9 Guaranteed Ways to Get the Major Donor Visit
“If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side,” said veteran major gifts fundraiser Jerold Panas in his iconic book, "Asking."
Did you know, according to Panas, you’re 85 percent on your way to securing a gift if you can get your prospect to agree to a visit?
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 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 than 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.
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 five minutes, say you’ll take four 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 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 donors' boats; 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 complimented that you’re interested in what they think.
- Flatter your prospects when you explain why you’re calling. If they’re former donors, begin by reminding them how much they’re valued. Thank them for their previous gifts. 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 new prospects, let them know they’re valued for being volunteers, community leaders, experts in their fields 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.
- 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 longtime supporters, volunteers, or community leaders 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 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”; or, “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—not meeting in person is simply not an option!
- 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 friendlier. Strange, but true!
Major individual gifts are the single largest source of philanthropy, by far. The most recent data from Giving USA shows 72 percent of gifts come from individuals and an additional 8 percent from bequests. And two-thirds of all household charity in the U.S. comes from the top 3 percent of households. It simply makes sense to follow the money. If you want to get your share of the philanthropy pie, learn what it takes to secure these major gifts from individuals. Any organization, of any size, can and should do major gifts fundraising.
Claire's next online fundraising course will be "Winning Major Gifts" for the small to medium-sized shop. Deadline for registration is Jan. 22.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.