Face-to-Face for the First Time-Do’s and Don’ts

by Marcy Heim on March 7, 2018

Face to FaceYou got the appointment! WoHoo! First time Face-to-Face visits are huge in creating the deeper engagement and giving that you want to inspire. They can be scary too. You want to make a good impression, discover more about your prospective major giver, but not be “too much.”

Let’s make this the beginning of a LONG and WONDERFUL major donor relationship!


  1. Understand this is scary for them, too.

Chances are they have been transactional up to now. They get a mailing, they send a check. They get a phone call, they pledge a gift. Maybe they have been to an event with scores of others or talked with you on the phone.  Now, you want to see them IN PERSON, ALONE. Yikes! What exactly do you want? Will they be put on the spot? It is a major shift from “arms-length” to “inside their personal space.”  Respect the time you have set up, but leave yourself some room for that rich conversation that may happen after your “scheduled time” is past…with their permission, of course.

  1. Build sincere rapport.Empathy and listen

This grows out of your sincere interest in helping them experience the joy of giving, not just getting their money. Look for shared values and interests. Mirror a gesture, use their words back to them – people like people like themselves.

Smile, be kind, fun, polite and warm.  From your handshake to your farewell, be yourself, but tuned into them.  Adjust your pace, your gestures and your volume to fit them. Nothing in your personality should come between you and your donor. It is a show of respect to them.

  1. Be sincerely interested in THEIR story.  All-In Listening. Be FULLY present!

“What inspired you to give to us?”  It is the question we are all told to ask, and I get that, but make it your own. “Tell me about your experiences with (us, our mission, our work, our school etc).” “I’m eager to hear your advice about our work with X.” Then, PUSH DOWN YOUR MIND CHATTER. “Ok, what’s my next question?” “Am I going to get to my next appointment on time?” “Did I remember to put out my son’s soccer bag?” “Ooh, my phone just pinged.”  BE FULLY PRESENT. Sincere, ALL-IN listening is the greatest gift you can give anyone.

Listen with the intent to understand, Not reply.

  1. Discover their communication preferences.

This is SO important. Maybe you struggled to get this very appointment until you sent a text instead of calling. Spend some time getting clear on how they would like you to stay in touch with them.  Beyond phone, text, email, letter….home or work?  Weekends or not? Better times of day? Busy times of the year for them. Remember, you are seeking to create a long-term life-time of giving with them.  And a bonus..it will save you all the head trash about “they don’t want to hear from me” that comes from not knowing the right communication vehicle or timing. This may also be a good time to say, “Let me write this down so I remember.”  Then once out, you can make other notes if that helps you in the call.

embrace quote

  1. DREAM with them.

How do they want to be known? Key supporters in the community? What traits do THEY respect and admire in others? Help them see how giving to you supports their core values. Share stories around your main giving areas. “Would you like to hear how others have invested in us in a way that has been meaningful for them?” “What do you most value in a partnership with someone?”  Always have a story as an example so they aren’t on the spot for an answer.  DREAM big with them. Big givers want big visions. These are the first seeds of letting them know there are lots of ways to accomplish giving bigger than they thought they could do.

  1. Firmly establish the next step.

You should only have one FIRST face-to-face meeting. No excuses here. If you don’t set up the next step and it gets awkward to contact them the next time – totally on you. Before you leave this visit you have something in place. “I promise to give you a call before the semester ends.” Or, “Let’s get a tour set up for you before June.” Or, “I’ll send you a note with some dates we can meet with Pete Smith, our Board Chair.”

The point here is have some next steps in mind and GET IT SET.  Honestly if you walk out the door with this in place, your major gift artful relationship-building work will be a piece of cake!


  1. Don’t think of them as a wallet, ATM, or money source.

If you are only in it for the money, it will be so obvious – no matter how well you choose your words or perform like you really care.

  1. Don’t interrogate them.

In your passion to “discover” don’t riddle them with probing questions, ask nosey questions, continuously take notes or interrupt them when they drift off into a story.

  1. Don’t judge them.

We all come from somewhere that had phrases, beliefs and traditions. It’s just so NOT about you, your views or beliefs or traditions. She who professes to be the most “enlightened” often isn’t.  Getting easily offended is not helpful in our work.  Now, to be clear, sexual or demeaning comments or overtures directed at YOU, are never okay. But, “I thought you’d be older.” Your reply, “Well I think I can handle this, but trust me…if I get stuck, I have experts I can consult with or get you directly in touch with.”  I gained more respect by demonstrating I was not a young “know-it-all.”  Once a donor requested a man come see him. Fine with me! I asked a male colleague to take the call.  It’s not about me.

  1. Don’t talk too much.Good Listener

You know this. You have heard this before. Artful relationship management takes time. You are not going to get it all done during the first visit.

In a nutshell – BUILD TRUST!

“You need to start slow to go fast.” I believe I heard that from Stephen Covey. If you take your time at the front end to really understand another person, you will be spared missteps and misunderstandings that can slow you down, or spoil the trust altogether.

Everything you do and don’t do in this first face-to-face visit is about establishing trust.  Trust in you, in your organization, in how you will do what you say you will do. I believe everybody is interesting; everybody has a story; and everybody wants to do good in the world.  Embrace these FIRST Face-to-Face visits as one of the BEST parts of your work composing a good world! And thank you for taking me “along” with you!

Invest in JOY®



Marcy Heim is a trusted authority in the development profession and helps organizations and educational institutions boost their major gift programs through artful, long-term relationship building that dramatically increases fundraising success while promoting increased staff job satisfaction. To receive a free chapter from Marcy’s book, Empower Your Board to Serve as Effective Development Ambassadors, click here.

Questions:  Contact KK Konicek at KK@MarcyHeim.com


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