It was hardly how I thought I’d arrive at one of the highest profile companies in Silicon Valley.
But there I was, on the edge of the road in San Bruno, California, desperately waving down whatever vehicle might stop for a stranger. It was ten—maybe five—minutes to the hour, moments away from being late to meet the CEO of YouTube.
My boss Abdi, Executive Director of the ACLU of Northern California and former Stanford biology major turned humanitarian ethicist, had persuaded me it was not only efficient but perfectly rational to take the train rather than drive to a meeting with one of the most major prospects on our donor wish list. We’d already missed our stop while distracted in our pre-solicitation meeting strategy conversation. Now, we were panicked to discover that the YouTube office is not just off the BART line, and that no cabs were lined up outside the station to whisk us to our destination.
That’s when I sprinted to the curb, thumb literally out, just like the resourceful (and thrifty) West Side Clevelander I was raised to be.
There’s no underestimating the value of a determined and inventive mindset when it comes to landing a date with the elusive major donor. It’s a rare blessing from the fundraising universe when an initial meeting request yields a meeting. The development officer who gets meetings with top prospects is the one willing to think—and go—outside the box.
On the eve of the 2014 Career Success Institute hosted by the Association of Fundraising Professionals North Central Ohio Chapter (where Grants Plus will be a featured presenter on the topic of landing donor appointments), we offer these five fearless tips for persevering in your meeting pitch:
- Dare to call again. Major prospects and donors aren’t just waiting for the phone to ring. It’s not their job to return your voicemail message or email—it’s your job to try again. No excuses on following up with the donor who’s hard to get a hold of. Despite how you might feel, you can probably stand to be more persistent. Often it’s our own uncertainties or insecurities that get in our way. As long as you do so respectfully, try again—perhaps a different time of day or method of contact.
- Make sure you hear “no.” Getting the meeting can take some convincing. Think about it—you’d probably turn down someone trying to get on your calendar whom you hardly know. Sometimes part of your job is turning a “no” into a “yes.” That can mean keeping the door open when the donor declines your invitation (“I understand you’re busy. I’ll try again.”) and coming back later with a fresh approach.
- Seize the day (or the hour). You might think you need a couple of weeks’ notice to get on a donor’s calendar—but that might only give them time to second guess their enthusiasm and cancel. Typically, just a few days of lead time is ideal—at this point busy people have a better sense of open gaps in their schedule. Be bold! I was once near the home of a donor who always declined—but when I said I was “just in her neighborhood,” she let me drop by.
- Eyes on the prize. Just like the purpose of a resume is getting the interview, the purpose of this call is getting the meeting. This isn’t when you need (or want) the donor to make their decision about a gift. Build enough rapport and interest that the donor is willing or intrigued to meet with you. Once you’re in the door, you can present your case and make the ask.
- Have some swagger. Calling on a donor can feel intimidating. I used to tell myself that I could be scared or excited to pick up the phone—either way, I was still going to dial through my call list—so I might as well get excited. Pump yourself up. If you’ve done your homework, you have reason to believe a donor or prospect will want to be supportive, if only they hear your message. You are not a cold caller! You are a direct liaison to the good work of your organization. Own it!
We did make it to our meeting at YouTube. A kindly man and his son soon stopped in their massive pick-up truck, and I hoisted up my skirt a little and hopped in. We were a few minutes late, but all the better—like anyone else, the CEO couldn’t resist a good hitchhiking story.