5 Tips to make the most of virtual major donor meetings

Click the image above to see a short video of the 5 tips

Whether there are pandemic restrictions or not, virtual meetings open up a great opportunity for your charity to connect with potential donors wherever they are in the world.

They also make it more likely some donors will agree to meet – no travel and less time commitment in their busy week.

You might be moving some 2022 donors meetings from face to face to virtual, or you may already have secured a virtual meeting – either way celebrate a brilliant achievement! Meeting existing and potential donors is a key step in you understanding them better and connecting them to the difference they’re making/could make. It builds trust so they’re more likely to make a larger gift. So how do you make the most of the opportunity when you’re on Zoom/Teams yet again rather than face to face?

1.Prepare and have a pre-meet

Ever arranged to meet with your colleague right before a donor meeting at a Pret or Starbucks around the corner? Many of you will already prepare and know the value of being on the same page to make the most of a meeting. We have to work that much harder to do this though when we’re working from home and meeting virtually:

  • we don’t have those face to face conversations in the office
  • we can’t meet at the coffee shop beforehand

    One fundraiser I’ve been coaching was planning a donor meeting with her new CEO. She got a virtual pre-meet in the CEO’s busy diary so they could spend some time together and plan their approach for the donor meeting.

2. Reconfirm

One thing we know is that things can change very quickly with current events and this is true for your donors:

  • Are they having to rearrange their business travel plans?
  • Do they or a family member have Covid?

Although you want your hard-won meeting to go ahead, reconfirming a day or two before means you’ll have more chance of a productive and focused meeting. And less chance of waiting on a video meet for someone who doesn’t show.  If you don’t hear back, have they got a PA you can contact? It can be frustrating if a meeting’s postponed, but try to understand and give your donors support and flexibility when they need it.

3. Recreate some adrenalin

Many fundraisers and charity leaders I’ve worked with say meeting donors is the favourite part of their role. There will often be a mix of excitement and nervous anticipation immediately before – that feeling when you’re waiting in a company reception area. Some nervs can be a positive thing and fundraisers manage these before face to face meetings in lots of different ways so they’re at their best: one I know always listens to music walking from the tube or bus stop to a donor meeting.

But consistently working from home can take the “occasion” away from meetings. We can sometimes feel flat. How can you recreate those moments from face to face meetings that help you be at your best?

  • Keep your calendar free 30 minutes before to prevent rushing from Zoom to Zoom or quickly managing home-schooling immediately before.
  • Think about what you’d wear if you were meeting this donor face to face – a shirt and jacket?  Those heels or boots? Wear it for your virtual meeting too.
  • One fundraising leader I’m coaching is now going for a walk around the block before her donor meetings -she’s said it’s helped her to think more clearly and feel excited about the conversation she’s going to have.

4. Connect through the camera not the screen

I remember asking advice from many people at the start of the pandemic as I suddenly began delivering conference talks, training and sessions on-line. One tip that came up a lot was to look at the camera on your laptop and not at the screen.

Focussing on the camera is the only way you will appear as if you’re looking directly at someone, recreating the connection of a face to face meeting

You might find it more difficult to gauge the reaction of your supporter when you do this, over time, your peripheral vision improves – I’ve certainly found this in my virtual meetings with philanthropists over the past 18 months. Having a colleague on the Zoom meeting can also help.

So take the time to get your device’s camera at the right level and “hide self-view” on Zoom too if this helps you focus on the camera, and not the screen.

5. End on a high

Paul Nott, fundraising recruiter and coach has talked about that awkward moment at the end of virtual interviews –in person you’d try and confidently say goodbye, shake hands (pre-Coronavirus!) and maybe recap key things agreed on the way out. It’s the same with virtual donor meetings – we want to end on a high but that doesn’t always happen!  Make sure you catch up separately with a colleague afterwards, rather than discussing if you’ll stay on the zoom meet when the donor’s still there. Have your cursor ready to “End meeting” promptly to end positively.

Securing a meeting with an existing or potential major donor is a fantastic achievement and worth celebrating.  Only when we meet, can we be curious, ask questions to better understand them and know how to connect with them.  You may be doing many of these five already, but if there’s a tip or two that helps you feel more confident and make the most of your meetings, I’d love to hear – let me know!

Louise Morris is the Founder of Summit Fundraising. She is a major donor fundraising specialist and has worked with over 200 charities helping them raise large gifts.

This was posted on 9 December 2021.


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