3 secrets to successful major donor meetings

connecting with donors

Have you ever left a donor meeting thinking, “what just happened?”

You had a nice lunch, caught up on what the kids and grandkids were up to, heard about their latest travel adventures, and gave them a little update on the program they support.

And the next thing you know, you’re picking up the tab and saying your goodbyes.

There’s nothing wrong with small talk, or program updates – done well, those can both be important elements in a donor meeting.

But getting more strategic about how you use your time in donor meetings can help take your relationships – and your major gift program – to the next level.

Here are three secrets that will help make your next major donor meeting a huge success.

1. Write a plan for every meeting

If you want to be more effective in your major donor meetings, nothing can be more helpful than sitting down and mapping out a plan for yourself.

Planning ahead can help you clarify why you are meeting with a major donor, and better understand what you’d like to achieve with this valuable time together.

Here are some key questions you can reflect on prior to meeting a major donor:

  • What are your goals for this meeting? What do you want to achieve by the end of your time together?

  • What do you know about this donor and their philanthropy – to your organization, and others?

  • What are longer-term goals you’d like to achieve over time when working with this donor – and most importantly, do these align with the donor’s goals?

If it feels disingenuous or artificial to write out a plan for yourself before going into a donor meeting, think of it this way – what could be more donor centered than using their time wisely, and being more purposeful in better understanding their values, needs and interests?

2. Ask great questions

One of the top questions I hear from clients who are new to major gifts is this:

“What, specifically, do I talk about in a major donor meeting?”

First and foremost, you’re aiming to have a meaningful conversation – in fact, you’re doing way more listening than talking, because you’re asking great questions to help uncover the values, interests, hopes and fears that motivate the donor’s philanthropy.

As a part of your donor meeting plan, you may like to write out a list of five or six strategic questions that you could ask the donor that will help move you closer to your goals for the meeting.

Aim to ask open-ended questions that prompt some thought, and draw on the knowledge and feelings of the donor, as opposed a closed-ended question that can be answered with one-word yes or no answer.

Here’s a sampling of questions I recently worked on with a coaching client who was new to her role, and meeting a longtime donor for the first time.

  • What inspired you to first get involved with our organization?

  • Why is that important to you?

  • Which of our programs do you find most compelling?

  • How have you seen the organization change and grow over the years?

  • How are we doing at staying in touch with you, and keeping you up to date on the impact of your gift?

Of course, this is an organic conversation with the donor – you’re not grilling them!

You may weave in some, all or none of your questions, and you’ll inevitably end up going with the flow, and adjusting your approach based on how engaged and forthcoming the donor seems during your meeting.

3. Always close with a next step

I have a rule I like to follow when it comes to meeting with major donors.

I never leave without an agreed upon next step.

This might be a rule you’d like to adopt as well – it helps keep the momentum going, and provides a natural next touch point in building and strengthening your relationship with the donor.

Think about mapping out some of your potential next steps when you are creating your donor meeting plan – these may change during the course of your meeting, but it’s great to have a few ideas in your back pocket.

As we are wrapping up the meeting, I may ask a question like this:

“Given your commitment to X, it sounds like a visit to see our XYZ program in action would be interesting for you – would that be a good next step? Is there anyone else you’d like to include in our next visit?”

The second half of that question helps open up the opportunity to identify and engage other folks that play an important role in the philanthropic decision-making process – partners, spouses, ex-spouses, kids, grandkids, family foundation board members, advisors – because you never know who else needs to be at the table until you ask!

There you have it – my top secrets for planning and structuring your donor meetings for greater major gift success. I hope you’ll give one of these ideas a try next time you have the opportunity to sit down with a major donor. Now go pick up that phone, and book a lunch with that donor you’ve been meaning to meet!

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