Working with Entrepreneurs

There is only one way to approach your opportunity to meet with a prospective donor: be as prepared as you can possibly be. In short, the mantra is: 

Plan and prepare. Then plan some more; then prepare some more.  

An integral part of those planning efforts? Anticipating possible concerns and questions of the prospect. Of course, in spite of how well-prepared you are and how much rehearsing you may do, the meeting or event won’t go exactly as you envisioned. You'll be required to adapt. That's the only guarantee. Indeed, the real reason to prioritize preparedness is that it allows you to adapt to the situation as it unfolds. Let's look at an example.  

The Separation Is In The Preparation

When you are still early in your relationship with the prospect you will meet, an excellent way to plan and prepare is to assume you will be meeting with someone who has high expectations. In this case, let's assume the prospect you're meeting with is:

  • 45 years old
  • A self-made entrepreneur, with
  • A net worth of $15M, and 
  • Has a rating in your organization for a gift of $1M or more.  

These things being the case, it's very likely that this prospect will have the following characteristics:

1. They will expect to be in control of the meeting. As such, it's important to present yourself as an equal. Never come across as subservient. 

2. They will imply they already know everything they need to know--including your business. Therefore, your role is to share with them rather than challenge them. 

3. They will seldom ask you--or anyone--for advice (except for a mentor). As such, don't assume knowledge on their part, but rather explain as you go--that is to say, lay out the scenario in a way that naturally includes the details.

4. They will be operating under the assumption that you want them for their money. So prove to them that you bring value to the relationship.

5. They will have certain things they want to know, and they will want to know them immediately. Therefore, know your product (and your business) inside and out.

6. They will be compulsively energetic. So rise to the occasion and meet them where they are. 

7. They will be creative and possess a laser-like focus . . . if they are interested. As such, it's critically important to engage them. Don't approach this kind of prospect with a project that's already more or less sure to happen. Instead, let them add their distinctive mark. While an unrestricted scholarship endowment may be what your institution wants, you must be aware that your entrepreneurial donor may well find it boring and therefore quickly lose interest. 

When you do succeed in getting them interested in the project, it's important to subsequently engage them with colleagues at the highest appropriate level in your institution. 

Know What Is Possible Within Your Organization

This is an arena in which you can really prove your worth (both inside your institution and with the donor). While most of us work in places that are neither quick to change nor make decisions, entrepreneurs aren't used to this. As such, a significant part of your role may well be to keep the donor engaged while you push for a creative decisions from your leadership. In the best case scenario, the answer you need is already available because your leadership has anticipated the question and has a ready response.