This week we are excited to have our friend and partner Joanna Hogan, Strategic Fundraising Coach, take over our blog and share with you her expertise on how to get the most out of donor meetings.

It’s often said, “If you can get the meeting you have an 85 percent chance of getting the gift.” Well, that’s only true if you’re strategic with how you plan the meeting and actually make an ask! Moving people closer to making a gift every time you meet with them is critical. And, the ability to transition from small talk into a comfortable and effective solicitation is one of the most valuable skills a nonprofit fundraiser can possess.

Set yourself up for success by avoiding these 10 most common mistakes.

1.     Giving up too soon when trying to get the appointment

Successful fundraisers are cheerfully persistent, even when things get hard. They don’t get disheartened or upset when they meet a setback; they keep at it, knowing it takes time, patience, persistence, and professionalism to secure major gifts. Keep notes of when and how you have reached out and don’t be afraid to try again.

2.     Winging it instead of planning ahead

Most of us have experienced a version of this scenario at one time or another because we’re so busy. We look on our calendar and see donor meetings that were scheduled a while ago. We forgot to follow up and confirm, do our research and/or prepare at all. So, out the door we go, rehearsing in the car and praying the donor meetings go well. If you’re an experienced fundraiser or a natural at developing relationships, chances are you can get away this approach, but not for long. Winging it instead of carefully planning for these meetings will only get you so far. A good strategy to avoid this is to not only put the meeting itself on your calendar but schedule preparation time as well. That way the appointment won’t sneak up on you!

3.     Talking too much (and bringing too much stuff to the meeting)

Listening more than you talk is often easier said than done. But, it’s a skill worth perfecting. If you work for a vibrant organization that is doing great work and truly making an impact, you’re probably armed with heart-warming stories, compelling statistics and supportive documents that are sure to inspire. But, remember, donor meetings are meant to be exploratory conversations where you get to know each other and listen to learn. Be thoughtful about how you spend that time. Get to know them first, and then tailor your messaging to them.

4.     Forgetting to ask the most important questions

Asking effective and probing questions will demonstrate your interest in them and help with the flow of donor meetings. Their answers will provide insight into their lives and reveal the information you need to know. Ultimately, it will help you ask the right person, for the right amount, for the right project, at the right time, in a way that is comfortable and effective and brings them great joy. Make a list of questions ahead of time as you are preparing for your donor meetings. Even if you don’t ask all of them, it will help you think through what you should ask, organize your thoughts and be ready for the meeting.

5.     Making assumptions and not asking for enough

Over the years, I’ve coached a lot of fundraising professionals and helped them prepare for donor meetings and solicitations. More often than not, their ask amounts are too low.  Determining how much to ask of a donor should not be a guessing game. Your ask amount will be at the right level if you’ve done your research and know them well enough. But, you should always aim higher rather than lower. If you ask someone for too much, they can always offer a lower amount… but if you ask for too little, they will rarely offer to give more.

6.     Not asking at all

The number one reason why people give is because they’re asked. So, whatever you do, don’t end a call or a meeting without a clear idea of the next steps forward. And, don’t endlessly cultivate a donor without ever getting to an ask! As Wayne Gretsky once said, “You miss 100 percent of shots on goals that you don’t take.”

7.    Being afraid to ask for a second gift

Research by the Fundraising Effectiveness Project has revealed that only 2 in 10 first-time donors will make a second gift to the same nonprofit organization. But, if they give a second gift, they are 63 percent more likely to give again. If you have thanked them and shown the impact of their first gift, then there is a high likelihood they will give again (if asked!) and invite their friends and colleagues to support your organization as well. This will be much easier for you if you develop a clear and consistent donor follow-up strategy.

8.     Only asking and not communicating at other times

If we truly mean it when we say we’re not just after their wallets, then we must demonstrate that by talking to our donors at times other than when we need something! Invite them to an event, ask for advice, make a thank you call and provide regular updates. Most importantly, express your gratitude and connect with them before you ask again.

9.     Boring stewardship

A standard thank-you letter that looks just like a receipt. An annual report filled with data and little imagery. A newsletter with an ask for more money. That’s boring stewardship. Instead, every time your beloved donor hears from you, they should feel inspired, re-engaged and energized. Share stories that provoke an emotional response and be creative as you help them feel like they are part of your organization’s family.

10.    Relationship becomes personal rather than organizational

As you build a relationship with a donor, you may become a friend, a confidante, a counselor and more. This is natural since people give to people, and you are the representative of the organization. But, you must have boundaries. Keep your focus on advancing the relationship between the donor and the organization. This is best done by introducing them to multiple people, such as nonprofit leaders, board members and other staff on the inside. That way the donor becomes more informed, more engaged and ultimately more invested in the organization’s mission.