Preparing for your first meeting with a major gift prospect can be a nerve-wracking experience. It can be stressful trying to figure out how to make the best first impression and how to inspire your prospect to want to get more involved. You might also be wondering what you should take with you in terms of information and documentation.
People often feel much more confident if they have documents on hand – such as annual reports or a Case for Support – to use as “props” in a meeting. However, it can in fact be far more effective to leave these things at home.
Here are some of the reasons why taking nothing can be your best move – and help you make a positive first impression.
You can focus on the “thank you”.
If the prospect is already a donor to the organization (even if not a major donor), this is the ideal opportunity to express your sincere gratitude, face-to-face and from the heart, for the difference that they have made to your cause. Make sure you are well-informed about previous donations, and be knowledgeable about the particular aspects of your organization’s work that have benefited from the prospect’s support, so that you can talk confidently about how their funding is making a difference.
Your donor should be left in no doubt about how valuable their contribution has been and that they have played a crucial part in making the world a better place, so don’t let your presentation materials distract you from this goal. By focusing on the positive impact the prospect has already made, you’ll set the stage for future conversations about how they can further contribute to your organization’s work.
You can focus on donor stewardship.
One of the biggest dangers of falling back on fundraising materials to guide your meeting with a prospect is that you forget to focus on getting to know the person that is in front of you.
If you are meeting a prospect for the first time, this is your chance to learn everything possible about what might draw them towards your cause – and how you work towards deepening their involvement. Use this time to ask questions like:
- (If they are already donors) why did they get involved in the first place? Have those reasons changed since? What motivates them now?
- What aspects of the organization’s work have really inspired them? Are there any specific programs, activities, or results that really light their fire?
- What more can the organization do to support the relationship with them?
The information you will get from asking these kinds of questions will be truly valuable in deciding if, when and how you should approach the prospect in the future to discuss the possibility of a major gift.
You can build meaningful rapport.
Nothing kills rapport more quickly than hiding behind a computer screen or a document. And without meaningful rapport, you will be unlikely to persuade a prospect to want to get more involved.
Anything that distracts you from building a strong, personal connection with your prospect is a liability. Relying on documents and visual aids during your meeting can be distracting, both for you and your prospect. Worse yet, your prospect might feel that all you care about is “selling” something to them, rather than paying attention to what they really care about.
So rather than taking anything along that could encumber your ability to focus on the person in front of you, take nothing! That way, you can maintain eye contact and ensure that you are listening properly to everything that your prospect has to say.
You can pace the conversation properly
Another danger is letting documents dictate the pace, flow and content of the conversation, rather than being attuned to what piques your prospect’s interests, and what their concerns might be. If you allow a document to control the conversation, you are at risk of blunting your prospect’s enthusiasm.
Until you arrive, you won’t know how the conversation will evolve, and what will truly motivate your prospect – and that is ok! This is an opportunity to build rapport by showing you’re really listening and responding to what matters most in their eyes.
So don’t let a document drive the conversation and “decide” what should come next in the conversation! Focus instead on having a real conversation with your prospect by asking questions, following their cues, and listening for opportunities to align their interests with that of your organization’s work and goals.
It provides the opportunity for a follow up.
It can be so tempting in a first meeting to leave something with your prospect as a “take away”, in the hopes that they will read it, call you up and say “I’m in!” In fact, this can be a risky strategy, since it assumes you already know what the prospect’s interests are before meeting them. And as you won’t be there to address any questions they might have while reading it, you will have no influence over or knowledge of their immediate reaction, which could make it very difficult to effectively address any concerns they might have going forward.
Coming to a first meeting empty-handed also provides the perfect opportunity to line up a further visit, in which you can build upon what you have discussed. Since you now know so much more about the prospect, you can ensure that you provide information that is better tailored to what they want to see – and get that much closer to a gift!
Always remember that the most successful fundraising efforts are based on a good understanding of your donors as people with their own interests, concerns and hopes for the future. Showing up “empty-handed” to a first meeting with a major gift prospect can be the best way to keep your focus where it should be – on them!
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