Where Should You Avoid Meeting with Prospects and Donors?

Whether you want to cultivate or ask for support, a face-to-face meeting with a prospect or donor will usually be the most effective approach. To ensure the success of your meeting, you need to carefully plan for it. That includes knowing where to avoid having that meeting.

Two types of locations make particularly poor choices for meetings:

Katz's Deli by Matt Biddulph via FlickrRestaurants/cafes. Such locations can be problematic for any number of reasons. Your guest might not feel comfortable discussing personal matters in a public setting. The noise level of the restaurant might not be conducive to conversation. Servers will inevitably interrupt your discussion. The choice of a specific restaurant could even be problematic. Consider the following true story that I shared in my book, Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing:

The development officer picked up the donor at her home and drove her to the Four Seasons Hotel for lunch in the very lavish Fountain Room. The donor was appalled. She refused to be seated and told the development officer that lunch in the more casual, and less expensive, Swan Lounge would be more appropriate.

When relating the story to a friend, the donor expressed her outrage that the hospital would waste her money by taking her out to such a fancy restaurant. She even thought the more informal Swan Lounge was too much.

When asked if she would be making another gift to the hospital, she said, ‘Absolutely not! They waste too much money.’”

If you really want take a prospect or donor to a restaurant, or if she insists on meeting in one, make sure you ask her, “Where would you like to go?”

Office of the other person. From time to time, a prospect or donor will want to meet in his office. He might feel more comfortable in his own office. He might appreciate the convenience of meeting in his own office rather than traveling across town to yours. It’s possible he might even want to show-off a bit to you.

While visiting with someone in her office will give you a chance to learn more about her professional life, be prepared for interruptions and distractions. Another problem with an office meeting is that they tend to be more formal and less relaxed than meetings held elsewhere.

So, where should you visit with prospects or donors?

The individual’s home. There are a number of benefits to meeting in someone’s home. He will likely feel relaxed and comfortable. He will be more willing to discuss personal matters in a private setting. You’ll have a chance to learn more about the individual just by looking around. You’ll get a sense of net worth, hobbies, family, etc. These insights will help you more effectively build rapport. In addition, you’ll learn things that will help you better understand what motivates the individual and how you can match your organization’s needs with the individual’s interests.

Your site. Depending on the objective of your planned meeting, you might want to invite your prospect or donor to visit you at your office. This will give you a chance to introduce the individual to your colleagues. Your prospect or donor will also have the opportunity to see your organization in action (i.e.: preparing meals for the homeless), see physical changes (i.e.: a new building on campus), or see something special behind the scenes (i.e.: a painting not yet on public display).

Here’s a true example, from Donor-Centered Planned Gift Marketing, that illustrates how powerful it can be to have a donor visit your location:

A hospital in the rural Pacific Northwest held an event to thank individuals who had made a planned gift commitment as well as to express appreciation to those seriously considering such support. The event involved a tour of the facilities, including the pediatric services wing, followed by lunch.

During the lunch, an elderly gentleman stood up [without being prompted] and said that he was very impressed. He was familiar with the hospital, the only one in town. But, neither he nor his wife were familiar with the pediatric services wing. The gentleman told those gathered that he and his wife have no children themselves. However, during the tour of the pediatric services wing, they realized that the community’s children were their children.

He went on to announce that he and his wife would be leaving their entire estate, consisting of a rather large farm, to the hospital for the benefit of the pediatric services wing. If the couple had not been given the opportunity to meet staff, see those benefiting from the services, and better understand how the hospital is fulfilling its mission, they may very well have made a much less generous commitment.”

Wherever you meet with your prospect or donor, there are four essential things you need to do following your meeting:

1. Send your prospect or donor a thank-you note for having taken the time to meet with you. A handwritten note is your highest-impact option.

2. Keep your promises. If you promised to send the prospect or donor more information, do so immediately. If you promised to follow-up with a phone call in three weeks, do so.

3. Jot down notes. While you might want to ask permission to take notes during the meeting, you should know that note taking makes some people more guarded. So, if possible, resist the temptation to take notes during the meeting. However, immediately following the meeting, pull your car off the road and jot down key points from the meeting.

4. Make sure to place your notes in the individual’s file. Your notes will be helpful to you, and they will be a help to any of your colleagues who may need to contact the individual in the future.

Where is your favorite or least favorite place to meet prospects or donors?

That’s what Michael Rosen says… What do you say?

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18 Responses to “Where Should You Avoid Meeting with Prospects and Donors?”

  1. Reblogged this on Unleashed Abundance and commented:
    My father NEVER met with clients in their homes or restaurants. Always came to our site – – you can make it comfortable and still be in control of the environment. It inspires more confidence, and we almost always gained / retained a client (financial planning / estate planning firm).

    • Laura, thank you for providing your own insight and for sharing my post with your readers. Meeting with prospects and clients in one’s own office can be effective and inspire confidence. The key is to determine, for each individual prospect or donor, the best place to meet that will be comfortable for them, convenient for them, inspire them, and allow them to be most receptive to the message. Of course, all of that needs to be considered in the context of the objective of the meeting.

  2. I would wholeheartedly agree that whenever possible, the donor’s home or the site of your nonprofit are strong choices for meetings. However, I have found that in almost 15 years of major gift fundraising that it can be very difficult during an initial meeting to get an invitation to a donor’s home. Restaurants or coffee shops seem to be neutral enough territory to establish the rapport necessary AND provide an opportunity for a follow up meeting on site at the nonprofit location for further cultivation.

    • Laura, thank you for sharing your insights. You’ve made two important points. First, different donors will have different preferences about where they want to meet. Second, as the relationship develops, donor meeting preferences may very well change. The key is to determine what will make the donor most comfortable while still allowing you to achieve your objective.

      I should also mention, to all my readers, that there are other factors that will influence meeting location. For example, an older woman might not feel comfortable meeting with an unknown man in her home. However, she might be perfectly fine meeting a fellow woman in her house. Another factor is geography. For example, I know a successful hospital development professional who just drops-in on donors at their homes; he doesn’t even call first. While that approach would not work in many places, it does in his small town in Texas. Again, it’s all about what works for the prospect or donor.

  3. Good insights, Michael. I made a habit of sending a post card locally just after the visit since there could be a delay in my return to the office for follow up. Sometimes I would even call my work vm and leave myself a detailed message after the meeting. I would leave them with an expectation of follow up such as a week to ten days depending on my travel schedule.

  4. Thanks, Michael. At the moment “our site” is literally a building site. Taking people there can be fantastic – they get to see what’s happening, but there’s not a space to sit or even hold a conversation (loads of noise!). My office has been relocated to an open plan space in the local government office – that’s a definite no for me!

    How would you work around that? (I’m planning mixing site visits with meetings at their home or some of the quieter coffee shops I know. but that means TWO meetings.

    • Michael, thank you for sharing your challenging situation. Even given the difficulties, I still like the idea of showing folks the building site. If there’s a friendly business very nearby, you might be able to borrow a meeting room following the site visit. Or, plan ahead to have one meeting in two locations. Good luck!

  5. Michael, I enjoyed your article and thank you for sharing. I have found over my years that meeting the donor in their home, if possible, has been the most insightful and productive, especially with older donors. I have found them to be more comfortable and open.

    My first choice is to encourage the donor to visit the NPO, but when that doesn’t work,it’s the home visit, hands down.
    Stay away from crowded noisy meeting areas, for me, they have been the least productive donor engagement settings!

    I like total focus with the donor, not the background distractions!

    • Gary, thank you for sharing your insights. Depending on the relationship, geography, and the objective of the meeting, breaking bread with a prospect or donor might be appropriate and worthwhile, on occasion. When selecting a café or restaurant, it’s essential to choose one that will appeal to the donor and that will offer minimal distractions and reasonable privacy. However, while I would never automatically rule out a meal-meeting, my preferences are in alignment with yours.

  6. Reblogged this on Fablanthropy and commented:
    Where do you meet your donors for visits?

  7. This is so true! I am a philanthropist. An organization that I had been supporting for years but hadn’t been able to visit for a while offered to fly down to Georgia and meet with me. I was appalled by them spending my donation so cavalierly. I haven’t given to them since then.

    • Allegra, thank you for sharing your story. Fundraising professionals often face difficult choices as your story demonstrates. Fundraisers frequently have to strike a balance between making donors feel ignored and making them feel they are receiving inappropriate or wasteful attention. The more effectively the fundraiser builds a relationship with the donor, the more likely they will be to focus the appropriate attention on the donor.

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