We recently hosted a live Q and A webinar where Richard and I asked participants to send in their question related to fundraising during COVID. One question we got was about whether to start asking donors to meet in-person again.

This fundraiser was experiencing what we’ve been noticing with other front-line fundraisers recently: their manager or leader is starting to pressure them into meeting face-to-face with donors. But also, I know that you may be wanting to get out there yourself, regardless of pressure from your manager, because you want to connect with donors like you did pre-pandemic.

Now, before we get started here, I want to be really clear about our approach to face-to-face meetings. We focus primarily on meaningful connections, instead of face-to-face, as a metric because the focus here is on how you’re moving the relationship forward. Meaningful connections can be done in a variety of ways – they aren’t exclusive to in-person meetings. Of course, getting to meet in-person with a donor is always a win, but it’s important to remember that not all donors want to meet, and not ever meeting is inherently meaningful.

So, let’s get back to the answer to the question of whether or not you should start asking donors to meet in-person again. The short answer to the question is, it depends.

Some organizations out there currently have a “no in-person meetings” policy, which you need to follow. But, if your organization is allowing in-person meetings, here are some important questions to ask to determine if it’s time to start asking for in-person meetings now:

  1. What are your local and state regulations and mandates? Your first priority needs to be understanding, and adhering to, the regulations for your area. Some parts of the country are experiencing higher levels of transmission and cases. Some are still pretty closed or have mandates in place. Take the time to ensure you are up-to-date on your specific area. And make sure you understand your environment and the considerations that should be made to keep both you and your donor safe, should you decide to meet in-person.
  2. What does your donor prefer? This should always be your primary question because it’s really up to your donor. I don’t know why so many front-line fundraisers fail to know the answer to this question, but they do, and they charge ahead doing what THEY want to do, not what is best for the donor. This is why we are so adamant that you know your donor’s communications preferences before you start planning their strategy for the year. Many of your donors have become accustomed to digital communication over this pandemic and are just perfectly fine NOT to meet in person.
  3. What options do you have for safely meeting? In some areas, outdoor seating season is already over, which means you may have few options for safely interacting in-person. Consider how you could meet and have some options ready for the donor.

Here’s the deal though. This pandemic has made us re-think many ways of doing life and work. I mean, almost every employer out there is now offering either work from home or hybrid options. Others are leaving their jobs and looking for more meaningful work. This is a big change from what was happening pre-pandemic.

The same should be considered about evaluating front-line fundraisers on how many face-to-face meetings they are having with donors. The pandemic has changed the game. Digital technology is making it possible to connect with donors in meaningful ways without literally sitting across the table from them. And, we found that many donors actually prefer it!

We’ve also heard some creative ways fundraisers are connecting with donors, like hosting virtual lunches or coffees with donors for 10-15 minutes. This is so great because it feels doable for the donors and lessens the pressure to commit to a longer meeting.

Now, of course if you and the donor are safe and the donor wants to see you in-person, by all means get out there, but if your experiencing pressure from a manager because they are stuck in an old paradigm, now is not the time to just “meet a metric” when you have been effective without it.

Currently, two things are important: What does the donor want? And what level of face-to-face interaction do you feel safe about? That’s it.