In the 30+ years I’ve been in fundraising, I’ve always either been the one who is meeting with a donor or who has been working with a fundraiser to give them counsel and strategy to build relationships with a donor.

But a few years back, I got to experience this from a different angle when I was the donor meeting with a major gift officer. It was the first time I’ve ever been in that position, and the experience went so well that I had to tell you what happened.

In 2020, I gave a gift to a small non-profit in Philadelphia whose mission I have a real passion for. They only have a handful of staff, but they have a great vision, and I believe their work is really important. At the time I gave my gift, they had no development staff. But once they began growing, they hired someone to staff their development team – which means it’s just her.

Putting on her major gift hat, she emailed me several months after she started at the organization to thank me for my gift. She asked if I would consider meeting with her over Zoom so that she could get to know me a little better. I said, “Yes, let’s do it!” and we set up a time to meet. So, just for more context, this is her first meeting with me, and she’s brand new to fundraising. Her background is in theatre. Again, for me, this is my first face-to-face meeting with a fundraiser as a donor myself. I’m going to outline for you what she did, because I think it will be helpful in your work:

  1. 4 hours prior to our scheduled Zoom meeting, she emailed me to confirm our meeting and asked me if I was still available. This actually was really important to me, because when I started my day early in the morning, I noticed a meeting on my calendar, and I had no idea what it was for because the meeting had been set up several weeks ago. I seriously was thinking, “Who the heck is this person I’m meeting with?” But getting this email reminded me – it was perfect. Now I understood as a donor why this would be helpful.
  2. I’m an on-time kind of person. The major gift officer was already set up and ready to go right at the time we had agreed on. I loved that.
  3. From the very beginning she made me feel comfortable. She thanked me for my gift and apologized that I hadn’t heard from anyone. She wanted to acknowledge that.
  4. We started talking about my connection to Philadelphia. I love telling my story and I love the city, so I spent a good amount of time on that. Even though I was on Zoom, I could tell she was listening to me. Like looking right at me. She had great follow up questions regarding my story; I felt heard.
  5. Then, she asked me questions about my connection to her organization. She asked why it was important to me. She asked me what compelled me to start giving and then why I decided to give a larger gift to the organization. The way she asked her questions made me want to tell her my story and my process for why I wanted to engage in a deeper way.
  6. So, at this point, I’m thinking to myself: Wow, this person really knows her stuff! This is someone who has had a lot of training. Not only does she know how to have a donor conversation, but she’s really poised for being so young. She knew what I did for a profession. She had done her research, and it could have been intimidating talking to a donor who writes, talks, and consults on major gift fundraising. But she was so relaxed and engaging and funny. I had a great time in this meeting.
  7. I asked her about her background, and she blew me away when she told me that she had no fundraising experience. This is when I found out she had been in theatre. She was in her first couple of months in this job! I felt shocked.
  8. I noticed that while she was a good listener, she was also taking notes at the same time about everything I was saying. Why I loved Philadelphia, the organization, my family, my connection to their mission, everything. I thought to myself, “She’s on it!”
  9. Eventually she pointed out that our time had come to an end. I mean, personally, I could have kept going. But I loved that she was watching the time and kept her promise on how long we agreed to.
  10. She never asked me for a gift. That was perfect, because this was our first meeting. We were just getting to know each other. I was so happy she didn’t ask me for a gift. That meant her boss wasn’t pressuring her to “get the money.”
  11. A few hours later, I got an email from her thanking me for the meeting.
  12. A week later, I got an email from her and she told me a story that’s related to one of the things we talked about in the call. It was just a nice little check-in. But what I loved about it was that I felt heard. She listened to some small thing I said in our meeting, and she found a way to connect again that was actually quite sweet.

My first experience as a donor meeting with a major gift officer could not have gone better. And the way she handled the meeting, it felt like she was a seasoned fundraising professional. I’ve already talked to my wife about this experience and how we want to budget our giving for this organization. I literally can’t wait to give them another gift. But I’ll wait until I’m asked.

I hope you can take something from my experience as a donor and how this major gift officer approached our first meeting together, and apply it to your own work. Help make the donor feel comfortable. Let them feel good about their giving, listen to them, be engaging, have emotional intelligence, and follow up with them.

Remember, donors want to give. Follow this approach to your meetings, and they’ll be with you for a long time.


This post originally appeared on the Passionate Giving Blog on March 15, 2021.