8 Tips for a successful nonprofit blind date


blind dateThis week I had two nonprofit blind dates (NBD). It’s like a regular blind date, but it’s work-related, and people are generally not as attractive (they tend to look more tired). Usually it starts because a colleague thinks you should meet someone or vice-versa because the stuff you both are working on is so cool and you could totally hit it off with this person and get together to collaborate and build synergy or something. Sometimes an NBD happens as a result of cold email requests for meetings, or it’s part of a grant-making process.

Whatever the reason, they happen a lot and are awkward as hell. A huge part is because you have no clue what the other person looks like, and they don’t know you either. On numerous occasions I’ve walked up to complete strangers and asked them questions like “Are you Jane from UNICORN?” One time a woman just stared at me. “You know,” I continued, “the, uh, Union of Cool and Remarkable Nonprofits, UNICORN…”

She said, “No, but I COULD be, you nonprofit stud muffin you.”

All right, no one ever said that, but that would have made this post more interesting.

Anyway, I’ve compiled a list of tips that will help make the blind meeting easier:

Tip 1: Google to find out what your date looks like.  After scheduling a meeting with one of my NBD’s this week, she sent me a picture via LinkedIn, which was very thoughtful of her. LinkedIn is a site for professional networking, so it is perfectly acceptable to send a picture that way. Unless specifically requested, do not email a picture of yourself, as that can be construed as narcissistic and creepy, and worse, they might send you back a reply like “Vu, have you considered Acne-Free? They have a deal now with free shipping.”

Tip 2: If you don’t have time or don’t use LinkedIn, an email description is fine. Stick to short and simple, for example: “I’m a lanky Asian guy, 5’8”, in my 30’s, but looking much older.” Do not go overboard with the descriptions: “I have piercing brown eyes that twitch when I’m stressed. Usually I wear a button-down shirt that will have three or four spaghetti stains. I like bunnies. Sometimes at night I stay up wondering if this is all there is, and if I’m just wasting away my one life staying up late pondering existential questions.”

Tip 3: Get the person’s cell phone number, and give them yours. This is helpful for when you’re running late.  If you can’t find the person and it’s 10 minutes past the appointed time, call their cell. Do not send them a text message like “I am standing in the corner near the bathroom, watching you. Are you the one wearing a red shirt? It’s nice.”

Tip 4: Arrive 5 or 10 minutes early. This will not only give you time to secure a table (assuming the meeting is at a café or restaurant) and seem thoughtful, but it will also allow you to get your coffee first. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is more awkward than standing in line together with your blind date trying to make small talk while waiting for the line to advance. One of the Laws of Awkwardness states that the more awkward something is, the slower time moves. You can avoid all this by getting your coffee first, thus heading off not only the small-talk weirdness, but also the who’s-paying awkwardness. If necessary, lie and say something like “I already drank five cups of coffee today at other meetings, you go ahead” but under no circumstances get in line with your meeting date.

Tip 5: Sit so that you face the entrance. That way you can watch your date enter. Also, have a notebook and pen to take notes. Pretend to be working, so that when the person arrives, they can see how serious and busy you are. Making a good first impression is important, and you want to project the aura of competence for as long as possible.

Tip 6: Play the rapid eye-contact game. If you forgot the steps where you find out what your date looks like and/or get their phone number (and most of us do), you must now resort to the gopher-like bouts of looking around and making eye contact for a split second with different people in the room to see if there is a flash of reciprocation. Chances are, your date is doing the same. At some point, your gazes will meet, in which case you must both send some sort of signal to acknowledge each other. Smiling and waving is appropriate; scanning them up and down and then looking disappointed is not.

Tip 7: Do not hug your meeting date. In all the excitement of the search, you may feel tempted to hug your date when you finally encounter them. Try to refrain from doing this. In the best case, the other person is also a hugger and just loves hugging people they just met. Likely, however, they’ll just be confused and weirded out and not respond to your follow-up invitation to attend your organization’s annual dinner, which is on April 20th.

Tip 8: When the meeting concludes, ask your colleague which way they’re walking out. You can then say “Great, me too, I’ll walk out with you” or “My car is parked at the other entrance; it was great meeting you.” This avoids the awkwardness of saying bye and then walking out together. It’s a very long walk and almost as painful as waiting in line with them. Sometimes I’ll just remain at the café and try to get five minutes of work done on my phone, just to avoid walking out with the person. Sometimes your date may decide to use the restroom before heading off, in which case, get the hell out of there as fast as you can.

That’s it. If you follow the tips above, you should be able to minimize awkwardness and have a productive date, provided you have meeting objectives and next steps and other basics covered. Wait, a couple more things:

Optional Tip 1: Have one of your staff call you halfway into your meeting. That way, if you’re not hitting if off synergistically, you can have an excuse to leave.

Optional Tip 2: If you’re meeting with me, bring vegan chocolate. (Make sure it’s at least 65% cocoa. We might be poor in the nonprofit world, but we’re not animals).

  • Joy Scott

    Aw, man! I was going to ask you out on an NBD, but now I’d feel bad, knowing how much you dislike them! No coffee and vegan chocolate for us. 🙂

    • Vu

      Joy, I actually don’t dislike NBD. I’d be happy to meet with you. I’ll be the one wearing the red shirt, with the one twitching eye.

  • More tips:

    1. Put a brochure from your organization on the table next to you. That way, when your Blind Date is scanning the room, they can zero in on the brochure and the logo, and know You’re the One. Do this whether or not the specific brochure is appropriate to your date.

    2. Only one person has to pay for the coffee. This is the downside of being first – if you’re first, you’ll pay for your drink. If you’re second, you can enter the room, figure out who your Blind Date is, and sit down. Your coffee purchase is optional. No nonprofit director I know has a coffee budget, and all those $3 coffees add up over the course of the month.

    3. Small nonprofits have an affinity with small businesses – support them when you go out on dates. I can go to the local Italian place for a 2:00 PM coffee date and know that the place will be quiet. And who deserves the profit on my $3 coffee more? The nice guy from the Chamber of Commerce who gives us gift certificates for the auction? Or the Green Mermaid?

    • Vu

      Claire, those are all brilliant tips. I especially like Number 2. That’s right, only one person has to pay! And it does add up! Coffee and parking, grrr!

  • Michelle Williamson

    Thanks for number ten!
    My favorite lesson from tip six was when I thought I had found my prey, I mean NBD, and said “Hey! How are you today!?” as I stood up. The unsuspecting stranger responded, “doing great” as she walked on by. Successfully found my NBD a few minutes later.

    • Vu

      That’s hilarious! And totally has happened to me at least 3 times in the past year. One person was so creeped out I think she left the coffee shop before ordering anything.

  • Pingback: The Flipside: What One Startup Is Learning From Successful Nonprofits()

  • Idabelle Fosse

    LOL! I can’t believe that YOU of all people, Vu, are telling people to bring a pen and paper to take notes with!!!!! The irony of that is sooooooo sweet!