The most important activity on every cultivation plan for soliciting major gifts from prospective donors is a personal meeting or visit.
You will want to meet with all major gifts prospects, regardless of whether you already have a good relationship with them (board members and other volunteers), as well as those you need to meet for the first time.
Don’t rely on other types of cultivation activities, such as tours of the organization, and fundraising or programmatic events, to build relationships with your donors. Good relationships can’t be built in a group setting.
Pick Up the Phone to Schedule a Pre-Ask Meeting
Sometimes picking up the phone to schedule a meeting with prospective donors can be the scariest part. Many development directors prefer to send a “pre-call” letter, especially if you don’t know the prospective donors, to introduce yourself and let them know that you will call to schedule an appointment.
These days, you can also send an email “letter of introduction.”
However, whether or not you send a letter first, you still need to pick up the phone to schedule an appointment. It’s important to speak with the potential donor.
Fielding Objections to a Pre-Ask Meeting
Be prepared for reasons not to meet from both people you know and those you don’t. Here are some common ones (and feel free to share others, and your response to them in the comments):
- I’m too busy and I don’t have time to meet. Let’s meet by phone.
- What’s the purpose of this meeting? Can you send me something in the mail?
Your goal is to get a face-to-face meeting. You’re unlikely to get a major gift if you can’t even secure a meeting in person. How many responses can you come up with to rebut these rejections?
It actually may be more difficult to get a meeting with a board member than a complete stranger. They may think they see you all the time, when in reality, you have not ever seen them in a non-group setting. Do you know how they feel about your organization? What about serving on your board? Do you know why they got involved in the first place, and why they stay involved?
Have they ever been asked, in person, for a major gift? If you can’t practice on your board members, it will be much harder to ask people who are less involved.
Why Meet Face-to-Face With Donors?
There’s an expression in fundraising: If you ask for money, you get advice, and if you ask for advice, you get money.
The purpose of your meeting is multipronged:
- To get one step closer to a major gift.
- To build a relationship between the prospect and your organization.
- To learn more about the prospective donor, their resources, and how philanthropic they are.
- To update the prospect on your program and talk about the gaps in service and need.
- To personally thank the prospect for their history of giving/involvement with the organization.
The primary goal of this meeting is to be one significant step closer to asking for a major gift, and it is your responsibility to move the conversation in that direction.
Ask open-ended questions about how the prospect would be interested in seeing your organization grow. How might they like to get involved? Would they be open to supporting the organization in more significant ways?
Where Should You Meet Prospective Donors?
The best place for these one-on-one meetings is at the prospect’s home or office. It doesn’t need to be in a restaurant for a meal or even at your office. Hold the meeting where it will be most convenient for the prospect.
Who Should Attend Your Pre-Ask Meeting?
Ideally, this meeting should be with a board member and a staff member (the ED or DOD). Executive Directors should go to meet with BIG major gifts prospects, and other staff members can meet with lower level prospects. Board members should go whenever possible, especially if they have an existing relationship with the prospect.
What Should You Bring to Your Pre-Ask Meeting?
You don’t need to bring anything. Sending follow-up materials is a great excuse to stay in contact. Keep the conversation “light” by not having paperwork. If you are more comfortable bringing facts and figures, bring them, but don’t pull them out unless specifically asked.
Attend your meeting knowing what you need the money for and be prepared to discuss it. Do you have a case for support? Are you able to discuss why you need funding?
Do not leave your pre-ask meeting without a follow-up plan.
The follow-up plan MUST get you one step closer to asking for a major gift. If you feel the meeting went well and you’re ready to ask for a major gift, you might say something like:
“I’m so glad we had the opportunity to meet today.
I value your thoughts about our organization and will consider them carefully (if you asked for advice).
I’d like to send you some additional information (if appropriate) as we discussed. And, I’d like to schedule another time (in about a month) to come back and talk with you about how you can support the organization in a more significant way. Would you be open to that type of conversation?”
Action Item of the Week — 2 hours or less
Scheduled in-person appointments with all 20 of your prospective donors.
Prepare for your calls by having responses on-hand in case the prospect is hesitant to meet. You’ll also identify who will attend the meetings (board and/or staff members).
Leave a comment below to share any objections you’ve heard from prospective donors for meeting face-to-face (either in the past or in response to this action item). I read each and every comment — I’m happy to help you come with a rebuttal for any objection.
This post is part of Amy’s Major Gifts Challenge. Read the entire series to learn how to solicit major gifts by spending just a few hours each month.