How to Keep Donor Conversations Engaging and Productive

Image: stockimages at

Image: stockimages at

It took a while, but you’ve finally got a meeting on the books with a top major gift prospect. Now what?

Prepare! First, figure out who will attend the meeting with you, if anyone, and what you/your team will talk about.

Then, whether this is a get-to know-you meeting or an ask visit, try these suggestions to keep the conversation engaging for your donor while moving in a productive direction for your organization. Note: these tactics can also work for a phone conversation.

When you want to get the donor talking about herself.

Ask questions. Ask for advice

  • “This is our campaign goal – how does that strike you?” 
  • “Here are the project goals – what do you think?”
  • “Do you know someone else we should talk to about supporting this project?”
  • “How did you become interested in this cause?”
  • “Which other charitable causes are near and dear to your heart?”

When you want to show the donor you know something about him/her without seeming creepy. 

Timing is more important here than the exact words you say. Look for an opportunity in the conversation where sharing this knowledge feels natural. And look for connection points where you and your donor have something in common.

  • “Tina shared with me that you vacation in Maine every summer.”
  • “I understand you’re a fly fisherman – I am too.”
  • “I read that you were just promoted to CFO…”

When the donor has taken the conversation off track.

Don’t be shy. Jump in and gracefully steer the conversation back on track:

“That’s interesting. I also wanted to ask you about…”

When the meeting is ending but no next step is clear.

If this is an early-in-the-relationship meeting with your donor, you need a clear next step to further the relationship. Propose some reasons for meeting again:

  • “I’ll come find you at the cocktail party next month.”
  • “When Henry (your CEO) is back in town next week, we’ll call you about a lunch.
  • “We have a new program launching at the local elementary school next month. Would you like to come observe?”
  • “Can I call you again in a month or so to continue this conversation?”

When it’s time to make the Ask.

  • “Can we talk about where you are in your philanthropy…?”
  • “Would you consider a gift of $3,000 to support the ABC project (or XYZ campaign)?”

If you’re going to the meeting with a partner, practice having these conversations out loud. Role-play can help you get comfortable with these conversations as well as giving you practice handling unexpected turns in the conversation. 

Do you have other ideas for donor conversations? Please share in the Comments box below!

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