In our quest to create more – and more impactful – philanthropic relationships, there are few opportunities more impactful than engaging prospects and donors with our institutional leadership. Deans, physicians and others come to conversations with a career built upon a passion for the very area your prospect cares about. This passion lends the authenticity and credibility that is the hallmark of relationships that lead to meaningful giving.

As development professionals, our job is to staff leadership so they interact with prospects and donors not just to meet-and-greet upon occasion, but instead to be a part of a thoughtful – and effective – donor engagement/cultivation cycle.

Staffing leadership, however, can be a challenge. Your leader may be an expert in his or her area and comfortable speaking to hospital administration or academic research, yet clam up or run on when asked to speak about personal engagement, philanthropy or impact. To prepare your leader to talk about the organizational vision and truly connect with the donor, follow these seven tips.

  1. Use leadership to do more than making “the ask.” To create long-lasting relationships of depth between leadership and prospective donors, you need to get the president or dean involved in the process as early as possible. When asking yourself how to use your leader, identify the gaps in engagement that only the leader can fill – articulating transformative vision, signaling to a prospect that the institution takes him or her seriously, etc. Help your leader understand these interactions in the context of the larger relationship building process by sharing written strategies (and soliciting feedback) long before the “ask” so that your leader values his or her role in the process.
  2. Recognize the unique role leadership plays. Institutional leaders wear many hats. This is especially true in development and when interacting with donors and community members. Make sure you are clear with your leader what role you’re asking him or her to take on. Are you asking your leader to be a champion, an executive, a cheerleader, or an administrator? How does your own role in the meeting complement the leader’s role? Being clear on the role and coming up with a strategy – and talking points – to match the donor is key.
  3. Ask your president, physician, dean: “Why should the donor say ‘yes’?” One of the best ways to ensure leadership is on the same page as the organization’s mission is to ask why they believe our donors should fulfill the ask. That discussion is invaluable and will provide hints to get you ready for prime time. It will also help identify possible objections. Be prepared to coach and direct in this conversation.
  4. Ride with leadership to donor meetings. As a frontline fundraiser, one of your greatest opportunities is to keep your dean or physician engaged and focused in philanthropic discussions. Yes, they are busy – so busy they may not think about these discussions until they are on their way to the meeting – or walking through the door! Use this to your advantage; walk or drive with them to a meeting. This ensures your leader is focused on the donor, as opposed to the budget or policy discussion that just ended. And here’s a best practice tip: Commit to having a development professional at every meeting!
  5. Talking points are a road map. Always write a loose script of what you expect or want to happen at the meeting. This will ensure the meeting is focused, and that you move the donor along. Include transitions and possible objections. Be clear about who will respond to what type of inquiries (for example – if the prospect wants to talk pledge fulfillment or gift structure options, can your leader answer these, or should you step in as the development professional?) And don’t forget a scenario if the donor says, “yes” to your request!
  6. Recap the past to move to the future. Remind leadership of relationship highlights so they start every conversation with meaningful gratitude. Saying “thank you” is one of the best icebreakers, and it’s perfect for calming leadership nerves.
  7. Write SILENCE into all ask talking points. While they say silence is golden, it can sometimes make for uncomfortable pauses in conversations with donors. Make sure your leader is prepared for that by including silence into talking points – especially after making “the ask”!

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