During a board meeting of a local chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals, we developed the idea of hosting an after-work gathering during which we would share “war stories” about challenging experiences in our respective nonprofit positions.
The event was a success and helped break down barriers between chapter members of all ages and levels of experience, by letting each person tell about the challenges they have faced. The stories presented were sometimes heart-rending, but oftentimes humorous. “War Stories” brought chapter members closer together and provided an inside glimpse about how each person overcame their obstacles.
My “war story” has since been incorporated into some of my fundraising presentations. It illustrates well how fundraisers should carefully consider the location where they hold meetings with donors and prospective donors. This simple but key factor can have a positive or negative effect on the gathering; it can help or hinder your ability to conduct a successful fundraising call.
To state outright, the nonprofit organization for which I was working (early in my career) ultimately did secure a grant of $250,000 from the wonderful family I mention below. But our “donor dialogue” began in an unusual fashion.
I was charged with the task of arranging a breakfast meeting with a conservative, highly regarded family with a private foundation. The family had strong ties to higher education, and family members were actively involved in religious organizations on a state, national and international level. The father and son were to meet with us initially to discuss the organization, its mission, its future plans, and its financial needs.
A new French café recently opened in town and its reputation for delicious pastries and coffee was attracting many new customers. The café was located in a beautiful, historic neighborhood. The lighting was soft, the décor inviting and cozy. Perfect!
I arrived that morning with the nonprofit’s director, along with the father and son we were courting. We obtained our pastries and coffee, and found ourselves an out-of-the-way area of the café where there was not much traffic, nor noise. We began to discuss the nonprofit and its work, and it was a very cordial meeting.
Entirely unknown to me, the café was promoting itself across town by bringing in a special guest that very morning. A local radio station has been enticed to broadcast the visit in order to attract people to come to the café and have their photographs taken with the VIP. That special guest was none other than Fabio.
Our quiet little donor meeting was soon halted when the dashing, international model Fabio entered the café … followed by an ever-growing line of stiletto-heeled female fans giggling and shrieking, waiting to have their photograph taken with him. Picture my face: ashen. I could not think. But, eventually what went through my mind was, “this is the end of your career – you gave it a good shot – but you’ll never recover!”
My face turned red. The son with whom we were meeting was my age. He broke the ice by teasing me, “I’ll bet you’d like to get up right now and have your picture taken with Fabio.” In hindsight, years later, I really do wish I had! At the time, however, I was so mortified I wanted to disappear into thin air.
That meeting was finished-up fairly quickly, as you might imagine. But a few weeks later, we reconvened with other members of the family at a private club. We requested a separate room where we could close the door and discuss the nonprofit and its work, uninterrupted. And, that was a terrific meeting (in fact, the photo above shows the exact location for the successful gathering). Yours truly was soon put to work drafting a formal written grant proposal, and we secured the funding the organization was seeking.
A subtext of this story – if something along these lines happens to you, try to deal with it gracefully and with a sense of humor. In this case, the family members found Fabio’s appearance in the café somewhat surreal but also entertaining, and they got a little “kick” out of my being flabbergasted. I have been teased for years since.
This is yet another situation – as with my blog posting about the importance of shooting video interviews in the proper environment – where the location can make or break it. Be sure you can control the environment in which you are conducting high level meetings. That way, you will avoid unexpected surprises!
For updates about Fabio Lanzoni’s company, Healthy Planet Products, follow the link.
Although the successful fundraising solicitation discussed in this post ultimately occurred at the elegant private Headliner’s Club, the nonprofit organization involved did not pay for the costs involved but rather, our prospective donors graciously took care of the bill. Solicitations need not always occur in fancy clubs or restaurants, but quiet places are essential, including offices and conference rooms. When working on an art museum expansion campaign a few years ago, our favorite meeting “haunt” was a conference room, and our lunch menu was routinely provided by a gourmet “take out” deli. This worked quite well.