How to Get a Meeting

We’re going to jump a few steps in the development process.  We’ll come back to them at some point.  For now, let’s recap: you will identify some people you want to target as donors.  Let’s call them prospects (they’re not donors yet).  You will research them.  You will come up with a strategy for getting in touch with them.  And then you’ll ask them to meet with you.


Let’s start with theory, and some guidelines, then talk about the nuances of the various methods you might use when asking.

Big picture: This is a huge part of your job.  Just do it.  Many people are going to say no.  Some will never respond. Some will respond poorly.  Put those stories into your bar file – the collection of stories you bust out when you go drinking with fellow fundraisers (or other friends who like trading tales of woe.)  Some percentage will say yes…and you have two ways to increase the number of meetings you wind up taking.  One is to refine your technique, which is important, of course, but even the most skillful fundraiser will wind up with a lot of no’s.  The other is far far easier: keep busy, and increase the number of people you ask!  This is a constant part of fundraising.  If you hate it, if you fear it, you need to find a way to work around that.

More big picture: This is the start of a relationship.  You can overcome a first impression, but it’s so much nicer to make an accurate (and positive) one so you can build on it, instead!

Scared yet?  Sorry…let’s get to the demystifying part.

Think about your own experiences.  What would make you take time out of your busy life to meet with someone whose agenda as a development professional is clear? (If you’re a volunteer, same question.)  The golden rule is often a good place to start…how would you want to be approached if you were the one being asked for a meeting?

Next step is to filter that through what you think you know about the other person…do a sanity check to make sure you think they’d respond to that approach – do they have a reputation for liking a lot of flattery?  Does your research suggest they’re too busy and matter of fact to read and respond to a long letter?  Do you have a feeling they would like a meeting at their office or do they seem to prefer leisurely lunches at the nicest club in town?  Just use your best intuitions here – the more insights you’ve found in your research the better, but at the end of the day, you make the ask with whatever information you have, even if it’s next to nothing.

Good rules of thumb:

  1. Respect the other person.  This means so many things…but let’s start with the obvious: you’re asking this person to make a gift of their valuable time – it’s a favor to you, simply to meet and learn more.  You don’t have to fall all over yourself thanking them, but internalize some gratitude at the very least.  The other important internal work that you should do (and this is probably great fodder for another full post someday) is to come to a place where you respect and admire this wealthy individual.  I’ve seen professional fundraisers try to work with donors who they don’t respect…women who are spending their husband’s money, younger folks who have been blessed with family wealth, folks who make their money in ways that seem dubious depending on your perspective (banking, oil industry, defense contracting, etc.)…if you can’t get past that, the problem is YOURS.  Either you’re looking at your research and launching off personal baggage to reach conclusions, or that bad taste in your mouth is something you should pay attention to.  For instance: if you are an organization that supports cancer research, what are you doing chasing donations from a fortune rooted in the tobacco industry?!  Bottomline: if you can’t respect a prospect, you shouldn’t really be going after them…you can’t really fake that.
  2. Be honest.  I had a client who was convinced that no one would ever meet with her if she made it clear she wanted to make a development call.  We’ll talk about how you want to phrase that (see next bulletpoint), but you do need to be truthful in your communications (always!  Why are we talking about this?!) and you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble if you do your best to give your prospect an accurate impression of what you’re looking for.  Example: let’s say you’re a volunteer…you’ve invited a wealthy friend to lunch.  She thinks she’s meeting a friend to catch up, only to be surprised to learn you have a mercenary agenda.  That’s not likely to be a great meeting.  Don’t bait and switch, don’t pretend development doesn’t exist.
  3. Find your own style.  How directly you want to approach someone is something that should feel comfortable to you (and probably varies in different situations)…if you’re a no-nonsense, easy-going person, try plain and direct language.  If you’re the kind of person who never leaves the house without makeup, go ahead and apply your metaphorical face.  It’s important that the ask represents you, matches the conversation you will have, and matches the way you like to work.  (Actually, it’s a form of being honest – don’t try to pretend to be someone you’re not, just to get a meeting…we just rarely think about it in those terms.)
  4. Be specific.  However direct or guarded you are, stylistically, you need to ask for something specific.  What do you want?  Think about your personal life – if you email a friend and say “I was thinking about you – we should get together sometime,” the likelihood of that happening is slim.  On the other hand, if you say “I’m looking for advice on finding a job in your industry – could I buy you coffee and ask you some questions next week?  I’m wide open on Wednesday and Thursday afternoon.”…you have a good shot at getting what you want.  (Knowing what you want to ask for…I’m not taking that for granted.  We can talk about that some other time.)
  5. Recommended: lay out specific plans for followup.  Something to the effect of “I’ll give you a call next week to discuss.  Obviously, do not hesitate to contact me if you see an opening in your schedule right away!”  This suggests, politely, that ignoring your email/phone call/letter isn’t going to work – you’re not going away.  It makes folks much more likely to respond, and to think about your request before you contact them as promised.  (IMPORTANT: Be honest with yourself – if you’re not going to execute whatever you put out there, don’t talk about followup.  It’s better to be vague and lose that slight pressure to pay attention than to prove yourself to be unreliable and less than determined.  Don’t beat yourself up about it – just be honest and refuse to set yourself up for failure.)

Next up (because wow, this got long…let’s take a breath!): The mechanics of asking – email, phone, in person
After that: they said yes – now what?!


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