We all know someone who would rather die than face their fear of public speaking. It’s the most common fear, but I don’t think that’s the case among development professionals. Instead, most of us dread…bum, bum, bum…discovery calls. Discovery work often sets apart those who make it in the field and those who don’t. The call is also just the first step. It is really about securing an initial meeting with a potential donor. I’m not sure “disco work” will ever be a favorite for most of us, but having a simple process and perspective can significantly increase your chance for success—securing the initial visit.
Once you have identified a potential donor with whom you would like to meet, spend time gathering information about that person. Finding the answers to the following questions will create a sturdy foundation for getting that elusive first meeting on the calendar:
- Does the individual have a philanthropic interest in your organization? Has the individual made previous contributions? If so, what was the impact? Where might you plot this person on the Donor Development Chart?
- What links does the potential donor have with your organization? Are they an alum? A former patient? Have they or a loved one benefitted from services your organization provides? Do they have a relationship with someone connected to the organization—perhaps another donor, volunteer, or a person whose work is associated with the mission of your organization—who would make an introduction?
- What do you know about the potential donor’s personality profile? How can you leverage this information to choose the most appropriate method for requesting a meeting?
Next, with the information you’ve uncovered in mind, brainstorm both about why you want to meet with the individual and why the individual would want to meet with you. Sometimes you’ll uncover a natural intersection of your organization’s funding priorities and the potential donor’s philanthropic interests. Other times, you’ll need to dig a bit deeper. But always keep in mind that it’s all about the donor. Why you want to meet might not resonate with the potential donor. Put the focus on what is important to them.
The best way to put the focus squarely on the potential donor is by weaving a value proposition into the request for a meeting that has a clear purpose. Add value by using the ideas below when inviting donors to meet.
Link the request to a personal connection that the potential donor has or might like to have.
Dr. Samuelson asked me to contact you with some information he thinks you will find interesting.
Your former roommate Terry Garcia—who is one of our board members—suggested you might be interested in learning more about our organization.
Dean Nguyen met you at our most recent event and wanted me to share some of the college’s priorities with you.
Use the meeting as an opportunity to provide the potential donor with exclusive or “insider” information.
Our organization has just laid out our five-year strategic plan. I’d like to share it with you before we make it public.
The hospital is in the beginning phase of starting a new capital campaign. I think you might be interested in learning more about the plans for the pediatric department’s upgrades.
Our college was excited to hire a new dean. May we meet so that I can share some of Dean Jackson’s priorities?
Opinion, skill set, or knowledge
Ask for the donor’s opinion or enlist their help in providing information that is beneficial to your organization. This value proposition is strengthened when you attach leadership to your request, such as a dean, CEO, or executive director. If the potential donor has a specific skill set or knowledge, leverage that by asking for their help in that area.
Our executive director has tasked us with capturing our clients’ and their family members’ reflections on their experiences with our organization.
The dean knows that in academia, we can lose sight of what is happening in industry. Can I meet with you to get your unique perspective?
The hospital CEO has directed me to gather stories from our patients and their family members about their stay in the orthopedic unit. Would you be willing to share your story?
Remember, good strategy for any meeting with a donor or potential donor has a goal. Keep that goal in mind when selecting a value proposition. When donors are part of a purpose-driven meeting with a clear objective, they will likely be open to subsequent meetings to explore the next steps.
We had the goal of accomplishing ‘x’ during our meeting today—and we did! I’m going to research some of the ideas we talked about. Should we meet again in three weeks to discuss my findings?
I shared your perspective with the dean who loves your story and hopes to meet with you soon!
Doing your homework and focusing your requests on meetings that offer value to potential donors will provide you with everything you need to set the fear aside and find success in engaging new supporters. Fear not, these days, there is still plenty to keep us up at night!
Sharpen your skills for securing and creating a winning strategy for donor visits—both face-to-face and virtual—by attending Tactics for Optimizing Donor Meetings or one of our other public offerings.