7 Little-Known Secrets That Will Get You a Visit with Your Donor

“If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.” This is advice I learned years ago from the great major gifts fundraiser Jerold Panas. But… how do you get the cow to cooperate? Ay, there’s the rub.

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.

Secret Key7 Secrets to Success

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. Tell the prospect why they’re being called.

Begin by reminding them they are important to you. They’re a longtime supporter,,, community leader… someone with an ear to the ground… someone who can offer advice on a new idea you’ve got… Acknowledge what they’ve done right (volunteering, giving, acting as an ambassador). 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. Be clear about your intention to talk about philanthropy.

No one likes to be tricked. Explain why you want to see them — to get their feedback/advice about

[your work; the campaign, etc.] and explore their giving interests and talk about existing and new opportunities. Ask when they can see you for 20 minutes, at their convenience.

5. Don’t talk about money… yet.

The most common objections to a visit run along the lines of: “I don’t want to talk about/don’t have any money to give” …“I’m too busy to meet with you now”… “I love you and I’ll give, so you don’t need to spend time with me”… “I’d love to meet with you, but I’m going on vacation so why don’t you call me when I get back (ever notice how it’s always vacation season for your major donor prospects?)… it can become very frustrating. If this happens, promise the prospect you will not ask for money on this visit. Tell them you’d still appreciate their feedback and advice on your vision, project or campaign. Or tell them you’d just love to check in and hear what they’re hearing from other people about your organization, or what they think you could do more effectively.

People love to give advice. Asking for it is your secret key to getting in the door. And once you’re in, even if they don’t commit to give, maybe they know someone else who can help. But often folks will become so interested in the project or campaign that they’ll bring up money before you do.

6. Offer a couple of choices for the timing of the visit.

When a solicitor asks me when I can meet with them (especially if I’m doing them a favor) I’ll tell them I’ll think about it and get back to them. If I’m offered two or three choices, I’ll generally pick one. Keep the ball in your court.

7. 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!

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.

Do you have tips for getting the visit? Please share!

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Major gift fundraising

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.
Claire Axelrad
By |2017-06-10T19:52:26-04:00November 6th, 2013|Donor Engagement|


  1. Lindsey Flannery November 15, 2013 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    “There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having a hard time getting through to someone.” Phew. I know it’s true, but it gets so frustrating calling, then emailing, then stopping by, and then starting over again. All kinds of things go through my head: “I’m too young/inexperienced to be calling on this person,” or “I must have sounded like a complete dunce in that voicemail.” It’s good to be reassured that it does take time, even for experienced fundraisers. This article is very helpful, thank you!

  2. Armando December 13, 2013 at 4:47 pm - Reply

    Yeah I am a full time prospector and train on cold calling. Some of these tips are good and some are deadly. If you ask a cold prospect if they have the time for this call…they will automatically say no. Overwhelmingly they will assume your going to talk for a long time, ask them for money and will avoid that at all costs. There are so many other factors in a first appointment call, I literally have an hour and half training on it. But I am glad someone is pointing out that this is hard, that its a learned skill ! Too often Development Officers are asked to set up meetings with people who are the hardest people, intentionally, to reach in town.

  3. Teboho May 30, 2014 at 10:55 am - Reply

    Very interesting article indeed. I will share this knowledge and advises with my fundraising team. It is definitely hard out-there to find the right people for your cause, but articles like this really helps. Thank you.

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