Major gifts fundraising is about relationships. You know this, and it’s an easy truth to recite in a job interview. But actually developing positive two-way relationships with donors isn’t easy.
How do you do it with a new major gifts prospect? How is that different from getting a meeting with a previous donor or someone who has supported your organization in other ways? In a moment, we’ll look at four strategies you can use to approach donors that will make them receptive to meeting with you.
For these strategies to work, you must stop viewing donor meetings as transactions, or ‘sales’ meetings, or ways to improve your metrics, and start viewing them as opportunities to deepen the relationship.
In a relationship, there is give and take.
Too often in fundraising, it’s all take take take, and not enough giving value to the donor.
Here are four ways to give value first, and with that approach get more meeting with donors.
Being new gives you a good reason to genuinely want to meet with a donor who may have already known a previous gift officer or administrator. They’ll understand that things have changed, and they will feel important knowing that meeting them was near the top of your task list.
But, what can you do if you aren’t new? What if you’ve been at your organization for many years?
The way around this is to find another aspect of ‘newness’, and when it happens, capitalize on it.
That could happen when someone new takes on a key leadership position, such as executive director. You can use the offer of a meeting as a chance to meet the new leader. Of course, this requires cooperation from the person who is new to your organization. But as a fundraising leader, meeting with major donors ought to be part of the job description.
Another way to capitalize on ‘new’ is to go on a listening tour. In this context, you want a fresh take on what your donors and supporters are thinking, and you have genuine interest in their concerns and thoughts.
Whatever you do, don’t tell donors that you want to meet so you can get your activity metrics up. Donors don’t care one bit about that. You must give value, not make it about you.
Here’s one example of how this might sound:
“I am new to the organization and to the area, and hope to meet as many loyal donors as possible in the next few weeks. The president has suggested that you would be a very important person for me to meet. I’m hopeful that you might have 30 minutes in the next two weeks to meet me for breakfast, lunch, or another convenient time.”
Another great way to get meetings with major donors is to bring up a problem your organization is facing, and ask for their help in solving it.
Supporters who care about your mission will want to help, and they will be more likely to respond to your request to meet.
Just be sure not to abuse this. The problem must be real. And you must genuinely want their help in solving it. That means you have to listen, and actually consider their solutions. Have a dialogue about it. Discuss options and alternatives.
If you’re just using a problem as a pretense for a meeting but aren’t really looking for their help, they will eventually sniff it out and realize this was just a ploy to talk about donating.
Another scenario you can capitalize on is when you have an idea but could use help on how to proceed with it. You need advice.
As with the last strategy, this must be a real idea that you are thinking about, and that the donor or supporter can speak to with some degree of expertise or experience. It must be relevant to them.
And, you need to be prepared to follow up with them later about your progress in implementing your idea. If their advice helped, be sure to say how.
The worst thing you can do here is to ask for advice and then disappear for weeks and months. They’ll wonder what happened and will be curious about the status of the situation.
This last strategy is most effective for supporters who already have some influence at your organization. But like all these ideas, the point here is twofold:
You have something you want to share or discuss with them, and you want to sustain the relationship. With all four of these strategies, you are achieving both at the same time. Simply by meeting, even if you never talk about giving, you keep the relationship strong.
With this fourth strategy, you simply call them up to get their ‘take’ on something and see if they’d like to be involved. This makes them feel valued and important. That’s good for you, because it means they will continue to play an integral role in your mission, and will continue to be a high-value donor prospect.
All these strategies share common features, and you may find yourself in other situations where you can achieve similar outcomes.
The goal in all these situations is to deliver value to the donor first.
You want them to feel valued and important. You are giving them influence and a degree of control. You’re giving opportunities that allow them to use their expertise. You’re letting them be the center of attention.
Many major donors enjoy these feelings and experiences, because it communicates to them that you value them for more than just their wealth. You genuinely value the other ways they can contribute to your organization and advance your mission.
In your quest to get meetings with major donors, there’s one thing you don’t want to do, besides what we discussed earlier about activity metrics – something donors don’t care about.
Other than that, don’t reach out to donors and supporters with offers to ‘update’ them. With an offer to update them coming out of nowhere, it will be interpreted as an obvious ploy just to meet with them so you can ask about giving.
Now, if the donor took a meeting using one of the four strategies in this article, you can certainly offer to update them about that, because they’ll be expecting it.
Likewise, if the donor has given at a previous time, you can offer to update them about the impact of their gift. That might sound like this:
“I want to thank you in person for your past support and better understand your experience working with our organization … and I’d like to share what we did with your gift as well as some aspects of our work that you might not be aware of.”
You may have noticed that all four of these strategies for getting meetings do not involve asking for a gift. These are engagement meetings. Relationship meetings.
But what if your purpose for asking about a meeting is about money?
The key here is to seize opportunities when they arise, beginning with the other four strategies. Conversations can go in many directions. You need to learn to recognize open doors and opportunities where you can discuss the idea of giving.
One strategy is to look for opportunities to talk about past, present, and future.
For example, suppose a supporter mentions a business they own, or an asset that’s in their portfolio. You can ask about the story behind that asset or business, how it came to be and how it’s doing today.
But then, try to transition to talking about the future.
Once the conversation turns to the future, the prospect of giving transformational gifts is fairly likely to become part of the discussion. And the more natural this transition goes, the more the donor will be happy to go there.
There’s a lot more to say about this, and we cover it in great detail in our groundbreaking major gifts eCourse, Donor Story: Epic Fundraising, which is based on research from Dr. Russell James.
This is the best professional development you will ever take – we guarantee it. And you get 20.5 CFREs for going through it.
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