As I watched the relationship between the development director and the dean, I found myself looking for a good working relationship. Were they on the same page? Were they reading from the same script, so to speak. Seeing synergy was pretty important to me.

— Donor

If a donor were to describe a meeting with you and your dean, what would she say? Do you have a good working relationship? Are you on the same page? Do you have synergy?

Preparation is key to a meeting that is both gratifying for the donor and effective for the dean and development professional. Here are four “R”s for preparing your dean for meetings with donors and potential donors.

1. Review: Inform Your Approach

Just as a pre-flight checklist is crucial for a pilot and co-pilot, a pre-meeting checklist is invaluable for a development professional and dean. What do we know about this donor that will inform our objectives and strategy for the meeting?

Consider using the Nine Navigation Points to help identify various factors, such as where to have the meeting, the approach you take, or the language you use (Personality Profile); who should be present at the meeting (Family/Influencer Dynamics); or objectives for the meeting (Phase on the Donor Commitment Continuum).

      • What is your next big goal for the donor?
      • What can you reasonably expect to accomplish with the meeting to help the donor move toward that goal?
      • What questions or objections do you anticipate? How will you respond?

2. Results: Agree on Objectives

Objectives provide clear purpose during meetings with donors and potential donors, and they allow you to measure your success afterward. Because meetings don’t always go as planned, it’s important to agree on both an optimal objective and a minimal acceptable outcome.

      • What would you like the donor/potential donor to think, feel, or do as a result of this meeting that he or she has not thought, felt, or done before?
      • How will you know when you’ve accomplished this? What will you look or listen for?
      • If unable to reach your optimal objective, what would be an acceptable lesser objective?

3. Roles: Partner with a Purpose

Generally, the development professional’s primary role is to be the philanthropy expert, managing most phases of the meeting. The dean’s primary role is to be the subject matter expert, sharing his/her vision or a specific philanthropic opportunity, answering questions, and inspiring donor commitment.

However, as we know, each donor situation is unique, and each dean has a unique set of skills and comfort level with the various phases of a donor meeting. For example, some deans may be extremely comfortable building strategic rapport; others, not so much. Or, some donor situations may dictate that the dean is the appropriate person to invite financial commitment. The important thing is to plan and agree on which roles each partner will play during the meeting.

      • Which partner will be primarily responsible for each phase of the meeting?
      • How will you work together in each of those phases?
      • How will you transition between the phases of the meeting?

4. Rehearse: Build Confidence and Comfort

Whether you’re a musical act, a sports team, the cast of a show, or a development professional-dean team, the axiom “practice makes perfect” applies. Planning a donor meeting and conducting the meeting are two different skill sets. Rehearsing will build your confidence and improve your comfort level with your partner.

One of the things that’s very important for development people to do with their deans is be able to anticipate what the other person is going to do or say, so that neither of us are surprised on a call.

— Development Professional

      • How might you role play the meeting to get comfortable with what you’re each going to say and how you will transition to each other?
      • How might you coach the dean, offering constructive feedback (perhaps to make his/her Vision Story more compelling or to simplify language so that it’s more relevant to the donor)?
      • What non-verbal cues might you use to signal each other (such as sliding back your coffee cup to signal the dean when you are ready to make the ask)?

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree,” said Abraham Lincoln, “and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” Using these four “R”s to sharpen the approach you and your dean take to donor meetings is time well spent.

If you are interested in obtaining our Meeting Roles form that will assist you in planning meeting strategy, sign up for myAR.


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