How to secure more meetings with wealthy donors – two lessons from Muhammad Ali

On 15th November, 1962, the young, little-known boxer Cassius Clay stated with certainty that he would beat (Archie) ‘Moore in four’. The same day he also predicted he would become world champion by beating Sonny Liston via knock out in eight rounds.

There are several things that a curious fundraising professional can learn from the late, very great, Muhammad Ali. For today I’ve chosen to focus on ideas to help us get more meetings with potential donors / companies. Ali’s tactic to make sure people would show up for his fights was to make what influence expert Tony Robbins calls a Big Fat Claim.

But before I unpick how we can apply Ali’s strategy, let’s get clear what problem we are trying to solve. If you are a high value or corporate fundraiser, your first important job is to get more chances to informally meet and get to know your potential donors and corporate partners than any ‘normal’ fundraiser ever does. Until you meet them face to face, how can you possibly start to build trust? How can you begin to properly understand them and therefore learn how to meet their (philanthropic or corporate) needs?

How do you increase major donor income?

It is fairly obvious that the BMW salesperson who generates 20 test drives per month is likely to sell more cars than the one who only generates 5. However skilful and committed the latter salesperson is during the test drives, it would be astonishing for them to outperform the former. Similarly, in fundraising, securing more informal chats with potential and existing donors is fundamental to achieving sustained growth. Everyone who attends the Major Gifts Mastery Programme generates more fundraising momentum because they learn and apply strategies for getting in front of more wealthy donors.

So Point One: if you do this kind of fundraising, although many of your colleagues (and those annoying spreadsheets) may be sending you a different signal, the more you can keep focussing on the booking of test drives rather than donations, the less stressed you’ll be and the more money people will ultimately give.

And Point Two: if you want someone to show up, you have to give them a certainty that it is in their interests. Get certain what is going to happen – they are going to enjoy the coffee meeting or event. And you are not inviting them in order to get their money. You need to be absolutely certain of this, because many of them (and their PAs) will be pretty certain that a) your intention is to tap them up for some cash, and b) they don’t have time for this meeting / event.

When the world was sceptical, Ali needed to get certain he would win and then transfer that certainty to his audience by stating it explicitly. We need to be certain that our event or coffee invitation is worth saying ‘yes’ to, from the donor’s point of view.

How to help people want to say YES

One way to do this is to tell them with conviction they’ll be pleased they did… Or to tell them just how pleased other donors who have attended such meetings have been… Or how inspiring / wonderful your event speaker or venue will be… Or indeed that you’re excited about your charity’s bold new plan which evidence shows will save hundreds of lives.

The nature of the claims you make will vary. Above all, I invite you to see what happens when you ‘get off the fence’ and commit. Otherwise, if you keep hedging your bets, talking about what your charity ‘hopes’ or will ‘try’ to do, their scepticism will usually be stronger than your invitation – they’ll sell you their ‘no’.

The truth is, most donors who actually meet you or attend your events have a good time. The shift I’m describing, when you make a (justifiable) Big Fat Claim, is for you to convey this truth from the start. This may sound uncomfortable / not your style, but it’s worth exploring because your prediction usually turns out to be true. And without your conviction at this first stage, that donor / company may miss out on something that truly would have added to their happiness.

Would you like to raise more major gifts? I am so certain you’ll love the Major Gifts Mastery Programme that if you’re not delighted by the end of Day 1, not only will I give you a full refund, I’ll also make a gift of £500 to your charity.

To apply for your free Major Donors coaching session, (normal price £95) click here.