Everything You Wanted to Know About Getting the Visit (But Were Afraid to Ask)
True story. Earlier in my fundraising career, I was working in Virginia and putting a trip to Boston together to visit some donors and prospects we had there. I still remember one particular telephone conversation like it was yesterday. I want you to read it and think of three things I did wrong.
Me: Hi, is George available? (George was a great major gift prospect, but only an occasional donor.)
Me: Good morning, George. How are you today?
George: I’m fine. Who is this?
Me: This is Scott Koskoski from X, and I was calling to let you know that I’m going to be in Boston from Apr. 24 through 26 and would love to visit you while I’m in town.
(Author’s note: So far, isn’t this how roughly 99 percent of calls to request a donor visit begin? Read on.)
George: Oh, why are you coming to town? Is there an event invitation I missed getting? Or are you on vacation or something?
Me: No, neither of those. I’m going to be in Boston meeting with a few of our special donors, updating them on what’s happening with our program, thanking them for their support, so I’d love to meet with you while I’m in town. You’re a special donor to us.
George: Oh, I see. So why did you pick those days to come to town? I’m not sure I’m available. I wish I would’ve known earlier.
Me: Well, I chose those days because, um, that’s when my schedule allowed me to sneak away from the office for a few days. And that was when a few other donors were available, so it kind of worked out. But I was really hoping you’d be available.
George: So you’re saying all of those other donors just happened to be available on the only days you had available to be in Boston?
Me: Well, um…
George: I may be able to make lunch on the 26th work, but that’s about it.
Me: I see. Unfortunately my calendar is already full at noon with another appointment on the 26th. Any other time?
George: No, I’m very busy those days. When’s the next time you’re coming back?
Me: Well, I’m not sure. I don’t get up to Boston usually more than once per year.
George: Then I’m sorry, it sounds like we’ll miss each other. But I have a question.
Me: Yeah, I’m sorry you’ll miss me. Sure, ask away.
George: If one of your other appointments wasn’t available on the days you’ll be here, would you have come on different days?
Me: I don’t know. I guess it would depend.
George: OK, well, I’m sorry it won’t work this time. I guess we’ll hope for better luck the next time you’re here. Goodbye.
(Author’s note: I felt about two inches tall, and I’m pretty sure George felt even smaller.)
I have re-played this conversation roughly 100 times, and I can probably think of at least that many things wrong with it, and you likely can, too. Here are a few of my most major blunders:
- The conversation was all about me. I’m coming into town on these certain rigid dates. You’ve got to be available to drop everything from your busy schedule and see me I only come into town rarely, and I’m sorry you’ll miss me.
- If George was such an important prospect to me (and he was), then why didn’t I have several other potential date options to visit him later, backed by the permission from my home office, assuming it was really important to get in front of George at some point? It’s unlikely George wouldn’t be available during three different date ranges, for example.
- I gave George no compelling reason to see me. I didn’t stress how important he was to the organization. I gave him the general development-officer-speak about “updating and thanking” him. I’m sorry, but that’s not going to motivate 90 percent of the people on your donor portfolio to stop their lives for you.
I missed seeing George that trip and truth be told: I did never get to meet him. The loss was all mine, of course. But after I hung up with George, I resolved to be a better “visit-getter.” I began analyzing each call I made to secure a meeting, near or far. I broke down what made successful calls work, and what happened during unsuccessful calls. I made adjustments to my style and tone, and added a few tactics to my arsenal. I’m happy to share the field-tested, battle-proven “Visit Getting Wisdom Tips” I’ve learned with you!
Here are just several:
- Your goal in getting the visit is not to get a gift or a commitment. Your only goal is to get the visit. Think of it like a telephone interview for a job. In that call, you’re not trying to win the job, but only advance to the next step (the in-person interview). The same concept applies here. You have one mission: to get the donor to accept your request for a visit. Keep your scope narrow.
- The phrase “I’m going to be in your area on Apr. 24 through 26, and I was hoping…” is so worn out—and trite. And, in my opinion, a little misleading. The fact is 99 percent of development officers aren’t just coincidentally going to “be in your area.” We’re there for a certain reason: to visit wealthy donors and prospects. Generally, we don’t say what we’re doing or why it’s important. I always try to say “George, this is Scott Koskoski from X, and I can imagine your calendar fills up quickly, but I’m really hoping to get on your schedule soon.” Most donors are flattered to hear that.
- Taking that concept further, tell the donor something else truthful: “We’d really benefit from a conversation with you as we’re thinking about X. I’d love to get your feedback.” Make the visit one to gain feedback or advice about something. Remember the old axiom: If you ask a donor for money, you get feedback. If you ask for feedback, you get money.
- Have back-up dates ready. Again, it’s very unlikely a prospective donor will be unavailable over multiple date ranges. I could’ve told George “It’s OK if April 24-26 won’t work out. I’ve also got June 6 through 8 and July 19 through 21 available to visit. What works best for you?” If George is that important, you’ll be able to return to Boston—and while you’re there, follow up with folks you saw in April, thus speeding the cultivation process toward gift closure.
There are many more “Visit-Getting Wisdom Tips” where those came from! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll send you a complete list. And, if you’d like, hop on the phone with you to talk through specific challenges you’re having. You can get every visit you want!
Keep driving it forward!