The Gift Begins with Securing the First Meeting
Think about your fundraising career. Did you take classes, learn from mentors, read books or attempt to gain experience on a trial-and-error basis? Specifically, when thinking about the solicitation process, you probably focused a great deal of energy on what to say and do before, during and after the actual ask process.
I had to experiment and learn over time. Even after all these years, after every ask sequence, I spend time critiquing the ask that just took place. I ask myself if I prepared properly and go through the experience in my mind. I smile if it was a "yes." I attempt to learn if it was a "no" or if it was a wave off to ask at another time. One facet to the solicitation process that is most important is securing the first meeting. In my opinion, not enough emphasis, training and education is provided on this topic.
The best thing to do is to meet on a one-to-one basis with your donor, according to a Blackbird article. This is mandatory if you genuinely want to build a strong relationship with your prospect and ongoing donor. Since you cannot waste a person’s time, you must make these visits valuable to them. Several types of meetings that can get you in front these individuals are advice visits; thank-you visits; I-would-love-to-hear-more-about-you visits; and I-would-love-to-hear-your-story visits. You need to make sure the visit is about them and not you. Place a handwritten note in the mailbox the moment you leave the meeting and immediately input the data learned from the meeting into the donor database filing system. This will refresh your memory regarding next steps.
A Nonprofit Hub blog points out that you will be excited and passionate but terrified at the same time as you visit a prospect for the first time. You must come to this meeting prepared with prior research, appropriate dress and a friendly attitude. The conversation must focus on the prospect and cause but never on you. The first visit is more about asking questions and listening, not selling. The question for the day is how your organization fits into their lives and what drives their support. Follow up the first meeting with a personal email and possibly some form of recognition. The key to the first visit is to build a positive foundation for further development.
You are 85% on your way to securing a gift if you can get your prospect to agree to a visit, according to a Candid blog by Claire Axelrad. She notes that the hardest part of fundraising is getting the visit. Try different channels such as phone, mail, email, text, social media, etc., to get the visit until you find what works for you. Tips to use with a prospect as you seek to land a meeting are:
- Arrange a visit
- Ask the prospect if he or she has time for your call
- Tell the prospect why you are calling
- Be clear on philanthropic intentions, such as advice
- Do not talk about specific amounts yet
- Offer two to three choices for timing of visit
- Stand up and smile during the phone conversation with prospect
Gail Perry believes that securing any visit—much less a first visit—with a prospect or donor is scary and frustrating. One of her favorite ways to get a meeting with a donor is to use the meeting to ask for advice. This might include the fact that I have a project and I would love to have your input. Another way to ask for a visit is to ask the donor to tell you the story as to why he or she gives. If you can meet the donor at an event you scheduled for a group of prospects and donors, it is much easier to ask for a follow-up coffee. You should also consider dropping off a gift at a donor’s home, which might result in an invite into his or her home for that first visit.
A Front Range Source article provides tips for getting the face-to-face meeting, which is the hardest part of the solicitation process. Try the telephone first, but craft speaking bullet points to use on the call. Practice the bullet points before calling the prospect. These points should include a thank you for past gifts, but remember the visit is for information sharing and getting to know them, so offer to meet at a familiar place and time for the prospect. Be prepared for any objections and be creative. If the phone does not work, use other forms of communication, such as email or text, to get the conversation going.
Amy Einstein notes that there are several foolproof ways to secure a first meeting with a major donor. You must be persistent without being a pest. Pre-call letters, email and phone calls are popular. You need to let the prospects know you are calling about a meeting, but do not offer to tell them about your organization or offer to thank them in person. Do let them know you are on a listening tour, assure them the first visit is not about asking them for a gift, and be prepared for a rejection. Seek a 20-minute meeting at their home or office, at their convenience. The meeting is to get to know the prospect better, learn why they give to our organization, and ask them for advice on our current projects that need funding support.
If you secure the first meeting, according to a Causeview blog, get personal with the prospect, and share your organization’s impact and challenges. Explain options for giving, talk about personal benefits of a major and get a feel for making an ask. You need to feel if an ask is appropriate or if a second visit is needed, hopefully at the facility where you are seeking funding.
Make sure you leave the meeting with both sides having specific knowledge of next steps. Note, according to Amy Einstein, that your visit goal is to close a gift from the prospect and understand how you can do it successfully. You need to be prepared and get the donor to talk most of the time. Ask a series of questions about themselves and their thoughts about your organization. Set a follow-up meeting to discuss their possible financial contribution, send them information, get them involved as a volunteer, and answer their questions. Identify your first meeting goals, have a game plan, and use every minute wisely.
The gift begins with securing the first meeting. Understand how to secure the meeting and continually practice this art. You will never get a hit if you cannot get the opportunity to bat!
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.