One of the best ways to determine the health and vitality of a fundraising program is to ask the following question:
“What percentage of the time is your fundraising team out of the office doing meetings?”
If your fundraisers aren’t out doing face-to-face fundraising meetings on a regular basis, then chances are they aren’t building the strong donor relationships that your program needs to thrive.
Remember that the biggest source of available funds for non-profit organizations is from individual donors. Foundation grants, corporate sponsorships, and government funding programs are all important. But almost 80% of the money given to non-profits each year comes from individual donors. And the best way to raise money from individual donors – and particularly from individual major donors – is by doing face-to-face meetings to build strong donor relationships.
The Hierarchy of Donor Interaction
When it comes to interacting with your donors, there is a clear hierarchy in terms of what is most effective in building relationships. The most effective way to build great relationships with your donors is to talk with them in person. Primarily, this means setting up a time to visit with your donor or prospect to speak with them one-on-one.
The second most effective way to build donor relationships is to speak with your donors on the phone. Picking up the phone to give an update on your work, to talk about a new initiative, or to get some advice from a donor is a great way to make your donor feel important and cared for.
The third most effective way to build donor relationships is through written communication. This includes snail mail and e-mail. Which of the two will be more effective depends on the individual donor’s preferences. Once you start reaching out to your donors one-on-one via snail mail and e-mail, you will quickly learn which of the two they prefer.
Because one-on-one meetings are the most effective way to build strong donor relationships, it is imperative that your fundraising team be out of the office doing one-on-one meetings as much as possible.
Cultivation Meetings vs. Ask Meetings
Of course, when we’re talking about doing donor meetings, we’re not always talking about ask meetings. In fact, if you’re running a strong fundraising program, the majority of your out of the office meetings won’t include an ask. Instead, they will be cultivation and stewardship meetings. During these meetings, you’ll be giving the donor an update on your work, casting a big picture vision for your non-profit, asking for advice, chatting about the donor’s work, family, and hobbies, etc. These cultivation meetings are crucial to the success of your asks.
In general, I like to make sure that fundraising teams I am working with do at least one cultivation meeting with a donor in between each ask meeting. I want to ensure that donors don’t start to dread our meetings, thinking we are there to make an ask every time we stop by. Thus, if you do an in-person ask with Mr. Smith once per year, you should also be meeting with Mr. Smith once per year just for cultivation. This means you’ll be doing a minimum of two meetings with Mr. Smith each year, in addition to all of your other cultivation work such as annual reports, newsletters, and event invitations.
3-5 Meetings Per Week?
One of the most common questions I get from non-profit fundraisers is, “how many meetings should I be doing out of the office every week?” The answer, of course, is that it depends on your unique circumstances. How many donors does your non-profit have? Are they all located in the same city? How many people are on your fundraising team? What is your role on the team? (Major gift officers should be focusing almost 100% of their time on getting in front of donors, while development directors have lots of other responsibilities). The answers to all of these questions will impact the number of meetings you can and should be doing each week.
That being said, the answer for many (if not most) fundraisers is, “3 to 5 meetings per week.” This answer assumes that your donors are all located in the same geographical area, making it possible for you to “pop out” for a meeting several times per week but still get work done in the office. This answer also assumes that you have at least two people working in your development office (if you are the sole fundraiser, and are responsible for everything including thank you notes, the database, sending out e-mail newsletters, and all development support work, your goal should probably me more like 1 to 2 meetings per week).
Networking Events, but With a Purpose
Also bear in mind that most non-profit fundraisers should be attending several networking events each year. These are events held by outside organizations and companies where you are likely to be able to meet new donors for your non-profit. A classic example of a networking event would be the development director for a small town non-profit attending the local chamber of commerce luncheon.
Networking events can be a huge boost to your fundraising program, but only if you attend them with a clear purpose in mind. Your goal at these events is twofold. First, you want to make sure to get some facetime with any of your current donors who are at the event to continue to cultivate them. Second, you want to make sure you meet as many prospective donors as possible to give them a short 30-second summary of your work, and to collect contact information from anyone who seems to have an interest so you can follow-up for more in-depth cultivation.
Fundraising Meetings are Everyone’s Job
One final thought: out of office fundraising meetings aren’t just for your development staff. While your fundraising team members should be out of the office doing 3-5 meetings per week, your executive director or CEO should also be out of the office doing meetings (either alone or, more likely, with a member of your development team). Depending on your non-profit’s unique circumstances, your executive director should probably be doing 1-2 meetings per week for fundraising purposes. Likewise, your key program staff should be accompanying your fundraisers on meetings when appropriate.
Remember, the best way to build a strong fundraising program is by building strong individual donor relationships. And the best way to build those relationships is by doing one-on-one meetings with your donors. Get started today!
Photo Credit: d26b73