Successful major gifts fundraising inevitably requires developing comfort with—or, really, a passion for—in-person meetings with your organization’s active and prospective donors. Major donor meetings are crucial to developing the trust necessary for maintaining long-term relationships with donors—and, if your organization is like most nonprofits, major donor meetings are crucial to securing the majority of your annual revenue.
However, lack of preparation almost always results in donor meetings going painfully awry.
As any fundraiser knows, you can never guarantee a particular outcome from a meeting but, good preparation for each donor meeting will provide you with the best hope of success—and the assurance that a negative outcome was not the result of your negligence.
As you prepare for your next donor meeting, keep in mind the following 5 points:
Any meeting with a current or past donor to your organization should be informed by gratitude for their historical support, and awareness about how and why they became involved with your work in the first place and continue their support today. Review your data and remind yourself:
If you run into trouble pulling or reviewing any of this information from your database, consider conducting a database audit to uncover deficiencies and growth opportunities with your CRM. You can read elsewhere in Philanthropy Daily about good databases—or, feel free to reach out to me by email to discuss your database and any roadblocks you may be hitting.
Donors are not ATMs. Never forget that your donor is a person. Surprisingly, the list of things that your donor cares about most in life probably looks quite similar to yours, and they will appreciate being treated accordingly. Think about what you would remember before visiting a friend:
Some of this can be researched, but most of it will be learned through good donor cultivation and note taking when you meet and communicate with your donors.
If you don’t know these important details, you may be ill-prepared for your next major ask and could land yourself in a very awkward situation. For example, you don’t want begin your meeting by asking a donor who is going through a messy public divorce about a spouse, or by inquiring about the business of a donor who is currently under investigation for fraud. Beyond reviewing your database, a quick Google search the day before your meeting can alert you to many potential landmines such as these.
Updating a donor on your work, or asking them to continue supporting it, requires you to be deeply versed in your organization’s past results and what you plan to accomplish this year.
This sounds obvious, but it’s worth the reminder. I could spend hours recalling countless stories where a nonprofit executive or gift officer fumbled during a meeting trying to remember basic details about their organization and its programs.
You must be well prepared to address more than history and vision, however. Most donors considering a major gift to an organization will, understandably, have some questions about what exactly they’re funding, and it is your job to have answers for them. Make sure you are informed about the administrative and financial side of your organization:
Make sure that the staff in your organization are equipping you with the information you need to communicate with your donors. Check in with your colleagues before a meeting to make sure you are clear—and have memorized—important details about your organization. Whether you are a CEO or major gift officer, organizational details are paramount in a donor meeting.
Do yourself and your donor a favor: don’t show up to your meeting without a clear understanding of why you’re there. Are you going in order to thank and update them on the last project they funded? Are you just trying to get to know them better? Are you making an ask?
If you are making an ask in this meeting, consider:
Here’s a big shocker for all of you, I am sure: donor meetings don’t always go as envisioned, and sometimes they can get downright wacky.
This is why fundraisers need to be prepared for anything to happen in a meeting and have some idea how you might roll with the punches. Articulate for yourself ahead of time an ideal outcome, an acceptable outcome, and a minimum acceptable outcome so that you know what your backup ask will be should your ideal prove out of reach. (Remember: not every meeting requires an ask, and not every ask is financial!)
And when those meetings get wacky or go completely off the rails: pivot, pivot, pivot. Deal with whatever the donor throws at you and try to get the meeting back on track! The skill to pivot can only be acquired by putting yourself in as many donor meetings as possible.
If the outcome of the meeting is favorable, what should your follow-up be? What is your stewardship plan once you get what you requested?
The best-laid plans of mice and men . . . are unpredictable at best. Again, you’re dealing with humans. Nevertheless, good preparation shows respect for your donor’s time and will equip you with the confidence you need to do your job well. The most important thing, as always, is simply to build and maintain a trusting relationship with your donor, and then ask for the help that you need.
It is my goal to help purpose-driven organizations achieve their fundraising goals, craft clear and compelling communications, and achieve greater influence. Please let me know if and how I can be of help to you, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our consulting services online at AmericanPhilanthropic.com.