by Michael Steiner
“I have someone I would like you to meet. She is a great person, but is not yet engaged with our organization “- says your CEO. In our line of business often we receive leads about people to engage with. It may come from our trustees, board members, from our supervisor, CEO, colleagues in the organization or from another donor. What typically follows next is the “first meeting” followed by our efforts to turn a person who knows little about our organization and is neither a supporter nor a believer to a supporter and believer who sees the great things our organization has to offer.
While we don’t typically think about this first meeting as an opportunity for different wherewithal, we often try to leave a strong impression which would lead into a long and lasting (more personal) relationship between this new prospect and us and through us with our organization. As you approach your first meeting with the individual you recently were referred to and contacted, a key question you should be asking yourself is: What is the focal point for this (first time) meeting? Or as I am asking you to look at in this post: Whose Greatness are you focusing on? Think it’s simple or know the answer – keep reading to find out if the answers are indeed simple.
This is your opportunity to continue looking at fundraising through an unconventional pair of binoculars – yours. I suggest that this frequent situation of meeting a new prospect and starting a journey of future fruitful cultivations will jumpstart the question: “Whose Greatness Is It”?
Your goal in this meeting is (indeed) to achieve a great supporter and a believer for your organization. And there is nothing wrong about using the word Great or feeling bad about your work. For most of us this means talking about the great or most appealing achievements of our organization. Our work is about passion and the greatness of what the organizations we work with do. Let’s not forget the Greater Good is about one of the greatest things life has to offer. And when we read about being created in the image of G-d – it is about the ability to do this Greater Good that makes us in G-d’s image.
We enjoy doing “this”; it is almost intuitive and free-flowing. For some it means talking about the things that brought us as individuals to the organization and the work we do. For others it is about (as I started describing above) talking about the great work of the organization. Both are good ways to introduce ourselves in a first time meeting with a prospect or a donor whom we meet for the first time as long as we let ourselves be ourselves and include the person we meet for the first time in shaping the way the meeting shapes up to be. Could there be a third option where the greatness reveled and the one you are focused on has initially little to do with your organization or your work? And if so, could it still include your experience and where your knowledge of the organization and its services are exceptionally important? Could there be such an option?
You are focused on trying to engage long term someone new. Plan to bridge a new-comer with the magnitude of an organization, its individuals and services of which greatness you know very very well. In fact if you take a minute and think about this (yes now!) there is such a discrepancy. You know so much about the organization you represent (partner A) and you are about to build a partnership between your organization and this new (wonderful new person – partner B) and yet, more frequent than not you know so little about the person you are about to build such a significant collaboration with.
How are you supposed to construct this donation-bridge without any significant knowledge and moreover how is this bridge supposed to last long term? Aside to the initial discrepancy, do you already see some direction that I am pointing you to?
Oh well – let’s go back and go through the three options I referred to in the opening of this blog.
‘Greatness of the Organization’ is where most people go when they meet with new people. Free talk or a constructed presentation, sharing stories, people who visit from the field, various methods etc. However it is done, the main purpose here is to leave an impression that the organization we represent is doing a great job, worthwhile engaging with and supporting. While there is little wrong with this approach to the “first time meeting” consider that most of the information (to be honest) can be found on your organization’s website, YouTube and other media and often is relayed better. (hey – don’t take this personally: This is going to be on the person’s HD iPad viewed on his time and pace). Another thing you need to keep in mind, and you have to either trust me for doing this numerous times (yes I LOVE talking about how great is Federation, JDC, Riverview Towers etc) or accept this as my opinion. Once you are “into” broadcasting the greatness of your organization most of your capacity (both sides of your brain!) is dedicated to “doing” exactly that. While many of you are multi-talented, “receiving” while “transmitting” is a bit hard (Unless you think that you can be both a passionate “talker” articulating the greatness of your organization while being passionate listener receiving the greatness of your party in this first time meeting.) This, I found out is especially hard!
You could dedicate yourself to a more “small talk” style, giving the person you are meeting for the first time an opportunity to get acquainted with the fascinating and unusual individual that you are and the amazing journey you had. The big plus in this approach is multi-folds; Existing or donors to be, see in this setting an opportunity to build relationship, they also see uniqueness in this approach because it feels more “friendly”, “personal” and typically receives genuine appreciation. The down side embedded in this approach, while negligible, has to do with commitment towards the organization you represent. There is a long distance leading between “your story” to a financial or other commitment towards the organization you represent, thus it may become a lengthy process. PS – This one (option two) is the one I have used throughout my career often. It builds strong long term relationships with people and there is nothing wrong about this approach. (So you understand that I do not disregard nor mock any of the options.)
You could dedicate yourself to learning as much as possible about the person, or donor, you are meeting you are meeting for the first time. What is great about what she does for the community (not necessarily your organization) and what s/he does that made him so successful in business. How come this person you are meeting is so xxxx wise? You can dedicate the entire meeting to trying to reveal where is the “stash” of his/her wisdom hiding. In other words: If you needed to give an elevator pitch about this individual (you are just meeting with for the first time) what would you say? Why is she – so unique?
In this suggested option #3 you are going on a scavenger-hunt, finding all the pieces of the puzzle that make the greatness of this new person. AND – while doing this, since you already know so much about your organization, you could slowly, and very very carefully (most likely not during the first meeting) see how to construct (using your own skills) the bridge that should hold between the greatness of the individual you helped connect and the needs and greatness of the organization you have such a strong passion for.
In other words … This first meeting is mostly for you! You are already very strong, maybe even brilliant, in one area: your organization, its work and the impact of the services and how these change the world/community/individuals. You understand how your organization is connected to the ‘Greater Good’. To my mind, the goal of this first time meeting is not for you to share how your organization does that. This is up to the person you are meeting to find out down the road. Allow her/him “space” to engage. Finding the places that make your organization great are good places to “engage”. For that to happen sometimes in the near future, you first need to level the playing field between two greatnesses where a bridge is supposed to be built. Your role is to help build this bridge. But you need, as the architect and engineer which your organization needs you to be, to see clearly and share the greatness of the NEW partner you are bringing in.
I am about to bring to a halt my effort to share with you the way you tap into the greatness of someone else in this first time meeting. This is about your greatness not mine. You go out and use it to highlight the greatness of others.
With extensive background in training, Steiner – an Israeli born, started his not-for-profit background as a management and marketing consultant in Israel and Europe. Later to assume the role of the director of JDC in Moscow Russia in the mid 90?s. More recently he served as the director of donor development at the Pittsburgh Federation. He blogs at donordevelopment.wordpress.com