A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I made my first ever donor visit. To be honest, it wasn’t that far way—it was Columbus, Ohio. I made a lot of mistakes during that initial visit, including fumbling the reasons to give to our nonprofit organization, being nervous, and speaking too quickly. But worst of all, I didn’t relate with the prospect. To my benefit, the individual I met was very responsive, empathetic to my situation, and had a deep love for our organization. He gladly donated over $5,000 that afternoon and began to share with me some of his insights on how to become a better fundraiser and salesman. The insight he provided included two nuggets that have stuck with me throughout my entire career: always be myself and be direct regarding my organization’s objectives for the visit.
Since then, I’ve met personally with thousands of prospective donors. In every visit I make, I am genuine and open, but most of all, I am myself. It is important to know that not every visit is the same; every prospect meeting is different, yet they all have the same ebb and flow to them.
As my first donor inspired me to want to help others to become better fundraisers, I want to help others succeed and offer some of the attributes that will enable success in future donor visits:
First Impressions Matter
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
Believe it or not, I still get nervous on every donor visit I make. I believe that it is healthy to be a little nervous, as it keeps us grounded and collected. A technique that works for me is I pretend I am going into a job interview on each donor visit. Since this visit will be the first visit I will make with a donor, I am very conscious of our first impression. I worry about being dressed appropriately for the meeting, about speaking eloquently and at the right volume, and about providing the right material regarding our nonprofit organization. Staying up to date with etiquette and manners is an easy way to suppress that worry.
When I joined my fraternity in college, I was introduced to the world of etiquette and how to behave during a meal. Participating in an “etiquette dinner” is a great asset for any development officer who will be visiting with donors. Creating the habit of carrying oneself with proper manners will only serve to ingratiate yourself to prospective donors.
Engage and Connect
“Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”
– Dr. Seuss
As fundraisers, we should look at our donors as people. Another fundraiser told me to visualize each of my donors as personal relationships. How would I want to ask my close friends and loved ones to support our organization? We need to be upfront with our prospects regarding expectations of our donors and of the nonprofit organization.
Connect with the prospect through telling them about the nonprofit organization’s long-term strategy for success and how previous milestones were realized due to donors giving.
Share with them how their individual support will be able to keep the nonprofit successful and moving forward.
Tell the Story
“Knowledge is power.”
– Sir Francis Bacon
We are in a unique situation with our donor prospects to be able to sit in front of them and tell our story. They don’t have to read it in a direct mail article or hear it from their friends. They can listen to the story directly from the organization. We need to take advantage of this time in front of our supporters and tell them the story we want to share. We need to be able to answer any questions or concerns they may have. We need to be aware of how our organizations are run and what our metrics are. If you were sitting in their shoes, what questions would you have for the organization?
At the same time, don’t forget to find out more about our prospects in our face-to-face time. Listen to their personal interests and uncover their goals for the organization. Gauge their affinity through asking questions related to the organization and genuinely listen to their opinions.
Passion is Contagious
“Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.”
— Lou Holtz
Unfortunately, I have seen many fundraisers come and go over the years. Throughout that time, I have seen a variety of personalities in our occupation and can identify those who will be successful and those who will not. Those who are passionate have always been more successful than those who are not. Share the story of our nonprofit with passion. Get our donors excited about what the nonprofit is doing and where it is going.
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
— Michael Jordan
At the end of the day, you ultimately want prospects to become donors. Therefore, it is imperative to ask those prospects to join other supporters in giving to your nonprofit organization. The “ask” must be specific and direct, but most of all you need to be confident in the product you are selling and asking the “price” you are for. A fundraiser must believe in the mission of the nonprofit organization and the impact the donor can make, and the donor must know that others are joining a winning a team. There are few donors that will give alone—most likely our donors are going to support an organization that others are supporting too.