As an extremely British Brit, I find few things more devastating than the topic of money cropping up in conversation. When my Dutch wife once revealed that, during get-togethers with her crew of college friends, they regularly discuss their current salaries, I was so toe-curlingly embarrassed I almost demanded a divorce right there on the spot. Instead, I behaved like a true Brit, added this tale to my vast passive-aggressive logbook and went off to make a cup of tea.
If there’s anything worse than talking about money, it’s (shudder!) asking for money, which is precisely why I would be the worst salesperson ever. I couldn’t sell fire to an Eskimo or water to someone lost in the desert. Seriously. I’d just let out a frail “Sorry, old chap,” and give the said lifesaving element away for free to avoid any chat of price.
And, if there’s anything worse than asking for money, it has to be asking for money online, which is why my heart and most profound admiration goes out to those whose job is to do precisely that to keep worthy nonprofits and NGOs afloat.
Of course, having these conversations is quite literally all in a day’s work for major gift officers (MGOs) and fundraisers. However, typically these long-term relationships are cultivated over time and many coffees. They require the kind of trust and understanding that we’ve always thought only possible to build in-person.
However, like much of our lives, the COVID pandemic has put that theory to the test. And, like many other areas of our professional lives, we’ve discovered that these relationships can be nurtured remotely. It just requires a slightly different approach. Luckily for all you readers, while I might not be able to sell beer to a bachelor party or mention money without cringing, I do know a thing or two about online meetings.
The secret to a mind-blowing virtual donor meeting is actually that there are five secrets:
- Always be, by some distance, the most prepared person on the call.
- Be more curious than a detective in an 80s crime drama.
- Make sure your meeting is planned with the accuracy of an A-list wedding.
- Maintain absolute clarity throughout.
- The follow-up can make or break it all.
Preparation radically reduces the need for miracles
It’s always essential that the representative of the non-profit is fully-prepared heading into any meeting with a donor, but this applies even more when the interaction moves online and the natural warmth and connection of a face-to-face encounter is erased. As the meeting’s instigator, the burden is on the MGO or fundraiser to ensure the meeting flows smoothly and pleasantly.
This begins the moment the call does. Having a few easy ice-breakers to turn to will help engender a sense of community and togetherness, even more so these days, with so many of us more isolated and missing out on the workplace’s regular camaraderie. Start with a round of introductions and reveal something personal or surprising about yourself; it will help everyone connect better with you and they just might follow suit.
In terms of subjects to brush up on before the meeting:
- Make sure you have a solid understanding of their organization, its history and its charitable giving background. Who have they supported before? What was the nature of that relationship?
- Be one hundred percent certain of your nonprofit’s previous dealings with the potential donor too. Was there a series of conversations a few years ago? Do they already donate at a more modest level?
- Find out (without being creepy) a little about the person you’re meeting. How long have they worked at their current organization? Where did they work previously? Do they have a family? Are they personally connected or drawn to your organization, or is it more a company connection?
Life is full of questions
You should aim to head into your virtual donor meeting equipped with more questions than a quiz show host. Why? Because we human folk all have one thing in common: we love talking about ourselves. Talking about ourselves feels good and, therefore, people who allow us or even encourage us to talk about ourselves also make us feel good.
As all salespeople know — heck, even I know this — you should avoid yes-no questions in favor of more open-ended questions. As the conversation progresses and trust is built, you should also introduce more significant, grandiose topics. Recommended lines of inquiry for donor meetings include:
- What drew you to our organization?
- What causes are you personally passionate about?
- In the greater scheme of things, how important do you consider our work to be?
- Think big picture. What changes would you like to see in the world?
- Do you consider your own or your organization’s legacy? What would you like those to be?
Plans are useless, but planning is essential
No matter how compelling and persuasive your meeting’s content may be, it’s not going to make any difference if your meeting isn’t well organized to begin with. Online meetings are more involved in this regard.
- Make sure you find a time that is convenient for your participants. In many cases, donor meetings will involve several participants from both the donor organization and the nonprofit and aligning those calendars is nigh-on impossible. Without insight into their jam-packed calendars, the usual process involves several days and dozens of emails back and forth to find a suitable time. Before someone inevitably has to reschedule.
An online scheduling tool can be priceless for nonprofits. You can either send out a poll to see which date and time best fits all participants or, easier still, your MGO can create a bookable calendar with all their availability already appointed and synced with their schedule. They can then send that calendar to potential donors via a direct URL, where donors can simply choose the time slot that’s most convenient for them. An invite is automatically generated and all participants’ agendas are updated. In volunteer-led organizations where time is scarce and volunteer hours are limited, an online scheduling tool is like a personal assistant at a fraction of the cost.
- No matter how casual the meeting may be, it’s always a good idea to send out an agenda. It shows that you value everyone’s time, that you are thorough and prepared, and that there is ultimately a set of goals for the meeting. The agenda should be shared with all participants at least a few days before your appointment, so everyone can familiarize themselves with the content and feedback if necessary.
- Next up, make sure all participants receive a working link to the meeting. Once again, an online scheduling tool can save time and energy here. Doodle, for example, syncs directly with your Zoom account. Zoom links can be added automatically to any meeting scheduled or rescheduled via Doodle.
- Choose a platform that fits your proposed agenda. If you need to present, make sure you know how to share your presentation.
- Double-check that this link is accessible for all who may need to log into the call.
- Do participants need to sign up for the conferencing software you use? If so, let them know beforehand, so they don’t need to spend ten minutes of meeting time trying to log in.
- It’s your responsibility to look after your side of the call. That means ensuring you have excellent wifi; that your background is professional and welcoming; that there’s no background noise; any technology, such as your speaker or headphones all work correctly, and that you’re not going to be interrupted. Practice your call, run through how the conversation might go, and check for possible technical hitches.
The clarity of charity
So far, so lovely. Introductions, a few questions and hopefully some common ground discovered. Of course, no single meeting is likely to result in a donor opening up their checkbook (do checkbooks still exist?) and asking how many zeros you want on there. The main objective of major gifts fundraising is to build a long-lasting and fruitful relationship between the nonprofit and donors.
However, at some point, the ask needs to be made. When it is, you must both be receptive and clear about what you’re asking for. If that’s a donation, then be prepared to outline your broader goal and then reveal precisely the part you see the donor playing in helping to get you there.
Your objective going into the online donor meeting may not always be a donation. If it’s a new relationship or a very first call, maybe your goal is merely nailing down the next meeting. Perhaps you’ve already established a stable connection and you want to invite them to sit on your board or even for their organization to volunteer at an upcoming event.
It isn’t over yet
The follow-up to a meeting begins before everyone clicks on the red button. Include five minutes in your agenda for some final questions about the meeting itself. These could include:
- Was it easy to schedule and join this meeting?
- Did you find the meeting engaging?
- Is there anything else you would have liked to have heard about or seen?
Asking these questions will help you incrementally improve your virtual donor meetings each time you have one. They also send a clear message that your non-profit organization is dedicated to constant improvement and welcomes feedback.
Finally, you absolutely must send a thank you email within 24 hours. Ideally, in this email, you will also summarize the conversation and the next steps. If that takes a little longer to prepare, just send a note of thanks for now.
So, the secret to virtual donor meetings may not be a silver bullet that sees major donations flooding into your non-profit but, by following these pieces of advice, you’ll create the best possibilities for success, hopefully without even having to talk too much about money.
To learn more about how nonprofits are using Doodle to coordinate their donor meetings and meet their nonprofit goals, check out our Nonprofit Solutions Page.