Five Steps for a Bolder Approach to Scheduling Major Gift Meetings

Converting your annual fund donor or occasional special event attendee to a full-fledged major gift prospect is central to any organization’s fundraising success. This action alone can make or break a campaign or annual fundraising goal – and it all begins with securing a meeting.

Recognizing this, it’s perplexing that so many not-for-profits are passive in their approach to the prospect pipeline. Invitations to events or mailing the occasional news items are positive contacts, but they’re never a substitute to visiting one-on-one. We owe it to the organizations we serve to be bold when reaching out to potential prospects for that meeting, and here’s a few tips for putting that into practice.

  1. The direct contact is still the best – We’re more connected than ever before but if you’re looking to capture someone’s attention, pick up the phone and call.  Social media can help introduce someone to an organization or keep them apprised of some recent news, but it will never take the place of a face-to-face visit.
  2. Be assertive – and never apologize for it – You should work for an organization because you believe in its ability to make a difference. Our company is honored to provide fundraising counsel to renowned schools that are shaping young people’s futures, and medical centers that are saving lives with brilliant doctors and incredible technology. We’re currently working with The Salvation Army that serves more than 30,000,000 of the neediest Americans every year.  When you’re impacting that many lives every day, you’re empowered to be bold!
  3. Don’t “ask” for the meeting – It’s easy to speak about bold communications, but how do we put it into action. The first mistake is a lackluster meeting request.  Major gift prospects are typically busy and are likely being approached by multiple organizations. If given a choice, most will be inclined to defer on a meeting or push back a couple months.  Put yourself on the front of the line by not phrasing the opportunity as a question.  “As a leader in the community, you need to hear about our vision for a new community center!”  “I want to personally take you on a tour next Wednesday!” Create an urgency!
  4. No “by the way” invitations – I recently met with a volunteer who said their personal style was to talk about the organization informally when they “bumped into people at social functions.” While well-intentioned, this approach does a disservice in making the organization’s work seem like an after-thought.  If we are looking for a meeting for something important like a capital campaign, it should be the only reason we are reaching out. It’s that important – and prospects need to know that.
  5. If it seems like too many outreaches – it still isn’t enough – Bold doesn’t mean easy!  Getting an appointment is still going to require many calls, likely at different times of the day. I was recently speaking with a major gift officer that called a notable prospect for two and a half years before it resulted in an in-person meeting. Just remember, the language you use when you finally do connect will help to determine if that conversation results in a meeting.

So here’s to a bolder, more assertive approach to getting meetings. The mission of your organization deserves it!

– Susan Lienau, Assistant Vice President for Philanthropic Operations

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