The Best Prospects

Recently, Compelling Conversations for Fundraisers, was published.  Laurie Selik and I wrote the book because we believe fundraising is all about relationships, and relationships flourish through compelling conversations.  This article is adapted from the book.  We hope you’ll order your own copy  and learn how to Talk Your Way to Success with Donors and Funders.

book-conversationsMeeting people cold—on your own, at a networking event or just when you are out and about—is definitely one way to try to build your donor base.  But most of the time, the best prospects will be those brought to you by a board member, another donor, or someone on your staff.

Why are these folks the best prospects?  It has to do with the definition of a prospect—which is an individual or organization that you have reason to believe has 1) the ability to make a gift of a certain size; 2) an interest in your cause or organization, and 3) a connection to you.  When someone who is already involved with you brings someone forward, you can assume that the traits of a prospect are there.

Sometimes, alas, although a board member says he or she has a ‘great prospect” turning that into a real introduction may be a problem.  So an important conversation is the one you may need to have with your volunteers.

Before you talk with them, however, it is good to have a compelling conversation with yourself.  Be very clear about your role.  I, for example, typically took on the responsibility of making the call to the prospect and setting up the meeting.

First, I would talk with my board member about the prospect and find whether this should be a meal or a meeting at the prospect’s office or home.  Then I would ask my board member for three dates over the next two weeks when the volunteer would be available for the meeting.  Finally, I would request the best contact information from the volunteer.  And then I would call, using my volunteer’s name as the door opener.

You can, on the other hand, ask your volunteers to make the appointment—but be ready to work with them!  You may need to contact your volunteer on a regular basis to ask if he or she has made that call.  Often, the answer will be no and you will need to ask what is getting in their way while being their cheerleader to push them forward.

Whoever sets the appointment, be clear about the purpose of the meeting:

  • I’m calling to set up an appointment so we can discuss how best to get you involved with our organization.
  • Sam, your friend Casey thought you we would be interested in what we are accomplishing. We want to meet with you share some information and talk about the charitable gift we hope you will consider.
  • As you know, Sam, I’m very involved with the organization. Supporting the work we do is incredibly satisfying to me, and I’d like to meet so I can tell you more about what we do and how you could also become a supporter.

You’ll note we are not being coy.  Rather, we are direct about our purpose.  Our job, after all, is to qualify this prospect.  If he or she is not interested in the work we do, would never support us, or is too involved with other organizations, then few of us have the time to try to convert a non-believer.

And once you get that meeting—then the real conversations begins.

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