One way to improve donor meetings and strengthen donor relationships is to bring a “meeting partner”—someone else from within your organization.
“What is the projected negative impact over the next ten years if the new proposed tax bill passes in my state?”
A donor who was a large supporter of the organization I was fundraising for asked me this question. I was caught off-guard. Though I knew the basics of the policy, I could not begin to give him an answer at the level he desired.
While it made for a great follow-up opportunity, I knew my approach to meetings with this gentleman needed some work. He wasn’t just testing me—this was truly what he enjoyed thinking about and discussing. So, for my next meeting, I was sure to bring along a policy analyst who could provide this donor with a detailed, wonky analysis of this particular issue in a way that I wasn't equipped to do. The donor loved the conversations with the analyst and his relationship—and giving—to the organization deepened.
CONNECTING THE DONOR TO THE ORGANIZATION
As development officers, we serve as A donor's “conduit” to our organization. But we don’t always have the detailed insights on very specific issues and projects that we know (or should know) they care about. We don’t always have the position of authority that they desire to rub elbows with and speak to on a personal level.
But someone does. Bringing along an additional member of your organization—a program staff member, a vice president, even the president—can add depth to your meeting and really improve the donor's perception of you and your organization. These "meeting partners" can enhance your cultivation and your pitch while also drawing the donor closer to the organization through a strategic approach.
Meeting partners might be
- Your organization’s president or another executive staff member
- A director of a specific program of particular interest to the donor
- A policy analyst or subject matter expert on a topic of particular interest to the donor
- A board member
- A staff member who already knows the donor in a different capacity
When determining who to bring with you to the donor meeting—and if you should bring anyone at all—think through what value they bring to this specific meeting with this specific donor. Don't think that you just need partners for meetings. Think about the donor, what they would appreciate, whether you should bring someone, and then—finally—who you should brind. Should it be a subject-matter expert? Are they a good personality fit? Is she someone the donor may want to hobnob with? Is she numbers-minded enough to can connect with a donor who is very data-driven?
Meeting partners can work both ways. Sometimes, the best person to bring along is someone who already knows the donor—and they can serve as the best introduction to the donor for you. Other times, you know the donor and your organization, and you're trying to be a good conduit, identifying the best colleague to introduce to this donor.
WHAT DOES HE BRING TO THE TABLE?
Really analyze the value a meeting partner is going to bring. There are many benefits that can come from bringing a meeting partner, and you want to consider this ahead of time. This is just part of preparing for a meeting!
- Can provide deep insights on topics and projects of deep interest to the donor
- Can answer tough questions on intricate topics
- Can provide direct access to your organization’s leadership
- Can make donors feel noticed and connected with organizational leadership
- Can serve as a connector to the donor as you cultivate the relationship
There are also pitfalls to avoid if you determine a meeting partner makes strategic sense:
- Overpowering the donor with meeting partners. “Two versus one” can work just fine depending on the meeting but three organizational reps for one donor can get overwhelming, even ridiculous.
- Ensuring the meeting partner is a good fit for development meetings. Think through whether personalities might clash, if the partner can relax and perform well in meetings with a donor—not everyone can!
- Treat the meeting partner as a database or spokesperson. Though the donor may not be building a relationship with the meeting partner, he should still feel a natural human connection and interaction with your colleague. The partner should feel like a database of numbers, policy insights, etc., but she should be a part of the meeting. However . . .
- Leaning too much on your meeting partner. Unless the meeting partner is supposed to be developing the relationship, be careful not to use them as a crutch. They are there to enhance and add to the meeting, not to take up the majority of it. The donor relationship is yours, and you need to steer and arrive at the end goal.
- Not preparing and strategizing together beforehand. It is essential to “walk through” the meeting before sitting down with the donor. Talking over each other, giving contradictory answers, or not leveraging each other’s strengths on different topics will defeat the entire purpose of tag-teaming the meeting. Sure, conversations don’t always go as planned, but knowing who is responsible for which meeting elements will allow you to best adapt to where the donor takes the conversation.
Not every donor and not every meeting requires a partner and they should be used strategically. But when leveraged properly, they can pay dividends in building relationships with donors and increasing their affinity for the organization.