This is not leap, a hop maybe but definitely not a leap. Fact One: Scientists discovered and recently reported in www.wjs.com that smiles reduce stress.
When I was a young gift officer, the scariest part of the job for me was picking up the phone to ask for an appointment. My boss expected me to complete 21 successful major gift donor visits a month. And I couldn’t just meet with the people I already knew well, individuals, corporate executives and foundation leaders who liked me and were glad to see me. I had to reach out, find new prospective major gift donors. Guru Jerry Panas preached smiling right before picking up the phone to make a donor appointment. Then keep smiling. I tried it and sure enough it increased my success rate.
I decided to take it one step further. Before each donor visit, I’d find a mirror. Sometimes it was a small one in my tote, sometimes I’d find the loo, sometimes it was the mirror in my car, but no matter where I’d find one and grin at my reflection. It pumped me up, got me in the right frame of mind for the work ahead. Evidently, it also made me self-confident, less agitated and nervous. Smiling it turns out, slows our heart rate and relieves stress. Less stress equals more self-assurance.
Okay, so now I’m less stressed and have the major gift prospective donor appointment, but I still need to have a good visit.
Fact Two: Here is another benefit to smiles – they are contagious. You know it’s true. If you smile broadly at someone, they are more likely to smile back than not. When you enter a donor’s office or home and you are smiling, a full warm genuine smile, the donor is already glad to see you.
Sure there are cultural differences and smiles can be part of that, but a warm greeting gets all visits off to the right start, even if the smile is more for you than for the major gift donor. For eight years I worked for an engineering and science institute. My major gift work focused on engineer leaders of large corporates. Dressed in a conservative business suit, carrying my briefcase and a firm handshake at the ready, I also started with a “glad to see you” smile. Even the gruffest scientist smiled back.
Let’s move to the visit content and Fact Three. It turns out that happiness is contagious as well. Happy people spread happiness in others. So now your donor is not only glad to see you, but is feeling down right happy to see you.
Smiling, of course, can only take us so far. Once the meeting begins, our job is to be sure the agenda is, as the gifted Jennifer Sirangelo of 4H reminds us, “always important and doesn’t waste (the major gift prospective donor’s) time.” All too often we fall into the trap of “cultivation.” “Why are you meeting with George?” “I’m cultivating him.” “What is the purpose of your visit?” “Cultivation.” Yikes. That doesn’t sound important, efficient or effective.
Having a three-point agenda that is appealing to the donor and productive for your organization is the key. I like to have two or three items that seek advice. “Thank you for seeing me. As I mentioned on the phone, I want to run our stewardship accountability report by you, and seek your advice on its content and tone. I’d also like to share with you an exciting program we’re launching and get your take on the best way to position it with entrepreneurs like yourself. And finally, if we have time, I’d welcome your thoughts on…”
Ask for money and people will give you advice. Ask for advice and people will give you money!
But back to smiling leading to more major gifts and Fact Four. In a brand new book by Jonah Berger, the author tells us that “excitement is an activating emotion.” “High arousal emotions increase sharing.” One of our goals with all of our major gift donor visits is to inspire the donor to take another step with us (i.e. come for a tour, mentor a beneficiary, host or attend a gathering, say yes to our proposal) and another is to tell others about us, open doors, make introductions.
When we couple our joyful smiles with passionate excitement about our mission, vision and work, we have a better chance at getting both.