There are few things I hate worse than a missed opportunity. Specifically an open lunch date. Seeing clients eating at the desk drives me to distraction.
Why? Everyone eats. An hour long lunch appointment is almost perfect for focusing in on a specific conversation and advancing a specific agenda. Visiting someone at the office means they can be distracted by subordinates, email, the telephone, the tall brunette intern.
Most everyone, no matter how busy, will put a pause on all of this while sitting at a table over a meal. Lunch is a lingering artifact of a more civilized time. Take advantage.
This means that your week should be filled with lunch dates. What sort of prospects should be on your docket? I propose the $5,000 lunch solicitation.
Why $5,000? It is a very meaningful annual gift but not life changing. Gifts of this size are generally made to organizations where there is a deeper appreciation of the good work and mission, and so your hour long conversation is a perfect format for delivering a compelling story, plans for the future, case for support, and invitation to join.
Before we continue there is a school of thought that soliciting funds shouldn’t be done in public over a meal because of interruptions, the waiter taking dessert orders, potential for embarrassment, etc. I think this is absolute nonsense. Unless you are social clot who cannot time a conversation around delivery of the soup and refilling of the iced tea, talking about giving over a meal is fine.
The next time you are out for a lunch in a city, listen in for a moment on the conversations around you. All matter of bargaining high finance between captains of Industry and Real Talk between couples negotiating emotional availability is happening. Your little $5,000 pitch will be fine.
Who are your prospects for the $5,000 ask? Your top 25 donors to start. And then the 25 after that. You get the idea. For some organizations this is going to be the $1,000 Lunch, and that’s okay. Practice makes perfect. Start with the easy ones. I was close to my maternal Grandmother and so have always had an affinity for older ladies. They call me Jerry.
Who are you bringing along? Ideally the Boss or a key volunteer. If we can model behavior with those around us we are going to have a lot of success. Over time and with practice, the evaluative metric for any special event or wacky fundraising idea will be, “Is this time consuming activity going to be more effective than our $5,000 lunches?”
The Set Up: Tell your Story. Ask Questions, lots of them. Talk about the good work, the ongoing success, the plans for the future, the insider information. My friends in the arts can talk about the upcoming season – YoYo Ma on our stage for the first time! – but everyone can tell a good story about the impact of philanthropic investment. Ideally kittens and children.
The Ask: This is where many of us need some practice, and perhaps a little scripting. I’ve worked for a lot of great CEOs who prefer not to be the Asker. That’s fine, better often as it allows you to stick to the Script after she tells the Story. Here is what I might say…
“Linda, thanks again for meeting with us today. We wanted to share our ambitious growth plans to serve more patrons in 2014 and to talk to you about this year’s gift. As a part of expanded programming, we are asking a select group of friends to consider joining us at the $5,000 leadership level this year. This is a very meaningful gift for us and will propel many of the programs and plans forward, including the spring educational concerts. Would you consider a commitment of this size?”
And then of course you shut up. Not a peep. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t say yes right away (that’s unlikely).
Do have a written proposal with you outlining the request, including a pledge card with flexible payment terms.
Do order a salad. No one wants to watch you pick up a sandwich with your bare hands, spreading crumbs about. Plus wealthy people have judgment about carbohydrates.
Do eventually move the conversation along to other topics to wrap up the visit. Do pick up the bill without a fuss if you initiated the meeting.
Do have a coffee after if your prospect is having one. Don’t order dessert. See above about the carbs.
Will everyone say Yes? No, they won’t. Some will make a smaller gift (upgrades are grand) or stick to where they’ve been but you’ve furthered the relationship. Some will tell you No outright. And that’s okay. No one will be mad at you for making a respectful request.
Be your charming self. Trust me.
One of my frustrations with fundraising staff is the paralyzing fear of rejection. Hearing No a few hundred times isn’t the end of the world my friends. The first $5,000 will change your whole week and perhaps reprioritize your calendar.
Don’t let me catch you eating leftovers at your desk!