Have you ever experienced a well-facilitated meeting? If you have, you most likely came out of it feeling like your time was respected and a lot was accomplished. There was space for more in-depth conversation, introspection, creativity, and inspiration. It probably also felt like there was a good rhythm to the meeting, and you were heard.
Wouldn’t it be incredible if you could replicate that kind of experience in your donor meetings?
In our Permission-Based Asking Model ™, we talk about how you have two critical roles in any donor interaction: being a partner and a facilitator. As a partner, you’re the bridge between your donor’s passions and interests and the work of your organization. To be that bridge requires you to be able to work in the facilitator role to move through conversations with your donors effectively.
Holding space for this to occur requires a certain state of mind, along with facilitation skills that take a little practice.
What do you do first to successfully facilitate a meeting with your donor?
“Facilitation is the art of leading people through processes towards agreed-upon objectives in a manner that encourages participation, ownership and creativity by all those involved” – Robert Cserti, “How to Improve Your Facilitation Skills (and be a Great Facilitator)”
Step 1: Prepare
Spend a bit of time reviewing your notes and researching your donor so you remember what you do know about them. Identify what you still need to learn or what your next steps with them will be.
Let your donor know the purpose of your upcoming conversation and ask the if that is OK with them. In addition, when you start the meeting, check in again to make sure they’re comfortable with the topic you want to discuss.
What Preparation Prevents: The donor can tell when you don’t have a clear plan for the conversation. It wanders all over the place and feels like a waste of time. Without adequate prep, you may accidently ask questions you asked in a previous meeting, which shows a lack of caring and respect for the donor and can make the donor feel like you don’t know who they are.
Step 2: Set Up Structure & Expectations
Set up the expectations on outcomes, roles, and time.
- Outcome Check-in: “Hashim, as we discussed via email, I’d love to learn more about your passion for our mission and the work we do. Does that still work for you?”
- Time Check-in: “You originally said you could meet until 2 pm today. Does that still work for your schedule?”
- Roles Check-in: “In this meeting, I see my role as two-fold. One, I’m your partner, connecting what you care most about with the work of our mission. For me to do that well, please feel free to ask any questions, push back, share concerns, or tell me what you want to learn more about. Along with being your partner, I will be facilitating our meetings so that they stay on track and respect your time. Does that work for you?”
Step 3: Be Curious
Remember, this isn’t about convincing your donor to give to a project or program. This is about listening, learning, and making the connections between what your donor cares about and the work you do. In our Permission-Based Asking Model, we practice creating your own list of open-ended questions that help you move beyond surface conversations and create more meaningful connections.
For example, you ask your donor to tell you more about why they have been giving for twenty years. And their response is either “I just think you guys are great!” or “I trust you all.” Many times we leave it at that, but we actually haven’t learned much about the donor’s interests. Are you ready with questions in response like:
- Tell me more about how we have gained that trust?
- I would love to hear more about a time when you were particularly moved by something your received or heard about our work over the years.
- I love that we have gained your trust. Of these three areas of our work, which one draws you the most? Would you mind sharing more about that?
What Curiosity Prevents: Think about the difference in how you feel when you are in conversation with someone who talks about themselves (or their organization) the whole time and never seems that curious about who you are or what you think. Most likely, your donor will be eager to get out of that meeting and won’t want to meet again. Stay curious about your donor so that you focus on learning about them. Without curiosity, the relationship won’t move forward, and things stagnate.
Step 4: Rhythm & Timing
At first it might feel a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, but while you’re talking with a donor, you’re also paying attention to the rhythm of your donor’s conversation. Is the meeting moving along in a timely manner?
To create the right rhythm, you want to pay attention to the speed at which your donor likes to talk and process information. Do they like time to think it through and process slowly? Or do they quickly share main points and want to clip along? You’ll want to match their rhythm as best you can.
On timing, you’re thinking of the items that you still need to discuss, your donor’s rhythm, and what you still need to cover before you run out of time. You then check in with your donor about the timing. It might sound like, I am really enjoying this in-depth conversation and I wanted to just pause a moment and check in. We have 30 more minutes and I would like to be able to learn more about which program most interests you. Would you mind if we moved on to that topic now?
Good Rhythm and Timing Prevent: If they have a slower rhythm than you do, it can be easy to interrupt them and not allow space for them to pause and think. You don’t want to push them along too quickly. And if they are faster than you, they can easily get bored and lose interest in the conversation if you’re moving along too slowly.
For timing, be mindful if a donor is dominating a conversation. It’s easy for them to start going in a certain direction so you never get to important elements of the meeting. Checking in on timing gives you permission to move onto important topics while also giving the donor the option to spend more time on a topic or even extend the meeting.
Step 5: Neutrality
It’s important to have a clear outcome. But what happens when it goes a different direction than you’d hoped? If you are too attached to a certain outcome or response from the donor, you aren’t being a true partner. Stay present to where they are in the moment. Staying neutral allows you to pivot and adapt to wherever your donor is, no matter where the conversation goes. Success is when you stay present to where your donor is, listen, and ask great open-ended questions. Then you come up with next steps together, even if those may be very different from what you expected.
What Neutrality Prevents: When you’re attached to an outcome and it doesn’t pan out, you may go into fight-or-flight mode. This means you’re no longer present to where your donor is and what they need. That might feel like a tight chest, sweaty palms, confusion, and fear. Maybe you end up closing out the meeting quickly because you’re uncomfortable and don’t know what to do. Or maybe you find yourself talking faster to convince them of something. You’ve missed an opportunity to be a true partner when you make it all about you and your organization.
In our Making Effective Donor Asks Course (available with the Veritus 365 Masters membership), we help you develop your facilitation skills and give you a model to follow which supports meaningful conversation with your donors. We hear back from participants in this course about how they tried this facilitation model with a donor. Many received incredible feedback from donors saying this was the best conversation they’d ever had with a non-profit.
Developing facilitation skills takes time and practice, but it’s a skill that will serve you well throughout your life.