What’s your reason for requesting the first meeting with a prospective donor?
The ones I hear most often, including the ones used on me, include:
What’s the problem with them? Most people see through them. They assume they are all pretexts for fundraising. Many have been tried on them and they have been disappointed by the results.
Even worse, they see you as disguising the real reason for the visit and that does not redound to your credibility which undercuts your most important objective – to build trust.
Some advocate for the more direct route – “I’m a fundraiser and would like to explain why we are worthy of your support.” That’s much better than the statements above but I think it wiser to say, “I’d like to see if we can begin to earn your trust and support.” That signals that you won’t do what donors dislike the most – pretend you’re there for one reason, then ambush them with an ask. Given the bad experiences that many have had at the hands of brazen or obtuse fundraisers, you will likely have to underscore or promise that you will not ask for their support.
Still, this approach sets up an either/or. If prospective donors say they are not interested or are supporting all the causes they can, you have no effective comeback.
The far more adroit approach is to ask for a meeting to explore an alignment of interests – and not just with your organization but to test a particular pending initiative. “We’d like to get your candid reaction to … Your responses, positive or negative, will help us shape that initiative and make it more viable.”
If they seem uncertain, you can offer to send them a brief draft describing that initiative in advance of your meeting. The more you can preview, the more you will put people at ease and allow them to feel in control.
If they say no to a meeting, you can still ask if you can send a draft document electronically, urging them to share their candid responses in the margins. Remember, you’re trying to start a conversation to see if there is a potential alignment. That doesn’t have to be done in person.
If they still say no, you can ask if there is any other way you could provide them information on the impact of your organization and suggest some of the possibilities listed below.
If they still say no, you can conclude they are not a prospect. All too often, I see people taken off prospective donor roles because they were approached the wrong way. They can prove to be viable donors when approached in more substantive and straightforward ways, especially when asked if they would be interested in helping an organization solve a problem and being offered the opportunity to interact with those trying to solve it.
Jim Langley is the president of Langley Innovations. Langley Innovations provides a range of services to its clients to help them understand the cultural underpinnings of philanthropy and the psychology of donors and, with that knowledge, to develop the most effective strategies and tactics to build broader and more lasting communities of support. Jim has authored numerous books including his most recent book, The Future of Fundraising: Adapting to New Philanthropic Realities, published by Academic Impressions in 2020.
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