Why is it so hard to set up a time for a visit with a prospect?
It just is. People screen their phone calls. They don’t answer your emails. They’re busy. And, let’s face it, they know what this is about. Some folks will avoid the ask because they’re thinking about it in terms of ‘money’ rather than ‘impact.’ Once you get in the room with them, you’ll be able to change this perspective. But… how to get there?
Acknowledge to yourself that the hardest part of fundraising is getting the visit. Once you know 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, snail mail, Facebook, etc.). We all have communication preferences.
1. 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!.
2. Start the conversation by asking the person whether they have time for your call.
If you launch into trying to schedule a visit while your prospect has their attention on anything else, you risk failure. If the prospect says they only have 5 minutes, tell them you’ll take 4 and stick to it.
3. Flatter the prospect when you explain why they’re being called.
Acknowledge what they’ve done right (volunteering, giving). 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, use your planned query about whether they’d be willing to meet to give you some sought-after advice, perspective and/or feedback. Show them how much they’re valued. People will do what they’ve done before (they already went through the decision process); you’re simply encouraging them to continue… and perhaps to do so even more passionately.
4. Don’t ask if you can drop by to tell them what your organization is doing.
Successful fundraising is about give and take. It requires getting to know what floats your donor’s boat; not telling them what floats yours. Donor-centered fundraising requires you to begin by getting them talking. If they believe you’re genuinely interested in what they have to say, they’ll be less defensive about accepting your offer to visit. Who doesn’t like to talk about themselves? They’ll be complemented that you’re interested in what they think.
5. 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?”
6. 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.
7. Don’t talk about money… 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 time. 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. Maybe they know someone else who can help. You value their input that much – not meeting in person is simply not an option! Often folks will become so interested in the project or campaign that they’ll bring up money before you do.
8. Offer a couple of choices for the 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.
9. 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 friendlier. Strange, but true!
Get the visit and you’ll likely get the gift.
Studies show you’re 85% on your way to getting the gift if you can get the prospect to agree to a personal visit.
Jerold Panas, in his iconic book, Asking, wrote that if you want to milk a cow, you shouldn’t send it mail.
Sitting by someone’s side is the best way to get a gift of the size you want; not sending a letter or calling on the phone.
Want more strategies to boost your major gift fundraising results?
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Great piece, thanks Claire! There are some really good subtle points here even for veteran fundraisers. This is a good refreshed repackaging of things-we-should-know-but need-Claire-to remind-us of.