Thanks to travel restrictions and social distancing mandates, we are in a state of virtual affairs. Many Compass clients see this as advantageous as organizational leaders and gift officers can connect with more donors, more readily. While the phone is a familiar tried-and-true mode of communication, virtual meetings present a more authentic and more engaging donor experience.
Compass shares these tips for successful virtual meetings with your donors:
Know your audience.
Before you move forward with a virtual meeting, pause to assess the donor. Even if you are attempting to replace an in-person meeting, or this one of your top prospects in your portfolio, a virtual meeting might not be ideal. This could prove true for a variety of reasons including lifestyle, accessibility, disabilities, and location. The first step is to assess if a virtual meeting is the best channel of communications. If not, strategize to identify a different way to successfully connect with the donor, and reserve the time and effort of a virtual meeting for those whom you deem a better fit. As most things in fundraising, there is no “one size fits all” and this rings true for virtual meetings.
Send an invitation for an hour-long meeting and include connection options. Not all of your donors will be savvy or comfortable with virtual meetings and the various formats. To help plan and avoid a series of emails that may delay a “yes” to a virtual meeting request, provide a finite amount of time and connection options up-front. Options vary depending on your own resources, but may include FaceTime if using a smartphone and Zoom or Skype if the donor has access to a laptop with a built-in camera or a desktop with a webcam. Understanding the donors’ resources and preferences from the onset will help to create a successful virtual meeting experience from start to finish.
Provide a confirmation communication with only the meeting time and connection instructions included. Once you and the donor have agreed on date, time, length (again, we recommend no more than an hour), and mode of virtual meeting, send an email (separate from the planning thread) or a calendar invite. This provides a simple resource for the donor to review as the meeting nears.
Prepare as thoroughly as you would for an in-person meeting. Just because you are not traveling to meet with a donor does not make this meeting any less important.
Draft speaking points that touch on the topics you want to cover. In our current climate, these most likely include an update on the organization and the long-term plans for sustainability. Know exactly what impression you want to leave and what information you want the donor to intake during your meeting and focus on achieving these.
Additionally, present your best self during the meeting. Even though you may be connecting across screens, dress and act as formally as you would for an in-person meeting. Depending on the dimensions and settings of your donor’s screen, you may also appear larger and closer than usual so pay attention to details that may prove distracting such as stray hairs and chewing gum. Silence your cell phone or place it on Do Not Disturb, as you would for an in-person meeting. Consider using an out of office message or closing out your email, to avoid distractions for both you and your donor. The buzz of a cell phone or the ding of an incoming email can be heard through the video call’s audio, so think about the best ways to create a quiet and comfortable environment for you and your guest.
Prepare a back-up plan.
Develop outlets for stalled communications. Virtual meetings might not be as seamless as in-person meetings and the conversation may go quiet in some moments without the rapport that face-to-face affords. To ensure a productive conversation and a positive experience for the donor, develop a list of questions that you can pose at any point. These should be both general enough to weave into whatever moment you find yourself in the conversation and tailored enough to feel specific to the donor with whom you are meeting.
Another option when using Zoom or Skype is to ready a limited number of visuals to share via the screen share mode. Two to three PowerPoint slides (not an entire deck) with engaging graphics or visuals often proves successful in moving through a stalled conversation while staying focused on the message and topics at-hand. You can share video or audio clips, key organizational documents or invite in a subject-matter expert to join the call to provide some additional content. Virtual meetings are a great way to bring multiple people from different areas together.
Consider your surroundings.
If you are in a location with background noise, use a headset to help eliminate the sounds of children playing in the other room or dogs barking. Select an appropriate background. If your own setting will be visible, ensure it is professional and uncluttered. You want the donor to remain focused on you and your message (not your child’s drawing on the wall or your magnet-covered refrigerator behind you).
Some virtual meeting applications provide background options, and a quick google search can provide a plethora of additional options, which should be chosen with the lens of professionalism, as well as authenticity to your mission. For example, a library option is a better fit for a cultural organization than a beach scene in the background.
Complete a dry run.
Learn the basics for the virtual platform you plan to use. If you have yet to speak with a donor in a virtual setting, practice with a colleague or a friend. Schedule a time, ensure your connection works, talk through your introduction and prepared notes, and monitor your own comfort level with the technology and communication style. If things do not go as planned, practice once again to help ensure the actual donor meeting is a success.
Show up on time.
For your scheduled meeting, call-in right-on time (if using FaceTime) or early (if using ZOOM or another app with links). Just as you wouldn’t want your donor sitting and waiting for you in-person, don’t keep the donor waiting virtually. A “waiting for the host to launch” message is not a welcoming approach for your donor.
Just as you may for a telephone call or an in-person meeting, set flexible expectations at the beginning of the virtual meeting. “This might not take the whole hour” or “I’m flexible as to our length” provides both you and the donor an option to not fill the entire booked time slot or, alternatively, to continue longer than planned if the conversation is natural and flowing during the virtual meeting.
Follow-up for a virtual meeting may seem unnecessary, but just as with an in-person meeting, a donor has given time to you and your organization by way of this meeting. Send a handwritten follow-up note (or email, if you think more appropriate) thanking the donor for sharing this time with you.
Beth Heikkila joined The Compass Group in 2019 as chief operating officer and a strategic member of the leadership team. Prior to this position, Beth gained unparalleled operations and fundraising expertise through her roles with The Nature Conservancy, The Salvation Army, and March of Dimes. She brings this experience from complex, national nonprofit organizations to The Compass Group, enhancing the firm’s operations through her dedication to best practices and effective problem solving. In her role of chief operating officer, Beth oversees the infrastructure to advance corporate sustainability, maximizes business development, and ensures the highest quality of service for Compass’s growing client base.
Beth has successfully worked in a virtual environment for more than ten years for both Compass and The Nature Conservancy.