How to Connect with a Donor at the First Meeting

Donors are busy and have a dozen proposals sitting on their desks waiting to be read. As enthusiastic as you may be about your project, handing a lengthy proposal to a donor may not be the best way to start off your first meeting: It will just look like more work to them.

Something that I have found that is a good alternative is to initiate the relationship by handing them a 1½ or 2 page clearly organized document: a fact sheet. They can scan it for 30 seconds or a minute, and quickly get a good understanding of your project. We can easily look up the proper outline for a fact sheet—but how do we make it compelling?

What is compelling?

A compelling story paints a picture that makes the reader feel ‘I was there’. It can be a heart-wrenching story about an event in the day of a family suffering extreme poverty, or it can be a heart-warming story illustrating something wonderful that happened to a family as a result of your organization’s work.

The best compelling stories illustrate a single, human-centered image that supports the theme of your work: something readers can relate to with a sense of urgency and immediacy through joy or sorrow. It is the thing that pulls at a donor’s heart strings. It is why we are in development.

Examples of positive compelling story lines:

  • An illiterate farmer who hadn’t let his son attend school is invited to an NGO-led teacher-training workshop on math. Afterwards, he confided that he didn’t know what math was, but now that he sees its daily usefulness, he will encourage his son to enroll in school.
  • An illiterate family has their third grade daughter read them news and stories at night after dinner—opening a window to a new world and expanding future family opportunities through their literate nine-year-old daughter.
  • Through small but consistent earnings from NGO assisted sales of her textiles, a poor woman was able to increase family income enough to allow her to daughter attend school. Now, 16 years later, the daughter is preparing for her legal bar exams.

Writing your fact sheet

The two hardest things about writing are getting started and being too self-critical early on. When you have a first draft down on paper, read back through it and fix the obvious spelling and grammar problems. Then put it down, take a one-day break, and revisit it when you can approach it with a fresh mind.

When you are happy with the outcome, have someone else read it. Something that is clear as day to an author may not be clear to another reader. Another person’s comments can be very valuable in helping us to get our message across.

If your donors have their hearts warmed and feel that you captured the essence of their mission in your project design, you will have a greater likelihood of developing a partnership.  A donor will also be impressed with your well organized, professional presentation and sense that you will be a good organization to partner with.

What are your tips and techniques for connecting with a donor?

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