Prospect Management at a Cocktail Party for Introverted Fundraisers

Prospect Management at a Cocktail Party for Introverted Fundraisers

I know I’ve spoken about being an introvert before. This is not a weakness of mine nor is it an area for improvement, but in a world dominated by extroversion, you do have to make a concerted effort as an introvert to determine your approach. Case in point: prospect management in a cocktail party setting.

In my role at Laurier, I am a prospect manager. I now have my own portfolio of prospects to cultivate, solicit, and steward. This occasionally involves a cocktail party-format donor appreciation event, one of which took place this past Tuesday.

Now, I wouldn’t say these kinds of events aren’t natural for me, nor would I say I find them difficult… I’d just say I find them draining. I might even say I find them very draining. So for a person who’s trying to strategically use their energy in that kind of event, what should the approach be???

Make a plan: One thing that helps me in these situations is making a plan in advance. I figure out how many prospects I have attending and write their names down on a list that I can reference throughout the event. On Tuesday I had 4 prospects who RSVP’d yes, so I wrote down their names and planned to connect with all of them.

Adjust the plan: Does everyone who RSVPs to an event show up?  Never.  On Tuesday I hovered near the nametag table a few times to see if my 4 prospects had shown up.  In the end, only 3 of them had.  I adjusted my list and now planned to connect with my 3 prospects throughout the evening.

Take breaks: I can mingle pretty decently, but as I’ve said, it takes a lot out of me.  In order to survive the cocktail party, I need breaks.  On Tuesday there was a room where the staff had put their coats and things, so 3 or so times during the event I escaped to the room to check my notes, take a breath, take a break, and then head back into the fray.

Quality over quantity: With 3 prospects at the event there was nothing stopping me from meaningfully connecting with them all, but that doesn’t mean I could expect a lengthy conversation with all of them, nor did I necessarily have the stamina for it.  My mantra for cocktail parties has become quality over quantity.  Small talk and glad-handing takes a lot out of me, so I try to find an opportunity for a meaningful conversation with even just one person at an event of this nature. On Tuesday I was fortunate enough to have that opportunity; one of my prospects – the one I knew the least of the 3 – was sitting alone eating at a table.  I approached him, asked if I could join, and we got to know one another over the course of about 30 minutes.  It was fantastic; I was sitting down, in a quieter area of the venue, and got to really understand the passions and interests of an unknown prospect.  These kinds of conversations do in fact energize me, and they’re what made me want to do one-on-one fundraising in the first place.

With all of those strategies in place, I was able to have a personally and professionally successful evening.

What are your strategies, for introverts or extroverts???


Written by Maeve Strathy


Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past seven years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

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Can an introvert be a good major gift fundraiser?

A week ago, I had the distinct pleasure of writing my own guest blog post for my friend Brock Warner‘s incredible new blog:  You might remember that Brock wrote a guest blog post for What Gives back in April 2012 entitled “Is storytelling really the answer for your charity???”  His post includes reflections on his experience giving a TEDx presentation, his thoughts on storytelling in fundraising, and it features a video of his TEDx presentation as well.  Please check it out if you haven’t already; it’s excellent!

So of course I jumped at the opportunity to return the favour on his blog, and I wrote a post called “Can an introvert be a good major gift fundraiser?”  My introversion is something I think about a lot.  It’s not something I’m ashamed of, nor do I think it needs to be worn as a badge of honour.  It’s simply a lens through which I can see my behaviours and actions, and it helps me make sense of my unique way of dealing with things.  It makes things hard sometimes, yes, but most of the time I see how my introversion is part of my strengths, and that’s what this post is about.

I’d like to share it with you here now, but I encourage you to check out Brock’s blog on a regular basis to see the amazing things he’s cooking up over there.  Thanks, Brock!


Pretty soon after I decided I wanted to be a fundraiser, I knew I wanted to be a major gifts fundraiser.  Perhaps it was the glamour of it all, or perhaps it was the prospect of looking back one day on the millions I had raised for the causes I worked for.  Whatever the reasons, I was sure I wanted to do it.

And then I became a fundraiser, and I got nervous.  I noticed how my boss (and a major gift fundraiser) spoke in a loud, commanding voice a lot of the time.  I noticed how he seemed to be buddies with everyone he met.  I noticed how he never stood off to the side with the rest of the people in our office at events; he was always chatting with people, working the room, etc.

I noticed how I wasn’t doing those things, and then I had a horrifying thought: maybe I can’t be a major gift fundraiser.  Maybe my introversion – my need to refuel regularly, my allergy to small talk, my deliberate way of speaking – was my undoing in the career I had so intensely dreamed of having.

But then I had my first opportunity to make an ask for a major gift.  I prepared extensively, coached myself, planned the meeting out (including exactly what parking lot I would park in), and arrived early enough to save a good table and take a few deep breaths.  That’s when I realized that just like extroversion can be a perfect quality for fundraisers, so can introversion!

A one-on-one ask is my perfect scenario.  Here I am with a fascinating individual, with a passion for my organization, an interesting life story (everyone has one), and a philanthropic spirit so strong that this person is willing to part with hard-earned money for the sake of a cause they believe in.

My job is to talk to them, learn about their passions, and align them with our priorities.  I’m meant to get to know them, ask questions, but mostly just listen.  Listening is something I’m great at, as an introvert; it fuels me.

So the introverts among us, don’t despair!  Your qualities of quietness, sincerity, and thoughtfulness, and your love for deep conversations and socializing in small groups are perfect traits in a major gifts fundraiser.  Just like extroverts’ traits of boundless energy and a love for people are great traits for major gifts fundraisers, too.

Work well with what you have, because it’s perfect for what you need to do!


Written by Maeve Strathy

Maeve is the Founder of What Gives Philanthropy and has been working in educational fundraising for the past 6 years.  Click here to learn more about Maeve.

Connect with Maeve via:
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