“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