The Power of the Briefing

You’re a development officer, looking forward to a prospect meeting next week. The location is booked, prospect confirmed, and your faculty champion has agreed to join you. You’ve discussed this meeting with your faculty partner, so now you’re good to go, right? Not quite… a meeting without a strategic and thoughtful briefing is a waste of time for both the donor and the champion.

The written briefing document is an irreplaceable tool in staffing faculty, physicians, volunteers and organizational partners/leaders who are so important to our work with prospects and donors.

As someone who has staffed leadership, and been staffed as leadership, I have seen too many briefings that miss the mark. These briefings missed desired outcomes, sought after goals, or why my presence in a meeting is important. I have reviewed briefings intended for key institutional leadership, and could not discern what role they should play, and why that might be important to the overall strategy. I have read pages of background information, none of it tied to the purpose or reason for the meeting. Or worse, too much background with no connection of dots. I have received briefings an hour or two before a meeting … far too late to be able to contribute to a strategy, let alone be prepared for the meeting I was to attend, lead, or otherwise add value to.

However, briefings can be a vehicle for us to do some of our best work. Are you ensuring they serve this purpose?

When our partners give their limited time to development efforts, we must steward that time effectively. This means preparing them to be as effective as possible, and demonstrating confidence in our strategy and our use of their time. The written briefing accomplishes both of these items in one efficient tool.

Why? Because a briefing document ensures you and your institutional partner are on the same page, with key messages, goals, and information recorded clearly. It demonstrates the larger strategy by including context and vision, further building respect for the process and the expertise of the development officer. And, it clearly demonstrates thoughtfulness for the role of this partner, and a respect for his or her time.

The written briefing must incorporate key elements to achieve all of these goals. To serve your prospect/development strategy, it should include:

  • Purpose of the meeting or event – placing it in the context of an overall strategy
  • Role of the partner in the meeting or event and in the larger strategy – demonstrating that his or her presence is a good use of time
  • Key talking points – who is responsible for carrying which key messages
  • Anticipated outcomes – and how to get them

And, don’t forget the logistics too:

  • Dress code
  • Location and parking instructions
  • Critical times for participation (if an event)
  • Phone number for a staff member who will be available that entire day in case of emergency or last-minute request or question

Remember, our prospects and donors want access to leadership, and including institutional partners in our work provides this entrée. Access helps move relationships, and our job is to make it as easy as possible for our partners to provide it.

When we implement this tool of the trade, we get rich returns. By putting our most professional foot forward, we earn the respect of our colleagues and secure the strategic outcomes we need. Our partners and our donors deserve this effort!

 I challenge you to implement or retool written briefings and share your successes here!

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Donor and Prospect Meeting Essentials: The Golden Rules

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.

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