Why It Pays to Listen and Take Notes in Prospect Meetings
I grew up in Kanawha County, West Virginia, at a time when kindergarten was not offered as an educational alternative. For the majority of children, the first time they read a book or had class instruction was sitting in a first-grade class. I was lucky in the sense that my neighbors and my sisters decided to constantly play “school” at my neighbor’s house. Since several of these children were slightly older than I was, they took the role of teacher. We would study spelling, arithmetic and other areas in a very primitive way. What I did learn from this exercise was the discipline of sitting in class, listening, learning and taking notes. I grew to enjoy taking notes, a task I employ to this day.
Why is listening and note-taking important?
The essence of fundraising and development is engagement. All of us have to start the process of establishing a relationship with someone at ground zero.
It is interesting to note that when we start fresh with someone, he or she may have intelligence on us from a variety of sources. Similarly, we always attempt to have someone provide a “door opener” to a prospect we are visiting for the first time. No one likes a cold call. I want, if possible, to have someone I am meeting with for the first time at least know who I am and what organization I represent. It certainly helps to have the person I am meeting with have a positive background check on me. I feel that gives me a slight advantage when the first meeting takes place.
We also know the type of discussion that ensues will vary depending upon whether we are interacting with a corporation, foundation, organization or association. Make sure you do your homework: Research the prospect and have an end-game financial goal in mind, plus priority to fund. That said, this may change as you receive information from the prospect. For now, however, your goal always is to get a next-action step to further engage the prospect toward movement.
It is wise when engaging with the prospect in a face-to-face manner to have several basic conversational steps in mind to move the process of engagement along, which you hopefully will lead:
- Your Introduction: Tell the prospect who you are and what organization you represent. Tell the person how long you have worked for the organization and what motivated you to join the team. Relate the facts to why the organization is special.
- Prospect Introduction: This presentation hopefully is much longer. Have the prospect introduce and talk freely about themselves. Keep the conversation, at this point, non-business-based and just try to understand in your mind how best to connect this prospect with your organization from his or her prospective.
- Additional Steps: Tell the person sitting across from you the purpose of the meeting. Share organizational information and react to what the prospect is saying. Understand his or her philanthropy and how that process works. Quickly see if there could be a fit between organizations. The ultimate goal is to have a win-win situation that you can build over time.
Meeting people and prospects is truly an art. You will gain confidence and achieve greater success over time. To achieve success in visit two and beyond, you must take excellent notes after each personal visit. Create a next-visit strategy based upon these notes. Ask questions that get to know the person. I want to know such things as spouse’s name, children’s names, college attended, sports played, fraternity or sorority, pets’ names, hobbies (i.e., loves mountain climbing), and other germane and obscure facts.
Create a strategy for each session, and begin each session with personal comments gleaned from prior meetings that show you remember the prospect and the meetings at a deeper level. Ultimate success lies in the details. Prospects take special note of little things about them you say that show a keen interest in them. This will separate you from the competition and keep you top of mind with the prospect. Isn’t your goal to stand out from the crowd?
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 317-224-1029.