March and April were busy months with most of my time dedicated to 18 Stronger Together site visits with charities from BC to Quebec. We normally reserve two hours for these meetings, as we arrange to personally meet all shortlisted applicants. In many cases, it’s the only time all year that I will be face-to-face with that charity’s leaders, so a lot is on the line.
Since each of these unique meetings are fresh in my mind, here are some reminders for charities on putting your best foot forward.
(1) Find out the agenda: If you know a potential donor is coming to visit, find out their needs and expectations for the meeting – they are the ones with the agenda. On one of my visits, I was welcomed to the charity and ready to begin, but then found they planned to drive off site for a tour of a related facility. While I can flex with the best of them and the visit was inspiring, this change ate up precious time and I found my focus distracted as we made small talk in the car.
(2) Be prepared: Now knowing the agenda, get ready to meet those expectations by having the right resources and people at the meeting. Many times this round, I was able to meet the entire leadership team. This greatly enriched my understanding of how the organization functions and of the key qualities each team member brings.
(3) Tidy your office: On site visits, I often do a walk through which is always reveals more than one would expect. Even charities paying the cheapest rent (you know who you are) created a bright, welcoming space that was clutter-free and inspiring for staff and visitors. Other offices were dark, musty and cluttered – unsorted papers and dog-eared files randomly piled in bookshelves, odd smells, stale mugs of cold coffee, tattered posters, dust bunnies. These are not spirit-lifting environments for anyone.
(4) Create an adequate space: Generally the board room or private area with a flat work space is necessary, if you have it. I type notes as we meet, as it’s impossible to remember all the details coming at me. Avoid meeting in noisy breakfast places – it’s impossible to competently devour both eggs and information. At another site visit, I balanced my laptop on my knees.
(5) Avoid tech pain: I have a love-hate relationship with Skype – I love the potential, but it usually pales in reality. Having a colleague join a meeting of several people by Skype sometimes means the meeting can revolve around the Skyped-in person when technology isn’t working well. Poor technology interrupts the flow of the meeting. Powerpoints or videos that don’t load properly are other technological minefields. Tech pain will always be with us, but let’s try to minimize it.
(6) Open your heart: Be sincere and honest. Be vulnerable. We know you aren’t perfect, and neither is your organization. Pretending everything is perfect makes us wonder what you’re hiding. Transparently letting us into the challenges and scars in your organization will help us know how best to walk together with you.