Did you know you’re 85 percent on your way to securing a gift if you can get your prospect to agree to a visit? So says veteran major gifts fundraiser Jerold Panas in his iconic book, Asking. He also says, “If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.”
But … how do you get the cow to cooperate? Ay, there’s the rub.
Why is it so hard to get a visit with a prospect?
It just is. People screen phone calls. They don’t answer emails. They’re busy. And, let’s face it, they know what this is about. Once you get in the room with them, you have your chance to win them over. But how to get there?
Acknowledge to yourself that the hardest part of fundraising is getting the visit. Once you accept this, you’ll be less frustrated. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having a hard time getting through to someone; everyone does. Persevere. Try different channels until you find one that works (phone, email, text, social media, etc.).
Be donor-centered; everyone has their favorite communication method. For example, you may think a text is too intrusive. But that’s your perspective, not your donor’s. For some folks, there is nothing more intrusive that a phone call (because, increasingly, busy people don’t want to talk to you in real time). Here are some specific tips that will help you get in the door.
Here are some specific tips that will help you get in the door.
9 Secrets to Successfully Getting the Donor Meeting
- Remember you’re not setting an appointment, you’re arranging a visit. “Appointments” are no fun. Doctors, mechanics, and dentists require appointments. “Visits” are fun. You’ll chat, nosh, and have a lovely conversation. Yay!
- Start by asking your prospect if he or she has time for your call. If you launch into trying to schedule a visit while your prospect’s attention is on anything else, you risk failure. If the prospect only has 5 minutes, say you’ll take 4 and stick to it.
- Plan to first ask for advice. People love to give advice! No doubt you’ve heard the old fundraising adage: “If you want advice, ask for gifts; if you want gifts, ask for advice.” It’s true! So plan what you might say that will sound genuine to your particular prospect. For example, “You’ve had a lot of experience in this area; I’d love to bounce some ideas off you.” Or “You’ve really got your ear to the ground with this constituency; I’d value your feedback as to best ways to approach this.” Or “We know what we need to get done, but we’re not clear on the best way to execute; you’ve always got creative ideas – might I pick your brain?”
- Don’t plan to ask if you can drop by to tell them what your organization is doing. Successful fundraising is about getting to know what floats your donor’s boat; not telling them what floats yours. So you want to begin by getting them talking. If they know you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say, they’ll not only be less defensive about accepting your offer to visit; they’ll be genuinely open to you. Who doesn’t like to dole out advice? They’ll be complimented that you asked them!
- Tell your prospect why you’re calling. If they’re a former donor, begin by reminding them how much they’re valued. Thank them for their previous gift. People will do what they’ve done before (they already went through the decision process of whether or not to give to you); you’re simply encouraging them to continue, and perhaps to do so even more passionately. If they’re a new prospect, let them know they’re valued for being a volunteer, community leader, expert in their field or whatever fits the bill. Then, whether a brand new prospect or a former donor, use your planned query about whether they’d be willing to meet to give you some sought-after advice.
- Be clear about your intention to talk about philanthropy. No one likes to be tricked. Explain you want to see them to: (1) get their feedback/advice on your new project/campaign as a longtime supporter, volunteer, or community leader with an ear to the ground, and (2) explore a giving opportunity. Ask when they can see you for 20 minutes, at their convenience.
- Don’t talk about specific dollar amounts yet. Save this for the in-person visit. And, frankly, it may not come up until the second in-person visit. Major gift solicitations take a while. The most common objections to a visit run along the lines of: “I don’t want to talk about/don’t have money to give” …“I’m too busy to meet”… “I’ll give, so you don’t need to spend time with me”… “I’d love to meet, but I’m going on vacation; why don’t you call me when I get back” (ever notice how it’s always vacation season for major donor prospects)? If this happens, promise you won’t ask for money on this visit. Say you’d still appreciate their advice on your project or campaign. You value their input that much!
- Offer choices for timing of the visit. Don’t let tell them tell you they’ll think about it and get back to you. Offer two or three choices; they’ll generally pick one. Keep the ball in your court.
- Smile, stand up, and walk around. How you say something can be more important than what you say. Smiling, standing, and moving helps to convey enthusiasm in your speech. This really works. People like to talk to people who sound happy. When someone answers the phone, leap up and grin! I find it helps even to put a smile on my face when composing an email or text to secure a visit. It somehow ends up coming off more friendly. Strange, but true!
An abridged version of this post appeared March 9, 2015 on The Foundation Center website.
Want more pointers on major gifts solicitation success?
Join me and the Foundation Center this Tuesday, March 24th for Anatomy of a Major Gifts Ask: The Art and the Heart. We’ll spend 90 minutes together on this live webinar and Q & A session — going step by step through what it takes to get to “Yes!” with finesse. It’s not that difficult, provided you know the techniques that work. Invest in your fundraising success today!