work a room full of peopleEvery major gift fundraiser has had the experience of entering a large room full of their organization’s donors and supporters – and feeling a bit intimidated. Worse, some feel dread, fear and even panic about what to do. Their first thought is immediately to turn around and get out of there.

Do you struggle a bit with “how to work room full of your donors?” It’s okay. It’s not an easy thing to do. Many of our readers have asked us this question recently, so I’d like to give you some tips or ideas for feeling confident and ending the evening believing you really did your job well.

  1. Go with a purpose and strategy. Since you have determined that this event has value to you and your donors, have a strategy before the event. Figure out what your objectives are, so you go in with a plan. Perhaps it’s to engage with five of your donors on your portfolio, and two people who are on your “watch list.” Or it’s to have two really meaningful conversations with your donors to set them up for a face-to-face solicitation. Or maybe it’s to introduce two of your donors to your CEO and make a connection for them. Whatever it is, have a plan.
  2. Make connections. Prior to the event, get a list of all the participants. Strategize about how to make connections with your portfolio donors who could benefit from meeting others in the room that they may not know. Remember, your donors are probably just as intimidated by this as anyone else. Make them feel comfortable.
  3. Be on your own. One of the worst things I witness at events is staff from the same organization hanging around with each other, rather than mingling and talking with people. Really try to avoid this. First seek out the donors on your own caseload. That is your priority. But also look around the room for people that look like they are alone. Walk up to those folks you don’t know and introduce yourself. If you hang with people you know, you won’t get to make connections with others. Remember, you are always looking to make connections. Not for yourself, but for your donors.
  4. Be aware of your own body language. When you have your arms folded in front of your body and you look down at the floor, you are telling your donors (and others) to stay away from you. Leave your arms unfolded and maintain eye contact with people. This will make your donors feel better about approaching you.
  5. Listen. This is so essential. It’s also about being in the moment. I know I’m guilty of this too, but how often have you been in a conversation with a donor and instead of listening to her, you are scanning the room looking for another donor? Give this donor that you engaged with your undivided attention. Every donor should be valued and honored. It is the kind thing to do.
  6. Be generous. Offer to be of help to your donors. It could be as simple as helping move tables and chairs around, to offering to introduce your donors to someone else in the room when you think they would benefit from it. If you can go into a room full of people thinking, “how can I help my donors and others feel good about this experience,” you yourself will leave full. (Tweet it!) The more you give of yourself, the more that comes back to you.

I hope these will be helpful to you when you enter the next big room full of your donors and supporters. The more you practice this, the better you will become. If you can take these tips and apply them to your practice, you’ll be a pro in no time.
This post was originally published on January 25, 2017.