I arrived at my prospect’s office just after the close of the business day. He and I were the only ones there. We sat down and began with the usual back-and-forth of strangers getting to know one another.
Now, I had felt a little queasy since lunch, but it didn’t seem like a big deal. Of course, that’s where it always starts.
In my experience, there are three distinct stages you pass through before throwing up: 1) I hope this doesn’t get any worse, 2) I may throw up, and 3) It’s gonna happen – right now.
About 15 minutes into our conversation, I had progressed to stage three.
I interrupted my prospect, asked where his bathroom was, and excused myself. Not wanting to seem dramatic, I didn’t run.
I should have. I lost it right before I got there.
Since I was close enough to have been reaching for the door handle, the sleeve of my coat bore the brunt of the projectiles. But I certainly didn’t spare the wall, the door, and the carpet beneath.
I thought for sure my prospect would come around the corner to see what the commotion was. Ugh, I definitely didn’t want to be seen in that moment. I remember standing silent and completely still, listening for him – dreading the look on his face.
He must have been just out of earshot because he stayed put. Clearly he had no idea what had just happened.
So, I went into the bathroom to put myself back together and figure out what to do next.
I cleaned up as best I could, but the problem I had created was bigger than the available solutions – namely toilet paper and tap water. There was no way to just sweep this under the rug, so to speak. And how, exactly, do you tell a business owner you just threw up in his office?
Well, my prospect was very gracious. He gave me a glass of water and declined my offers to clean up further. His cleaning crew would take care of it that night.
Then he asked me to sit down so we could talk some more.
Now, at this point, all I wanted to do was go home, crawl under my bed, and stay there for a few days. And, yes, I probably should have excused myself. But hey, I had just puked in the guy’s office. It was a big smelly mess and he was being pretty chill about the whole thing. I felt obliged to do whatever he wanted. Who said being “donor-centered” was easy?
And so, talk more we (mostly he) did.
Two minutes in, it was obvious he wasn’t going to consider a major gift to our organization. He was, however, happy to offer an in-kind donation, which we had no need of. And couldn’t book as a gift.
But I listened. For 45 more minutes. Sitting there, clothes damp, smelling horrible.
So, what do I take away from this experience? Mostly just perspective.
Whenever I’m nervous about a visit or an ask, it helps me to remember the time I threw up in a prospect’s office. It’s very possible I’ve already had the worst donor visit of my career. How bad could the next one be?
I also learned that it’s okay to reschedule a meeting if I’m feeling a little under the weather. I’ve done this since – people get it. I’ve always been able to reschedule.
And I think I’ve gotten a little better at politely wrapping up conversations that just don’t need to continue.
I share this story because I know I’m in good company. Like me, you’ve had donor meetings that went pretty much according to plan, and you’ve had some that went nothing at all like you planned.
We’re not going to win them all. That’s the reality of it. And every now and again we don’t just lose; we lose and throw up all over the place.
But the sun came up the next day. And I got in my car and was fortunate enough to go to work for an organization I genuinely believed in. Although I did have to retire that suit.
I’d love to hear your most cringeworthy donor visit story. Are you brave enough to share? Leave a comment below. Whatever horrors you’ve experienced, I promise you’re not the only one!