It seems like people are busier than ever these days, and trying to connect with a donor for an in-person meeting can be a challenge. For that reason, nonprofit professionals often rely heavily on mailings and emails to communicate with donors. However, making the effort to meet with prospective and current donors face-to-face is one of the best investments of your time.
When soliciting a gift, in-person meetings make it much harder for the donor to say “no.” When focusing on cultivation, face time is the most effective way to build a relationship with the donor—with the big-picture result that they will give soon, continue to give in the future and increase their giving over time.
To increase your likelihood for a successful meeting, we recommend following these strategic steps:
1. Choose the right solicitor. Prospects are more likely to respond to someone they already know. Inquire about connections through your board, volunteers and key donors, and then leverage these relationships to help open doors.
2. Call instead of emailing. It’s much easier to decline or ignore an email invitation than a phone call. However, email is a suitable method for follow-up after exchanging voicemails.
3. Be persistent. As the old saying goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Proactively reach out at least 3 times in a month. If the prospect declines to meet, ask if there is a better time in the future to contact them again. If they indicate a time, be sure to take note and follow through.
4. Make your intentions clear. If you’re coming to ask for a gift, be up front. But you don’t need to be blunt—try something like, “I’d like to discuss ways you can help us with our work” or “I want to tell you more about the impact we’re making and invite you to invest in our future leaders/historic preservation/etc.” Conversely, if you’re trying to set a cultivation-only visit, let them know you won’t be asking them for anything—that will remove any unnecessary anxiety for both you and the prospect.
5. Pick location strategically. Hosting the meeting at your organization is a great excuse to get the prospect in the door and incorporate a tour, if possible. If the nature of your work does not allow for a facility tour, even a “behind the scenes” tour of your administrative offices with staff can be impactful. If the prospect can’t come to you, offer to meet them at their office or their preferred location. Lunch or dinner meetings work well for cultivation, but avoid conducting solicitations over meals.
6. Be prepared. Prior to the meeting, check your database and use prospect research tools to gather valuable information, including giving history, demographic data and relationship notes. We recommend going on solicitation visits in teams of two, so it’s best for both parties to have a preparatory conversation prior to the meeting, particularly when involving volunteers. This discussion should include specific strategy for that prospect, meeting flow, talking points and desired outcomes. Even if you’re making a cultivation visit and don’t plan on asking for a gift, come prepared to do so in case the prospect leads the conversation in that direction.
7. Send a reminder. Follow up with the prospect a few days before the meeting to confirm the time and location, especially if the meeting was set several weeks in advance.
While these steps don’t guarantee a meeting, they will help guide your process and ensure your staff and volunteers are following best practices. Making the time to speak one-on-one with donors is invaluable in developing your relationship, personalizing your communication and securing future support.