Many fundraisers thrive on the feeling of walking away from a prospect meeting having made a meaningful connection and envisioning the possibilities before us.
This dedicated, thoughtful time to build a relationship face to face is irreplaceable – which is why we so often ask ourselves, “Am I at my best in these meetings?”
Over the years, I’ve seen my colleagues be successful in meetings across many individual styles in working with donors – new and experienced, extroverts and introverts, creative dreamers and practical thinkers. And, they’ve been successful because they’ve built their styles on a shared foundation of key behaviors.
What shared foundation do the best fundraisers have in common in how they meet with donors and prospective donors? They all practice these four Golden Rules of Prospect Meetings:
- Silence is golden. Not once have I seen a development officer, physician, or organizational leader talk someone into making a gift. No well-crafted sentence, researched data point, or honed appeal will lead someone to make a thoughtful gift they do not truly want to give you.What does work? The age-old concept of story listening. Let your prospect tell you what they care about, what motivates them, what deeply held belief your organization can align with. You can’t get there without asking questions and listening. But that answer is always the prospect’s story, and that story is the roadmap to a gift.Research shows that we remember what we say in a conversation, not what someone else says. So ask the questions that allow your prospect to tell you how your organization supports their vision for the world. Ideally, you should speak 25-30% of a meeting, and allow your prospect to fill the rest.
- Materials just don’t matter that much. I know this statement may meet with strong disagreement from some corners. But here’s what I can tell you from first-hand experience: materials do not make a case. Not even expensive, glossy case statements truly make the case. Brochures, white papers, proposals – these tools are at their most impactful when specifically used to underscore a meaningful conversation.If you hope your written material, or your video or web site, will have an impact – set them up accordingly. Use them as take-aways to underscore a conversation you’ve had, a visual aid to illuminate the finer details of a proposal, or in some other manner that is secondary to the dialogue. Plan in advance for when you present materials in a meeting. If you put a brochure on the table, does that facilitate the dialogue, or distract from the person-to-person connection?
- The institutional relationship matters immensely. Development officers tend to be pretty friendly – we enjoy talking with our prospects, forming connections, and building relationships.However, no relationship matters more than that between the donor and the institution we represent. Therefore, our interactions with donors must always represent this fact.What does that mean? It means representing the institution’s interests over any personal or short-term interests. It also requires us to think about the longevity of our donors’ relationships. Perhaps you’ve been with an organization for six months – your donor may have been involved for six years. Be sensitive to how often they’ve had to tell their story, and that they may perceive themselves as more expert on the organization and its cause than you are.No matter the circumstances, your first and last responsibility is to represent your organization professionally – and we should commit to being as organization-centric as we are donor-centric.
- Respect the value of time. Whether during a meeting or at other points in the relationship, demonstrating your commitment to the value of time, and keeping to time commitments, demonstrates integrity to your prospects.How does this play out? When you tell a prospect that you want to visit for 30 minutes, you demonstrate that you are conscientious and trustworthy by keeping to 30 minutes – making it more likely that you’ll get the next meeting.When you promise to follow-up with a key next step or information in a certain timeframe and you do so, you demonstrate that you are reliable – allowing your donor to feel that he or she will be well-stewarded throughout the relationship you are building.When you are thoughtful and strategic about timing, you build momentum into your strategies – leading, ultimately, to more gifts.
There is no one “right” way to be a fundraiser. Our individual styles and personalities can be our greatest assets when we build from the Golden Rules.
Want more development and fundraising insight? Sign up today for blog posts delivered right to your inbox!