Setting Up a Donor Discovery Meeting to Build a Transformational Fundraising Program
In this series of three blogs, I explore how to enhance your donor program in order to be more aligned with Transformational Fundraising. I share about what we’ve observed with our clients, and what strategies can make the biggest positive impact on your agency. Today’s blog, the 3rd and final in this series, is about how to get to know your supporters better by conducting a Discovery Meeting.
The Donor Discovery Meeting
A Discovery Meeting is an opportunity to get to know each donor better, in order to build a more transformational relationship with them. When a donor feels transformed by working with your agency, they are moved and inspired by the difference they are making and they want to do more.
A Discovery Meeting is therefore the perfect occasion to educate them further on your organization’s mission, programs, and needs. If you do this well, you’ll equalize the partnership. They will see how they can help, and you’ll see if there is a greater role they can play. You will find ways that this can be mutually beneficial; you help them fulfill their desire to make a difference, and they help you fulfill your mission.
Have this sort of meeting with:
- Major donors you don’t know well
- Board members you don’t know well
- Anyone who is on the pathway to becoming a major donor
Major Donor Program and Strategies
Different size organizations define major donors in various ways. Commonly, an agency creates a threshold such as $1000 and up for smaller organizations, and increases to five or six figure gifts and up for larger institutions. This threshold is often the top 10% of your donors. I wholeheartedly encourage you to build a major donor program consisting of portfolios with individual donor strategies.
In an ideal world, all large donors would want to meet with you and get to know you and your organization better. However, not everyone who gives at your organization’s major donor threshold wants to engage at the level you would hope. Statistically, only a third of your major donors desire a deeper relationship. It’s important to identify who is interested and who is not. Otherwise, you waste time trying to engage with someone who is not interested, often to the detriment of the rest of the portfolio.
Your Opportunity to Connect
The Discovery Meeting is your opportunity to connect with donors who respond to your request for a meeting and desire deeper engagement with your agency.
(The following includes excerpts from my book Choose Abundance, to be released in fall of 2021).
Once you have gathered available information on the donor from your database, individuals within your organization who know the donor, and from any tools that you use like Donor Search, you’ve done your homework and are ready for a Discovery Meeting. Someone who is known to the agency (like a board member or more active donor), or in the case of a first-time encounter with a donor, you want to get to know them and listen to how they would best be served by your organization. You don’t need to have a pitch for the agency, but rather share a heartfelt story of how your organization has made an impact on an individual’s life.
Using the Discovery Meeting as a Tool for Transformational Fundraising
During the Discovery Meeting, it matters that you are genuinely interested in the donor. Do not take these steps in order to get money; people can see right through that. If you find yourself having to rally because you are disinterested, take a break and see if you can connect to sincere and authentic curiosity.
Your primary tasks during this meeting are gathering information and having the donor come away from the meeting with an extraordinary experience of your organization. Much of what will make it extraordinary will be based on how well you listen. People love to be heard. Listen closely to learn:
- About their values, their passions, their frustrations, and their wisdom.
- What they have in abundance and what they truly don’t have in abundance. For example, they may not say it directly, but it could be clear from things they say that they feel scarce with their free time but generous with their money. Or, even though they give to you, they may feel scarce about money.
- Something unrelated to your agency that they’re passionate about. Make a mental note and record it in your database, so that you can later share something relevant to this topic, illustrating that you listened and get who they are.
Preparing Effectively For Your Donor Discovery Meeting
- Jennifer McCrae in her book, The Generosity Network (McCrae and Walker, Deepak Chopra Books, 2013), talks about how to connect with people in a meaningful way. She suggests that you, the development professional, Executive Director or board member, think about your life and how you got to this time and place, working with this organization. Think about the various turning points or changes in your life’s trajectory.
- When we make a big change in our life, it is usually because we recognized that our values were not aligned with what we were doing. When we hear that someone makes a change, it often indicates what is important to them. Having a conversation on this level is actually quite intimate. When you share in this way, you reveal what motivates and moves you.
- Using bullet points, make notes of your life’s path that brought you to your current involvement with your organization. Next tell the story out loud and time it. Edit the parts of your story that are less powerful, until it takes three to four minutes to tell. The more heartfelt your story is, the more it will inspire people and deepen your connection.
- While this exercise may move and inspire others, it is equally important that you are deeply in touch with and can channel your “why.” This is an important pre-meeting grounding mechanism. When you are aware of your personal choices that led you to this place in life, and why they represent your deepest values, you will be much more effective with everything you do. You will be grounded in and motivated by the work that you do. It will help you to genuinely articulate your passion for your mission.
How to accomplish your goals during your Discovery Meeting
- Be clear about your intention for the meeting. This will impact your mindset and how you address the donor. The intention should be clear in your head that you want to get to know the donor. Enter the meeting with a mindset of curiosity. What are their values and what makes them tick?
- Start by thanking the donor. Have them know how important their support is. If they’ve given to a particular program, let them know how it makes a difference. This is where a heartfelt story of the impact of their giving comes in.
- Tell the donor that you’d like to get to know them and that you’d like to start by sharing your story of how you got here. Share your three-to-four-minute story.
- Ask them how they ended up here, at this point in their lives, focusing their philanthropy on your agency.
- Listen closely and take good mental notes. (You don’t want to literally take notes, as you want to be listening and focusing on them). This conversation also has an equalizing effect; you are meeting with someone who, just like you, is an individual who traveled through life to get to this moment. Here you are, sitting together, expressing your commitment to making the world a better place.
- Ask the donor, what was their most inspired and meaningful giving? What made it so meaningful? I’ve been surprised again and again to learn what people reveal when I ask this question.
- Do they have questions about your agency? Take time to listen to their questions and answer to the best of your ability. If you don’t know the answers, promise to get back to them (and follow up). This is a good time to pull out a pad of paper and let them know that you’ve made note of their question. It may come up that there is something that they are unhappy about from the past. In this case, your job is to be an extraordinary listener. Ask clarifying questions, and ask if there is anything that you could do to help resolve the issue. Do your best to not get defensive.
- How do they like to be communicated with? How do they like to be recognized for their giving? This is an opportunity to hear directly from the donor about their preferences. Be certain to incorporate anything you learn into your database and Major Donor Portfolio Spreadsheet, with details.
- Is there some way that they would like to be more involved? This is a critical question to ask. If you can find a way to engage your top donors on a deeper level, in a way that feels comfortable to them, you have the potential to enhance their loyalty and commitment to your agency.
As you can see, the Discovery Meeting is a valuable tool for shifting from transactional to transformational fundraising. When done effectively, the donor comes away from the meeting feeling known and appreciated. In turn, you learned valuable information about the donor and educated them further on your organization.