Treat Your First Meeting Like a First Date!
I grew up in West Virginia at a different time and place — when boys properly asked girls out on dates and developed personal relationships with them. Girls did not call boys and ask them out. Boys paid for dates and never heard of the term "dutch." There were no match.com or social-media sites to pick and choose dating options. There were no opportunities to pay a company $1,000 for a dream date. In the end, the success and failure of a relationship depended on chemistry and other factors between two people.
In fact, the only time I can ever remember a mother promoting me to her daughter in advance of the big date went south quickly, with my date arguing with her mom about going out with me. I had no chance for success. I found out later she was already dating someone without her mother knowing it!
In many ways, the concept of dating can be applied to fundraising and interpersonal relationships between people. When you think about it, fundraising is all about relationships. The essence of generating positive relationships can be equated to the dating ritual. (Granted, many of us might not have practiced the concept for a number of years.)
I was sitting across from a bank manager, who I had not met before, the other day, and I privately experienced a rush emotions as I wondered what I should say to start the ball rolling. It is hoped that you have a game plan and expectations for your first visit. The truth is you have only a few precious seconds to make a first impression. The aspect of chemistry is an important element to the mix. If there is no chemistry, success will be harder to attain. You will have some advantage if you received the appointment through a personal "door opening" connection with person you are meeting.
It is critical that you, in a way, become Barbara Walters. Think about what questions you can ask or should ask when the meeting begins. Listen and start the meeting with softball questions about general personal topics. Think about items that might engage the interest of the party you are speaking to at the first moments of the meeting. You might get lucky and strike a chord or theme for the visit that you both will remember going forward.
If at all possible, do homework on the person you are meeting in advance. Has this person been a prior donor, volunteer, board member? Does he have any link or the organization? In some cases I find out the person I am meeting has a friend or relative with prior experience with my organization. Determine why the person across the desk might be interested in meeting with you. The ultimate goal is to leave this meeting with a win-win scenario for both parties. Your goal is to seek a second "date" if at all possible.
At this point it must be pointed out that typically the date itself will be easier than securing the appointment. More than one colleague has called me seeking advice on how to obtain the appointment because of fear of rejection at this step in the process. I have found that asking for a 30-minute meet-and-greet visit increases chances for success. The person you are attempting to visit knows there is a brief, finite time and the meeting is non-threatening. You will not be asking for anything except her attention to learn more about you and your organization.
A suggestion is to break the first meeting time frame into thirds. The first third is the ice breaker, the second third is education, and the final third is seeking mutual possibilities. As the meeting ends, determine if another meeting is warranted to further the relationship.
Make the most of the first date. With practice, your comfort zone and confidence will increase. Who knows where the conversation will lead!
Duke has extensive experience as a nonprofit practitioner, author, lecturer and consultant. He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the last 11 years. He has been a long-standing member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals where he was previously named the AFP Indiana Chapter Fundraising Executive of the Year and has held the CFRE designation for many years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in education administration, master's degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor's degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also completed post graduate work at the University of Louisville.
He is currently executive director of development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. Contact Duke at email@example.com or 317-224-1029.