By Ed Franklin and Meka Sales, who are members of the New Generation of African American Philanthropists.
We are blessed to be part of a giving circle – we have enough time, talent, and treasure to give. So, we are blessed. More so, we have been tapped to be the front persons for people interested in our giving circle.
Going through the process to get like-minded individuals to commit to our circle is trickier than it looks. Said another way, we all assume members “just happen.” This is no fault of one person or another.
To help circles like our’s, we have decided to put together a list of five questions and answers providing a few good lessons learned to help you along the way! Good luck!
1. Who represents your circle best?
If possible, put “faces” to your circle by engaging interested parties early and often with diversity – you need people who know what they are talking about and can represent your circle well. In our case, we utilize members that are new to the circle and some who have more history and experience to accurately display the history, breadth, and evolution of our giving circle journey.
2. How do new members reach you? What is your engagement process?
New members can reach us by phone, text, multiple websites, and Facebook! Too many times we assumed it was clear to new members how they reached us and and the process to become a new member. Over time, we learned to be clear and simple on how new members can reach us – no matter who or how they reach out they go through one contact point to be followed-up and led through the process.
3. What locations or settings make people most comfortable when you first engage them?
Conversations over lunch seem to work best! Public places are much easier to strike up conversations and allow us to engage more deeply. We always let the prospective new member select the location to allow the food (and sometimes the ambiance) to complement the conversation. Additionally, we limit our invitee list to 2 – 3 members per engagement so we don’t overwhelm and crowd our potential circle member.
4. What is the best approach to engage new members?
During the meet and greet we try to share why we got involved, how we got involved, and what drives us to stay involved. Then we let someone discuss our upcoming activities and forward-looking objectives. Last we let the prospective member share their background, how they got to Charlotte, and why they’d like to be part of our circle. It is crucial to connect the dots during the session through active listening to pull out important points about why the relationship may or may not work. We don’t seek out opportunities to turn potential members away; instead, we provide enough information and opportunity for them to decide if they like what we’re doing, how we do it, feel like they fit, and ultimately, if they want to be part of the NGAAP circle.
5. How do you seal the “deal”?
Well, it takes two. Just because someone is interested in your circle doesn’t mean they are a “fit” for your circle and vice versa. The meet and greet is crucial to set the right expectations — eating lunch and smiling doesn’t constitute acceptance. We stress the importance of completing an application / pledge form, paying their donation, and committing to sharing their time, talent, and treasure. We put caveats around time commitments since most of our circle members are busy professionals who may or may not have spouses and children at home! Gather folks to engage with the prospective member that can passionately share why they give and why the giving circle model is appealing to them. Lastly, we have a designated “closer” who will make one last phone call to try and close the deal (if necessary)!