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Face-to-Face: How to Hold Focused, Successful Meetings With Donors

Resource Center - Foundation

(Jan. 26, 2009) “The key to donor relations today is to think of it like customer relations,” says Erika Dockery, CFRE, executive director of the World Affairs Council of Greater Cincinnati. She offers ways to help you end with results rather than loose ends.

“My view is that we need to spend more time with donors and less time with prospects—holding off on social bonding and relationship-building until we know that the person has at least some interest in offering support.”

Her approach is to be up-front and open with donors and to approach the business aspect of the meeting directly and strategically. “That does not mean making a hard sell,” Dockery explains. Rather, it is to take a reading to determine if further cultivation will bear fruit. “I want to know if the donor is willing, at some point in the future, to have a discussion about making a gift. If the answer is ‘no,’ then I’d rather know that up front, rather than find that out after six months of cultivation,” she explains.

Dockery will present a session at AFP’s International Conference on Fundraising in New Orleans titled “Bottom Line Fundraising.” The session will focus on how fundraisers can integrate traditional “sales” techniques into daily work and achieve great results—from cold calling, to personal visits with prospects, to closing more gifts in a shorter timeframe. For more details and to register for the conference (happening March 29-April 1), go to http://conference.afpnet.org.

Essential Elements of an Initial Donor Meeting

“You become friends with your best donors, but when you are starting out you need clients, not friends,” Dockery explains. For the first or second meeting, determine your goal. Is the person willing to consider a major gift in the next (insert number) of months? Are they willing to have a discussion about a future gift in a certain range? Or, at minimum, are they interested in becoming an annual donor? Of course they are not always ready for this question on the first visit—it may take until the second or third. But sometimes you will have only one meeting with a CEO or other chief officer to decide if they are a good prospect, she explains.

Once you have a goal for the meeting, identify three questions that you will raise in the course of the conversation. One might say, “Is it alright if I ask about your other philanthropic interests?” or ask about the range of gift they are interested in making. What you don’t want to do is “go in cold” without having particular aims in mind, Dockery says. But Dockery also emphasizes good strategy in approaching probing questions. “I am looking for a good match,” she tells donors.

Dockery leaves it open for a donor to say no at the end of the conversation. Leaving room for ‘no’ allows donors who are simply not interested to say so up front. Of course, follow-up questions should be prepared ahead of time to address a donor’s initial hesitance. Be flexible. Offer the donor a longer-term or different donation type. A clear ‘no,’ though, means you can move on to other prospects.

Next Steps: A Good Match

Dockery then tells the donor that if both of them feel there is a good match, that the last five minutes of the meeting will be spent to talk about next steps, including specific programs, funding needs and a proposed gift. She asks donors at the meeting’s start to be open and honest: “Please, if you are not interested feel free to tell me so. I want to be sure we have a good fit between you and what our organization accomplishes,” she says. The decision to give, or even to learn more, then becomes a mutual decision. The last five minutes is what Dockery advises spending the most time preparing and practicing.

She does this with current donors as well—stating up front that she has a program that may be of interest (or may not) and asks for some time to discuss the funding idea. If they are interested she spends the key “last five minutes” on the ask.

Above all, Dockery says fundraisers have to go into their meeting with the right attitude. “Don’t make assumptions or tell yourself this is going to be a tough sell,” she says. “Go in with an open mind—even if you have approached the donor before to no result. Think positive!”

Erika Dockery explores more “bottom line fundraising” techniques in her session at the AFP International Conference on Fundraising on Monday, March 30, from 2:45 to 4 p.m. Click here to search the more than 150 sessions offered. Register for conference by Feb. 20 and save $100 off the regular rate!

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