Whether you believe virtual meetings are a fad borne out of the necessity or a trend here to stay, there’s one thing we can likely all agree on: Virtual meetings with donors and prospects must occur in the short-term to keep our Advancement work moving forward.
Previously, I suggested virtual meetings are here to stay, and in my last post I offered six ways we can improve our virtual meeting environment. Now let’s explore how we can improve our chances of securing virtual meetings.
As with any aspect of our work, the stronger the working relationship, the greater the likelihood of pivoting your meetings to a virtual environment. If trust and rapport are established, you’ll find greater success in securing a virtual meeting. But what about those “discovery visits” with prospects we don’t know well, if at all? These meetings are critical in moving our Advancement efforts forward in building a broader base of volunteer and donor support. Despite what some might believe, these meetings can still happen in a virtual environment.
Here are five approaches to consider.
Ask for Advice
Who doesn’t like giving advice? Be clear up front that you want feedback: “We’re reaching out to our [alumni/parents/friends] to get feedback and opinions on [targeted area for meaningful feedback]. Would you have 15-20 minutes for a brief video meeting to provide your opinions?” Providing feedback is something we can all do and it’s always flattering when someone seeks our advice on something. Develop a set of 5-7 questions you can ask all meeting participants on something meaningful to your institution. If the meeting goes well, end it by asking, “Can I follow up with you to provide an overview of what we learned and the direction we’re taking with the feedback given?”
Offer an “Invitation-Only” Virtual Event
Are there constituents you’ve been targeting for discovery meetings that have been particularly reticent to accept your invitations? You might try this approach: Develop a 30-60-minute virtual event that provides an “insider’s” update on one or more important topics. I’ve attended several of these events during the pandemic and they’ve been very well done. The topics included a return-to-school update, an overview of a new capital project (complete with an architect-led virtual “flyover” of the rendering), an announcement of an upcoming major change in an institution’s enrollment strategy, and a “state of the college” update. A natural step after the event concludes: Follow-up to get their feedback. For many, this type of contact feels more natural than a cold-call invitation to meet one-on-one. And it should pave the way for a future meeting where you can dig into questions that help you determine their philanthropic outlook.
Provide a “Read-Ahead” Piece
Do you have a document you can mail or email in advance for your meeting targets to review and offer feedback during a video meeting? Perhaps you have a new strategic plan or a draft plan in the works. Or a “case for support” for a forthcoming campaign or for your annual fund. Or a magazine for which you would like ideas to make it even better. You have something that is worth seeking feedback. Again, people are flattered when you ask for their advice. End with a question that paves the way for a future meeting: “Your feedback was extremely valuable. Can I stay in touch and follow up in the future to schedule another meeting?”
Do a “Check-In”
Although our activity has increased slightly since the stay-at-home orders of April and May, many are still feeling isolated. Accordingly, a phone call “check-in” is still an important and valuable action to take with your constituents. One of my clients had an Advancement employee who contacted parents once the pandemic hit and stay-at-home orders went into effect. He dusted off the list of parents he had been wanting to meet and called them to check in on how they were doing. For educational institutions, the opportunity to check-in with parents will present itself again, soon. Pandemic anxiety remains ever-present. Your check-in calls not only provide an opportunity to meet some parents for the first time, but it also goes a long way to curbing their anxiety and helping them feel more closely connected to the institution their son or daughter is attending.
Launch a Virtual Coffee Meeting Series
In some cases, offering an inexpensive item may be all it takes to get or keep a meeting. A few of our clients have implemented a successful virtual coffee meeting concept, where they provide a branded coffee mug as a token of their appreciation for taking time for a video meeting. Once the meeting is booked, the mug is mailed with a note saying, “Here’s your [name of institution] coffee mug to have handy for our meeting. Looking forward to it!”
There are many more creative ways to secure a first-time meeting with those on our “discovery” lists. What’s working for you? Let me know through a brief email and I’ll include your ideas in a future post.