Decide to Make Face to Face Donor Visits

Happy business executive at a meeting with colleagues

In his book — Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, fundraising guru, Jerry Panas discusses how challenging it is to get physically in front of the donor to make a solicitation. He even says that getting the appointment means you are 85% of the say to getting the next gift.

Jerry wrote this several years ago and I believe it is getting even more difficult to meet face-to-face with donors. People are crazy busy and have gotten used to and very comfortable with “virtual” friendships through social media and email. My kids will tell me they were talking to friends when they really mean texting. It is said that Millennials don’t value in-person meetings as much as older people and see them often as inefficient and cumbersome.

In spite of all this, we know clearly that you can conduct a better solicitation when in direct face-to-face contact with your donor, and that it is harder for the donor to dismiss you in-person. So, how can you have your best chance to meet with your donor to ask for their next major gift? Here is a tried and true strategy:

1. Alert the donor formally that you want to visit with a letter or email (problem with email is you can never be really sure, without a receipt request, that they got it). While this sounds old school and makes you worry that the donor can ten better prepare to deny you the visit, it is respectful and gives you leverage when next you call to find a convenient time.

2. Script and practice what you will say when you get the donor on the phone to set up a visit. Sounds silly, but you need to be direct, articulate, and concise. Writing out the planned conversation and then reciting it to your self will build your confidence (facing possible rejection anywhere is scary). As you practice work toward making it sound natural and spontaneous. Remember, you are only preparing to secure agreement for a visit.

3. Make the Call:

    • Quiet private space from which to call
    • Calendar handy so you can discuss dates and times immediately
    • Call at a convenient time – Monday afternoon through Thursday afternoon; 10-11:30 or 1:30-4. If you call at home – 6:30-9:00 pm
    • Stand up to call – Movement will loosen you up and bleed off nervous energy
    • Smile into the phone – s/he can’t see you but it will affect your tone and energy

4. Keep your conversation brief. Yes, be cordial and pleasant but keep in mind that you have just a few minutes to arrange a very important visit (not appointment or meeting which seem less friendly and perhaps more adversarial). If the donor tries to talk about the project state that you have a lot to brief them on when you meet.

Example: Hi Monique. This is Tom Jones from The Center. I sent you a letter the other day about meeting to discuss the new outreach project The Center is planning. Are you available next Wednesday or Thursday?’

5. Be upfront about the amount of time you’ll need for the visit. “I’d like a 30-45 minutes with you. Will that be all right?” If the donor will only give you less, take it, but let them know you would prefer more because the project is so important and you want to make sure they are fully briefed. As we all know, the donor’s time can expand if they find the meeting interesting.

6. Secure the date and time. Keep nicely pushing to get commitment on when you will meet. Offering a choice of days focuses the donor but leaves them with control. They then can state the day and suggest the time. Agree to whatever seems to work best for them. Once the visit is agreed to and set, thank the donor and graciously get off the phone.

7. Confirm with a letter: Immediately send a letter (or email) thanking them for the planned visit and confirming the date, time, and subject of discussion.

Jerry offers two other gems:
Do not call prior to the appointment to confirm and possibly give the donor a chance to cancel at the last minute. If they really need to make changes they will contact you.
Practice your visit arranging on donors you are most comfortable with to build your skill and confidence.

Many years ago I had a job cold calling HR managers seeking appointments to get them involved in a job placement program for low income people. I hated to make the calls and quickly found that I would make myself busy with other tasks to avoid them. However, I knew that unless I got companies to hire my clients, I would soon be out of a job. So I set aside a specific time each day to make my calls. I went into a very private room where I could pace, mumble, and where no one would overhear my banter. I had a script and practiced it. I then promised myself that I would not leave the room until I had secured 4 appointments. It was agony at first and took several hours. With practice it got easier. I soon found that, with practice, I exuded confidence enthusiasm and professionalism on the phone. Getting the appointments got easier and were more pleasant to do.

Major Gift Officers are ultimately judged on what their donors give during the year. In most cases they are expected to raise more from their group of donors than those same donors gave the year before. How they raise the money, though, is often left to their discretion. The professional challenge for each MGO is to grow in their abilities (and instincts) to cultivate and solicit effectively. While you can ask for a gift through email by phone or in a side conversation at a chance meeting, we know that it will not be as effective or get the same result as a well-planned and well executed approach that includes timely cultivation and then a formal face-to-face solicitation. Face-to-Face meetings might just be the hardest part of the job. Practice will build skills and the job will get easier. In short order, more money will flow….

For a sample script to securing that next “ASK” meeting, email

Michael Friedline
Sparrow Solutions Consultant
NonProfit Advantage, President
Shoreline, WA

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