It is really helpful in relationship building to invite the individual or preferably, couple to visit your office.   This gives the potential donor some experience of the ‘atmosphere’ and culture of your organisation and really helps them on their relationship journey with you.  A ‘Red Carpet Day’ to your office is also another great way to involve leadership with your potential philanthropist.

Many have said ‘I am not sure why I would do this as there isn’t much to see in our office’.   In fact I believe there is.   Many potential donors are interested to see what your office looks like, meet more staff and generally pick up the ambience of your organisation.  It can often be the turning point in the relationship.

Below is an ideal ‘Red Carpet Day’.   It might seem a trifle prescriptive so forgive me if I sound too detailed, I don’t want to be patronising and would be interested to hear what is working for you.  However I share the plan below with you because this has proved to be successful time and time again.  It is worth remembering however that every potential philanthropist is different and you should adapt the plan below accordingly:

  • When they arrive meet them at the door. Ask reception to let you know when they have arrived or best of all be there already in reception waiting to warmly welcome them.   A nice touch is to have a board displaying their names in reception.  Your objective is to stay with them throughout the visit and demonstrate active listening.  Every word said by your prospect will tell you something about them, their interests, their values and hopefully their passion.
  • It does mean that throughout their visit you have to give them plenty of opportunity to ask questions and make comments. Give them space to express their opinions rather than talking too much.
  • To show how important they are to your organisation, take them to a Director or CEO’s office immediately. I believe all visits should ideally be ‘topped and tailed’ with a Director.  On certain occasions it is appropriate to have the CEO welcome them at the door with you. Have coffee served in the Director’s office for a minimum of 20 minutes.  If this is going really well the time may protract a little but try to protect your Director’s time with the promise that they can meet up again later and there are many other staff to meet.  It’s your job to keep your eye on the clock and to keep the schedule tight.
  • Take them for a tour round the building with planned stops on route. Choose lively interactive characters to explain aspects of your work stopping for about 3 – 5 minutes to speak to them.  Not too many, possibly three or four just enough to keep your philanthropist’s interest.  Occasionally your donor will alight upon a subject that really interests him or her and will keep asking questions.   Always go with the flow of this.  If your donor is showing some passion let it happen!  Your job is to actively listen to your prospect and pick up and understand what really interests them.
  • Choose a nice room to arrive to as a base for the next hour and invite 2 – 3 programme staff to come and join you in the room, one at a time, to speak about their work for approximately 20 minutes each. These are carefully chosen by you ahead of time based on your donor’s key interests.  Hopefully will you know enough about your philanthropist through a previous meeting to know what aspects of your work has touched them the most and to answer their questions.
  • Brief the 2-3 staff on the key things you would like them to say.  Let them know that the pattern will be to speak for roughly 10 minutes and allow 10 minutes for questions that arise.   They could also use short 2 minute videos. If your staff member is speaking too much it is your job to gently interject and guide the conversation to allow the prospect to participate and ask questions.
  • After this take them to a Director’s room for lunch. This adds interest as you are on the move again.  Perhaps re-engage with the same Director or CEO who you met earlier in the day or perhaps with a different Director.  Allow approx 45 minutes for this.  However as before, gauge how the conversation is going and allow more time if it is really interactive and buzzing.   Your prospect as with all of us will have great chemistry with some people more than others.  Serve a well presented lunch.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but use good quality serving plates and napkins with professionally arranged sandwiches, salad and fruit pieces, fruit juices and so on.  You don’t have to go off site for lunch.
  • If you plan it right it shouldn’t take up too much time from one Director. If need be you may be able to have the lunch with an appropriate programme person in place of a Director.
  • Again you want to brief your Director and give them some conversation starters such as “How did you get on this morning?   What has particularly struck you so far?”  The answers also give you further clues as to the philanthropist’s interest.   After lunch gradually edge them out of your Director’s office to keep the schedule tight.
  • Take them back to the same room or a comfortable area in your office to ‘download’. Downloading is the most important part of a Red Carpet Day.  This is the time to have a heart to heart with them before they leave and this is where you will learn the most!!  Your download would be something like:
      • Thanks so much for coming and giving their time to do this
      • What they have learned, what will be their take away
      • Is there anything else they would like to see?  Any person?  Any more questions?
      • Consolidate what they have learned for example “I know you wanted to come and hear about……, did this answer your question?”
      • Decide with them the next touch point (of course don’t use this phrase with your prospect!), what will be the next point of contact and when
      • Say goodbye to your Director or CEO and drop by their office.  Even if they are in a meeting you can knock on the door and say “Fred/Annabel Is just leaving……”   The CEO will give a warm hand shake and leave you to guide him back to reception or if appropriate accompany you to reception.

    After they have gone immediately write up all the key things they said and adapt your 12 month plan for this prospect accordingly.

    Ideally they should arrive around 11.00 and leave around 2.00/2.30.  It is hard to achieve what you want to achieve under 3 hours.

    What is your experience of prospect visits to your office?  What has worked for you?   Please let me know here…..

    Ruth is the principal and founder of Ascent Philanthropy, author of two books and passionate about helping non-profits with their major gift programmes by offering advice for introducing a new major gift programme or enhancing the productivity of the philanthropy team


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