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“Googling” Your Guests

When Alan Sytsma’s article for New York Magazine was posted online back in April, 2014, I immediately followed the link to read it.

“Hardcore Coddling: How Eleven Madison Park Modernized Elite, Old School Service” recounts how a New York restaurant provides excellent service. Among its routine tasks is, “Googling” guests to learn about their interests and preferences prior to arrival. In this way, Eleven Madison Park is able to provide highly tailored service.

For nonprofit organizations that provide onsite tours, receptions, classes and other special events – or those that allow outside organizations to host events in their facilities – my advice would also be to “Google” your guest lists. Here’s why.

I once worked with a contemporary art organization that provided public tours of its internationally-recognized art installations. Registration was required in advance. Each tour group was kept to a modest size to ensure a high quality experience. The tours lasted for an hour (or sometimes, longer).

The challenge for this nonprofit was the tour registrar/leader was not in regular communication with the development staff. When heading out to greet guests and provide tours, they would simply send a courtesy e-mail to fellow staff members letting them know when they would be, “out of the office.”

One day when the tour leader sent out such an e-mail, I asked, “Who will be going on the tour with you today?”

Back via e-mail came a list of five people. And two were founders of one of the leading high tech companies in the world. They had jetted-in on vacation and wanted to see the art while in town.

Business Associates Smiling

While not involved in the tour myself, I was able to quickly “Google” each name. I discovered helpful, publicly-available information and shared this with the tour guide. I also asked the guide to be aware of who the guests were, to be courteous (they always were, of course), and to report back any information that might be helpful to our organization and its development efforts.

Did they show an interest in a particular exhibit? Did they seem to enjoy themselves overall and approve of the organization? Did they happen to mention artist(s) they collect, on a personal or corporate basis? Are there any reason(s) to follow-up with the tour guests afterward? Could we add them to our e-mail list? Did they know about our annual fundraising dinner?

This particular tour put new prospects on our nonprofit’s radar screen. But it also caused me to ask to review the lists of prior tour guests. Lo and behold, several top international art collectors, corporate executives, Hollywood scions and more had taken site tours. But the development staff had not been made aware of this, nor had the information been entered into the organization’s database.

It then occurred to me a personal “welcome” for tour groups by the nonprofit’s director would be in order, when the guests are of such a caliber that they merit special attention. If the director is not available, the development director or others in leadership positions at the nonprofit should assume this role. It would also have been an excellent idea to have an internal staff “recap” after the tour to consider follow-up measures.

“Googling” – or searching for background information using any search engine – can be of tremendous help to nonprofit organizations as they seek to identify and cultivate donors and potential donors. In this way, they will better understand and appreciate their special event guests, converse with them thoughtfully, and follow-up as appropriate. Ultimately, this can also mean genuinely interested and capable donors are identified, cultivated and eventually asked to support the organization’s critical financial needs!

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