and fulfilling work, however, so I am trying to learn not only how to do it well for my organization, but how to do it in a way that aligns with my introversion, sensitivity towards others, and personal ethics. This job certainly likes to yank all my weaknesses and faults to the forefront, so I suppose I’m also using this opportunity to grow and become a better, more balanced person. All good things, if I can someday find my authentic niche in the fundraising world.

I was drawn to Daniel Pink’s book precisely because I thought the way he presents “sales” in the summaries fits well with my interpersonal ethics; I hoped that it could help me find an authentic and healthy way through this complicated field, and hoped it would teach me about some of the psychology of persuasion, as it purported to do. The book did not disappoint. To Sell is Human is a quick, easy read on some of the pyschology behind effective salesmanship in the 21st century. It is (somewhat arbitrarily) arranged in three sections. In the first section, Pink lays the foundation by arguing for two current and new economic realities: that “selling” (or what he calls “moving others”) is now part of every job, and that the current information age has changed what constitute effective sales strategies.

The second section of the book focuses on how to be a salesperson, on the tools Pink claims are essential for effective sales strategies in 21st century. Always Be Closing is tossed out in favor of a new ABCs of sales that speaks to the humanity of the customer/donor: Attunement, Bouyancy, Clarity. Salespeople should focus on understanding the perspectives of the other person, maintaining positivity and persistence in the face of inevitable rejection, and finding and articulating the actual problem the customer/donor wants to solve.

The final section focuses on what to do: how to develop and refine an effective pitch; how to use improvisational techniques to pivot when needed and get the customer/donor in a more receptive frame of mind; and the need to present the sales opportunity, as much as possible, as a chance for the customer/donor to serve others (as the seller serves the customer/donor).

Chapters in sections two and three all end with either a case study or a set of exercises, putting the ideas in context and making them directly applicable to the reader’s professional life.

As a careful and hesitant introvert who is loathe to “push” a sale on anyone, I appreciated Pink’s very person-oriented and academic view of moving others. He references studies from reputable and well-respected psychologists (including some I already appreciate: Csikszentmihalyi, Seligman, and Fredrickson) and emphasizes that the best sales end goal involves improving the life of the customer/donor and making the world a better place in the process. This is a “moving others” process I can get behind, and I will come back to this book many times as I prepare for introductory meetings with donors and as I write proposals to advance the research and student support of my unit.


For more book reviews and recommendations, visit my Goodreads account.

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