Specifically, as it pertains to major gifting, yesterday I shared about the general goal of connection and building trust with a donor.  Transparency and vulnerability are the two main ingredients.  This means that we can’t ignore obvious cultural conditions that impact the donor’s life.  Remember, truly advancing the relationship is the desired outcome.  And this holds true—perhaps even more so– in an anti-auspicious or crisis type climate.  I.e. where we are now with Covid-19 and the accompanying market down-turn.

Today, I’m sharing practical techniques to use in philanthropic interactions with donors during this time:

#1. Use common sense

As I’m writing this, I’m suffering from a cold of some sort.  Although I feel a little drained, my symptoms are still pretty mild, and I can control coughing and sneezing (no fever or deep cough so just relax).   At 11am EST today, I’m meeting with a high capacity, high profile, community investor.  Am I going to waltz into the meeting and hug the guy?  No.  I’ll likely do a fist bump (we know each other so it’s appropriate regardless) and just say something about playing things safe in light of the epic scare.  Yes, I’ll probably use hyperbole because I know that this investor has a good sense of humor and this has proven to be one of the things that helps us connect. 

#2. Employ an inquisitive posture

Feel the donor out concerning how they’re interpreting what’s going on with Covid-19 and the market.  If this mega donor is true to form, he’ll come out and greet me about 11:05 and walk back to his office domain.   When we sit down, he’ll likely grab a stool along with his baseball bat or basketball.  This is a good sign because like Daniel Cathy on a “Few Good Men,” he seems to think better with his baseball bat.  However, if he deviates from this, could it be in light of the current state of affairs?  Maybe. 

#3. Don’t come into the meeting with only your agenda or pitch in mind

Building on the last point, what if I go in today and something seems off?  Let’s say that the Office Administrator walks me back to the person’s office and he’s looking at his computer as I walk-in?  Obviously, I’m going to ask him how things are going.  Is the stock market significantly impacting all the community development that he oversees?  Or, are things pretty shielded in RDU?  There’s so much gold to mine from his answer.  Of course, my next question could be, what his thoughts are for area nonprofits right now.  Should we be concerned at this point?  You see what I’m doing?  I’m standing beside him (metaphorically speaking) looking at a common problem in search of the best solution. 

#4. Be prepared to reschedule if necessary

If I sense a mega donor (typically a CEO of a large company, biz owner, or C-level executive) is too preoccupied with something else and can’t connect, it’s not out of the question for me to suggest rescheduling the meeting.  This does two things: (i) It shows him or her that I’m tuned in and aware of what’s going on in their lives.  (ii) At a minimum, it will trigger them to switch gears and either focus on our time or reschedule.  Keep in mind that rescheduling often leads to an even better meeting with higher levels of engagement.  I.e. I’ve seen donors in this type of scenario invest more than they would have if we hadn’t rescheduled.  Especially when I prompt it. 

#5. As always, ensure that some sort of next step is clearly charted

This step should correspond with deepening the person’s engagement and stake in the cause.  Practically speaking, if I’m working towards a large financial investment, the next step after the meeting should lucidly point to that outcome.   In this particular instance today, I’m actually first and foremost going to discuss something that’s truly special to this particular donor on a personal level.  And then the second focus of our meeting is me gleaning his insights on how two of my local clients can expand their footprint in the corporate philanthropic sector and business community.  In regard to this latter point, I want brutal honesty and for him to straight-up let me know of anything that would stand in the way of these two organizations.  Or what’s standing in the way because both should have a larger market share than they currently have?  And of course, if it makes sense, I may float to him the notion of serving on a development board or advisory board for one of these organizations.  And finally, I will also inquire about what submitting a grant to his family’s foundation looks like at this time.  I.e. part of this entails timing and corroborating a gift range particularly in light of their current funding priorities.

#6. Followup, follow-up, follow-up!  

If I’m doing my job, I’ll email the person later today thanking him for our time and recapping our discussion.  This is where I build-in an assumptive type statement that ties to a value proposition.  I.e. “thank-you for your willingness to consider serving on our development board and your openness to us submitting a grant request this summer to help combat the surging levels of homelessness in people <40 (or whatever the problem is that we rallied around).  Per our discussion, in light of Covid-19 and the uncertain market, growing both organization’s footprints in the corporate philanthropic sector and local business community is critical. I will circle back by the end of the month to let you know when the first development board meeting is and will also confirm about your generous offer to host the meeting in your board room.” 


Hopefully the thoughts and insights shared in yesterday’s and today’s posts helps prepare you to deepen philanthropic partnerships even in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak and market scare.

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