5 Free Minutes of Major Donor Coaching

I live on a big hill in Seattle. When I’m in a rut, sometimes I take a walk down the hill and get a steaming bowl of pho (Vietnamese rice noodle soup) for lunch. The walk back up the hill is pretty taxing but often that’s when I get inspiration or acceptance about something I’m thinking about. 

Recently, just as I arrived at the steepest part and I started to huff and puff, I received a phone call from a client I had completed a major gifts project for. Now I am coaching him. 

“How are you?” he asked.

“I’m fine,” I said. (Remember I’m huffing and puffing at the steepest part of the hill – so “fine” was about all I could muster!) “What’s up?” I asked. (This was an unscheduled call.) 

“I’m just calling to say ‘Hi’,” he said. “And, I’m about to go into a major donor meeting. I just wanted a couple minutes of major donor mojo.” 

“Fantastic. Who are you meeting?”

He proceeded to tell me that the donor is someone who attended an artistic production his organization sponsored about three months before. After connecting with his organization, she began receiving their emails and newsletters. And, without even being asked, she made a $1,000 gift. He had called to thank her and asked if they could meet. She was excited by the opportunity since her employer is a company that does some work that is tangentially related and she was interested in offering her expertise and joining one of their committees. I took this moment to remind the client that her company has a generous triple matching program. (The $1,000 gift is about to become $4,000 to my client’s organization!) Further, her knowledge and access to resources have the potential to go well beyond the initial gift. 

Sounds great, right? What mojo could this client possibly need? 

I thought a lot about my client and what I knew about him and said the following. 

“Well, this is going to be a great meeting. You have a lot in common. And, I know you will be your smart, on-top-of-it, charming self. I know you’ve got this.” 

I paused. 

The client didn’t say anything. If he had wanted to end the conversation or take control of it, he could have. Although he’s a very competent, powerful person and often has a lot to say on many different topics, I know him to be very thoughtful. Because he was silent, I knew he was open to hearing more. The pause lingered a bit, so I continued. 

“But, if you want extra credit, I’ve got some advice.” Pause. 

“Yeah? What do you mean?”

“You know… if you want to be an A+ student instead of merely an A student…” The client is still silent. 

“I believe in the ‘power of moments.’* This doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it’s very important that in the moment when you meet her, you let time slow down a little.  When you go to shake her hand, look her in the eye and genuinely tell her how much you appreciate this meeting. It sounds small, but you’ll never get a chance to get that first impression back. Make it obvious how engaged you are and how much you value her time.” 

“It’s really easy to get caught up in coming up with the right thing to say. But, it’s more important to convey the right feeling. Be cognizant of that when you leave the meeting as well. In situations like this people may not remember what you said or did, but they will almost always remember how you made them feel.”**

“That’s helpful. I appreciate that. A lot of times I try to think of all the technical and legal things I might need to tell someone about our subject. I try to make sure I have all of the science at my fingertips before I go into a meeting. And, usually it’s all stuff I know anyway, but because I’m nervous I spend my time trying to make sure I have all of that right.” 

“Yes. You are incredibly knowledgeable. It is a gift and can also be a curse. If she says something – don’t ‘AND THIS’ her.” 

“What do you mean, ‘AND THIS’?”

“Because of her work, she has a better than passing knowledge about what your organization does. At some point, she’s probably going to tell you something on a topic that you’re excited about – that you already know. She’ll drop some knowledge on you and you might be tempted to say, ‘oh yeah – AND THIS….’ In that moment, when you feel an ‘AND THIS’ coming on, wait and see if she has more to add. Before you say anything else, decide if all you’re doing is adding more data to the pile. If that’s all the info does, then you’re just upstaging her.”

He was silent again. 

“I know you’re very precise about the science in your field and you’re confident about getting it right. Trust yourself and trust that she’ll understand that. But, don’t try to convince her that you know more about it than she does. Worry more about letting her shine than pitching your organization to her. This is her time, not yours. Do a lot of listening. Let her know how glad you are that she knows so much about it – and that if she ever wants to know more about what your organization does on that topic to let you know. She’ll tell you if she wants to know more right there and then. If she does, be sure to put it in the context of what you and your organization can do about the situation – not just what you know on the topic.” 

“Thanks. I’ve just arrived at the restaurant.” 

*Chip and Dan Heath’s book “The Power of Moments” is a great read, inspiring and filled with ideas you can put to use right away. 

**Several different versions of this idea are attributed to various people, including but not limited to Maya Angelou. 

***Photo of pho from Sharon Chen on Unsplash


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