I had dinner with an old friend this week at one of my favorite Chicago restaurants. The cozy Atwood Café is classy, but not pompous. Lovely food, but not too expensive. Gracious service, but not cloying. And the best thing? The tables are very private. In fact there are several tables by the window that have loveseats instead of chairs.
I know from experience that the Atwood Café is the ideal place to make a major gift ask. No one can overhear your conversation, the atmosphere is comfortable and unrushed, and it’s just upscale enough to make any moment feel special.
Choosing the right place to meet with an individual major gift prospect can be tricky. The prospect needs to feel comfortable and so do you. There are lots of options.
Here are my personal picks and pans:
The prospect’s home: this is the best scenario because it allows you to really get a feel for the donor. They’re obviously going to feel relaxed in their own space and you’ll have a million clues about their passions and priorities. I’ve also found in-home meetings to be very leisurely. The prospect is, in essence, “hosting” you and will almost always treat you as a welcome guest. It makes for a nice, friendly dynamic that supports a meaningful and heartfelt conversation. If you can get a home meeting, go for it!
Your organization: depending upon what type of programming you do, your agency can be the ideal location to make an ask. I worked at the Museum of Science and Industry and many of our solicitations were on-site. When you can ask someone for a gift while standing on the bridge of a World War II submarine, it usually goes pretty well! We don’t all have such big things to show off, but sharing some component of our programming and then finding a spot to sit and broach the topic of giving generally feels very natural and, when done right, quite inspirational.
A nice restaurant: when I was the regional director of a capital campaign, I made countless asks in restaurants in a twelve-city market. It became comfortable for me and I still think it’s a great option. The pace of a meal means that you’ll have plenty of time with the prospect. The down side is that someone always ends up with food in their teeth. Oh well. We’re all human. And a tip: wait ‘til dessert to make the ask. You don’t want to get a “no” over appetizers and then have to struggle through the rest of an awkward meal.
A private club: this doesn’t happen much in Boulder where I live and work now, but when I worked across the midwest, it was very common for me to meet with prospects at their social clubs. To be invited into this kind of setting suggests the prospect is taking the meeting seriously, usually lunch will be included so you’ll have enough time to really chat, and like a home visit, the prospect typically feels very relaxed.
The prospect’s office: I really don’t like office visits for personal solicitations. It can feel very formal and the prospect generally has their “business” hat on rather than their personal one. To make matters worse, they’re often sitting behind a desk, which makes it hard to relax and really connect. Of course, if it’s a corporate prospect, the office makes perfect sense. It’s just not ideal for personal solicitations.
A coffee shop: I don’t mind a coffee shop for a cultivation or “get to know you” meeting. But, when you’re asking the prospect for something significant, a coffee shop just feels too casual and almost trite. Few people linger over a cup of coffee. The very invitation to have a cup of coffee implies something “quick.” Other downsides include the lack of privacy (tables are often close together) and the volume. Coffee shops tend to be so loud you can’t hear the other person, or so quiet that everyone can hear your conversation!
A bar: I don’t exactly know what to say about this other than it just exudes bad idea to me.
The prospect’s private jet: you think I’m kidding, don’t you? I had this experience once and it’s too long a story for this blog, but here’s a tip: If the prospect’s 19-year-old son is the pilot and you’re flying into an ice storm, seriously consider an alternative locale!
Solicitations can happen anywhere. The main thing is to find a place where you and the prospect are both as relaxed as possible, where you can hear each other well, but others can’t overhear you, and where you’ll have enough time to accomplish your agenda.
Are there places you like to make the ask? Any tips or suggestions? We’d love to hear them!