On the value of one-on-ones

April 30, 2024

Filed under: Board Development,Fundraising,Leadership — jonathanpoisner @ 10:37 am

I was recently talking to an Executive Director and it became clear they hardly ever met with anyone else one-on-one. They were doing so much writing, emailing, and group meetings that they were hardly ever talking to just one person.

When I pushed them on this, they responded that meeting with just one person is inefficient.

I believe that is short-sighted. Organizations thrive based on personal relationships and it’s very, very hard to forge such relationships other than in one-on-one (or one-on-two settings when you’re forging a relationship with a couple).

Something happens in a one-on-one conversation that doesn’t happen at events and certainly not via email/mail or even on the phone.

You can form a stronger personal relationship and you can ask people to take personal responsibility.

Let’s start talking about forming relationships.

It’s not rocket science to understand forming relationships is easier in person.  Legions of studies have demonstrated the role of body language and facial expressions in communications – neither of which works over the phone. 

And in one-on-one meetings, you can make the communication truly two-way – asking questions of a potential organizational supporter and not just talking to them.  This can help you understand what motivates them so you can calibrate any asks to match their needs. You can do this in an authentic and not a staged way.

Meeting with people one-on-one also allows you tap into personal responsibility and not just collective responsibility.

At an event, it’s about how all these people in the room can help.  One-on-one, it’s about how you can help. Yes, peer pressure can matter. And well run events tap into that collective power. But getting somebody to take real ownership and dig deep when giving almost almost always works better off outside of events.

Studies done in the 1970s and 1980s focused on personal versus collective responsibility in a different context.  Scientists had people fake epileptic seizures in public places to see who would help. Sometimes they did this when only one person was around. Other times they did this when several people were around. Which situation led to more help?

Interestingly (to me), the answer is you were more likely to get help during the seizure if just one person was around. This is contrary to what I would have thought.

But it rings true upon further reflection.  When something happens and other people are around, you tend to look around to see how they’re responding.  And in unusual situations, people are often slow to act. If everyone else is also just looking around, you may think: I guess it’s not my problem. 

But if there’s nobody to look at for social cues, you know it’s about you, and you alone.

When you’re invited to give and the invitation is clearly about you, that’s when people tend to step up and make larger donations. 

In these contexts, as you get to know people, you’re also in a better position to add in further opportunities for them to step up — will they champion the organization to their friends, will they volunteer, etc.

This helps explain why time and time again, organizations that invest their staff and board time in doing one-on-one donor meetings are quicker to transform themselves financially than those that bank on fundraising events. 

The same thing is true beyond fundraising. Time and again, I’ve seen organizations build far more effective coalitions and partnerships with allies by doing a series of one-on-one meetings rather than relying on group meetings with several organizations at once. One-on-one meetings are also the bread and butter for community organizing where you’re trying to build not just an episodic volunteer base, but one where the volunteers are willing to take on leadership.

So stop putting your time into the next great event and banking on social media revolutionizing your organization.  If you want to grow, and grow quickly — get out and meet with more people and invite them to take responsibility.  Of course, for many Executive Directors, that requires figuring out what you can jettison from your busy schedule, a topic I’ll discuss next month.

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