Bring value to your donor meetings or you may never get another chance

IMG_1677There are many differences between working at for-profit versus a nonprofit, but there are also some very significant similarities. Having spent a couple of decades selling advertising for business to business publishers there is one lesson that I always keep in mind. And I think its application is universal and can help you retain and cultivate deeper relationships with more of your donors. It’s the advice I was given when prepping for a meeting with one client, in particular. He was a Wall Street Guy—he was very important and very busy, as I was told. I was told, “Don’t ever waste his time,” which specifically meant, “don’t ever meet without bringing him useful information or you’ll never get another meeting.” Question: “Was he a jerk with a huge ego?” Actually, that’s a trick question, because the answer is “Who cares?” He provided me with the secret for a successful meeting and the best way to cultivate a long-term relationship. “Busy” and “Important” were the terms classifying this client. And the truth is: we are all busy and important. All our time is valuable. Now this is a lesson that I was taught before most people owned a cell phone (back when your company gave you a phone card so you could make phone calls from hotels or phone booths) and at a time when the Internet was so very new that companies didn’t even have websites yet, let alone a social media strategy. But it has stood the test of time and I think it is a useful way to prepare for any in-person meeting with donors. Whether your donor prefers to get together for a casual lunch, play a round of golf, attend your cocktail party, take a tour of one of your projects, or meet your Executive Director—I would make a huge wager that whatever form the meeting takes, they want to gain something of value from your time together. Knowledge is power and you are that source of power. Bring them information that only you can. Maybe you work at a nonprofit that serves inner city youth with an after-school sports program. Bring pictures or video of the last game. Provide details on current enrollment numbers or the success rate based on increased graduation from participants. Ask them to follow your program’s updates via Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn so they can see what progress is being made. They can also share this with their network raising awareness of your cause (but we’ll get into the social media benefits some other time!). Regardless of the mission, use your time together to demonstrate to your donor:
  • How the program is making a difference
  • How his/her contribution is facilitating the program
You should be able to walk away from this meeting with your donor feeling that they are a stakeholder in the success of the program and that time spent with you is an integral part of that success. So, whether or not Mr. Wall Street Guy was a bit too impressed with himself in telling my company his requirements for a meeting—it has been invaluable to me over my career. Bottom line: You need to bring value to a meeting or you may never get another. Care to hear which traits that other sector leaders cite as most important in their development roles? Check out these interviews with executives from Alzheimer’s Association of Western Carolina, the Salvation Army in Nashville,, Resource Center of Somerset, and others. amydevitaAmy DeVita is the Founder and CEO of Third Sector Today, a free website that offers nonprofit leaders useful tips, insights and resources for advancing cause and career. You can connect with on Linkedin or email her

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