What’s Your First Meeting IQ?

What’s Your First Meeting IQ?

There’s an old adage that circulates widely in fundraising circles, which says “It’s harder to get the first meeting than the first gift.”  Actually, we’ve never found this to be true!  Most people who are likely candidates to donate money, time, or other resources to a cause are fairly open to the idea of a brief, informal meeting. The real challenge is getting a second meeting—converting the initial face-to-face into the start of a real relationship with potential for growth, discovery, and mutual benefit.  That’s why handling the first meeting is tremendously important.

Here’s an exercise to test your “First Meeting IQ.”  Read the following case study, which describes a fairly typical fundraising scenario.  It concludes with a few simple questions that will help you focus on what the case can tell you about what you should do—and not do—to make the first meeting more effective.

Meeting with Peter Stone: The Case Study

You are a fundraiser for a nonprofit organization that is currently raising funds for a very important and potentially ground-breaking new project—we’ll call it Project X.  Naturally, you’re always eager to hear about possible new donors.  So you’re excited when board member John Brown calls.

“I had dinner with a close friend of mine last night,” John explains.  “His name is Peter Stone, and he’s interested in hearing more about your organization.”  Like John, Peter is a partner in a private equity firm.  The two men live near one another in suburban Connecticut; their families are close, and often get together at dinner parties and on weekends.

John introduces you and Peter via email.  Peter responds almost immediately and asks his assistant to find a time for the two of you to meet some time in the next few weeks.  His assistant contacts you within a few hours, suggesting that you meet the following Monday at 11 a.m. in Peter’s office.

You prep for the meeting by putting together a collection of materials to share with Peter, including a short video that you’ll show him on your computer and a copy of your printed case for support—a document with details about Project X, data on the underlying problem, and evidence indicating that your strategy for tackling the problem is likely to be highly effective.  You also chat with John Brown, asking him for any suggestions.  John tells you a little about Peter’s company, including some of their current investment strategies.  “He’s a great guy,” John emphasizes, “A really warm, wonderful person.  I’m sure he’ll be very receptive to getting involved.”

On the appointed day, you and Peter meet in his spacious, handsomely decorated office.  You spend the first few minutes asking him questions and developing rapport.  You find our that Peter has three kids, two in college and one in a private high school.  You also discover that he shares your interest in fly fishing (there’s a photo book on the subject on his coffee table), and the two of you share notes on your favorite fishing spots.  Peter is very friendly and outgoing.

When Peter asks you to tell him more about your organization, you share the six-minute video you’ve brought, which includes several great stories from the field as well as some compelling data.  You also tell him about some other people whom he may know, in addition to John Brown, who are major supporters and donors to your organization.

Finally, you tell Peter about Project X.  You discuss straightforwardly the amount the project is expected to cost, and you suggest a dollar range for the gift you would like him to consider.  (You’ve thought about this range in advance, talked about it with John Brown, and feel very comfortable about this approach.)  Peter responds warmly.  “I really appreciate your visiting me today,” he says.  “I think I need to talk this over with John, and with my wife, of course.  But I’m definitely going to consider your request.”

He asks you to leave the materials for him to review and invites you to call his office in a week or so.  You return to your office, feeling optimistic about the new connection you have forged.  You make a note in your calendar to call Peter’s office early the following week, and settle back into your other duties.

Question:  Upon review, how would you analyze the strategy you employed for your first meeting with Peter Stone?  Considering each of the choices you made, what do you think you did right?  What do you think you did wrong?  What do you think is the likely outcome of this story?  Think carefully about your answers before you continue reading!

Meeting with Peter Stone: The Post-Mortem

Many of the choices made in the Peter Stone case study are ones typically employed by nonprofit fundraisers in planning and conducting a first meeting.  Unfortunately, they combine to produce a strategy that is likely to lead only to a superficial relationship rather than a true partnership.  This, in turn, is likely to stimulate a merely transactional gift (or no gift at all) rather than a transformational one, as well as a smaller financial commitment.

Here are the mistakes made by the fundraiser that are likely to create obstacles to a fully successful relationship:

  • Inadequate preparatory research.  The fundraiser in the case study had only a brief conversation with John Brown, the source of the referral.  Instead, he should have asked John, “Tell me what you know about Peter,” seeking clues about Peter’s background, interests, personality, values, goals, and philanthropic mindset.  Advance research can significantly improve the odds of success of your first meeting.
  • Inappropriate venue.  As we’ve noted, the potential partner’s office is a poor choice of location for a mission-oriented conversation.  Rather than meeting with Peter in his office, the fundraiser should have suggested a home visit or some neutral third site without distractions.
  • Over-reliance on supporting materials.  Showing a video and presenting written materials is generally an ineffective way to introduce the story of an organization.  Instead, the fundraiser should have used the power of a personal narrative to bring the mission to life and connect it to Peter’s own story.
  • Failure to establish a personal connection.  In the case study, the fundraiser exchanges a little small talk with Peter, then presents a “sales pitch” for the organization.  Instead, he should have launched an open-ended conversation with a question like, “Why are you interested in us?”  The purpose is to invite an in-depth discussion of Peter’s life experiences, goals, values, and aspirations.  If the mission of the organization fits naturally into that context, the conversation will make that connection obvious.
  • Rushing to ask for a donation.  Asking for a gift in a first meeting is almost always premature.  Put yourself in the shoes of a prospective donor, who may have received a dozen requests for philanthropic funding this week.  What makes your organization special enough to stand out from the pack?  That question can only be answered on the basis of a deeper personal connection—which is why jumping straight to a request for a donation is just as big a mistake as delaying it needlessly.
  • Inadequate follow-up.  In addition to calling the prospective donor in a week’s time, the fundraising should have capitalized on the meeting by sending an email or personal note to the other members of the board—prominently mentioning John Brown’s role in making the introduction.  This simple step is likely to inspire other board members to make referrals of their own.

If you missed some of these mistakes, don’t feel bad—even highly experienced fundraisers do the same!  Just learn from the case study and use the lessons it teaches to help make your next first meeting much more effective and powerful!