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

girl milking cow

If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side.

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.

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 (as an important supporter; community leader).

Acknowledge what they’ve done right (volunteering, giving). 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 objection to a visit is “I don’t want to talk about/don’t have any money to give.” If this happens, promise the prospect you will not ask for money on this visit. Tell them you’d still appreciate their feedback on the vision/mission/campaign. Maybe they know someone else who can help.  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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About Claire

I’m Claire and I want to help you raise more money, reach more people and build long-lasting relationships with your supporters. Take a look in the archives.


  1. Great question. Two things I have found helpful.
    1. Ask (sincerely) for advice. If you are anywhere on the strategic planning spectrum between a glimmer in the ED’s eye and an approved-by-the-board-in-principle-but-not-yet-fleshed-out-plan, ask the donor to look at your plan and give feedback. Big caveat: only ask if you are really open to suggestions. Donors can smell “I just asked your advice so you would write a big check” a mile away.
    2. Don’t ask for an appointment when you call to introduce yourself. That is asking the donor to jump through too many mental hoops all at the same time, and they are likely to say no. If you call to introduce yourself and ask “can I call next time I am in your neighborhood to see if you are available?” that is much more palatable.

    Paul Jolly

    • I agree that asking for advice is a big winner. Folks love to share their advice. This is such an important concept that I advocate doing so every chance you get (not just when you’re seeking a visit or gift). It’s a great thing to do on a thank you call. Thank them for their gift; then add: “Do you have an extra minute to offer me some advice?” One of the things I like to ask is a simple: “If you had to describe our organization in one word, what would it be? Pick an adjective.” It’s a great way to help discover the donor perception of your brand.

  2. I love this blog post, Claire! I have found #7 especially helpful – smile, stand up and walk around. It makes a difference! And I so agree about trying more ways than just the phone to get a meeting. Recently, a major gifts officer I know called and called a donor and then finally sent her a text – it worked like a charm. She got the meeting and the gift!
    Leslie Allen recently posted…Thinking About BostonMy Profile

    • Thanks Leslie. And so interesting about the success of the text. Sometimes we think a text may seem too intrusive. But that’s OUR perspective, not the donor’s. For some folks, there is nothing more intrusive that a phone call (because, increasingly, people don’t want to talk to you in real time). And glad you agree about the power of smiling. I find it helps even to put a smile on my face when composing an email to secure a visit. It somehow ends up coming off more friendly. Strange, but true!

  3. Connie Harris says:

    Great reminders for all fundraisers, Claire.

    When I’ve trained gift officers for appointment setting, I remind them of the importance of making a good first impression, whether by phone or email: if you are emailing, proof, proof, proof. Also, don’t take too many familiarities with donors, especially older donors. Use Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc., until they direct you otherwise. And please do not say “No problem,” rather “You’re welcome.” It’s a negative to their ears, not a positive.

    • You raise a really great point Connie. Making a good first impression is critical and reminds me of the quote from Shakespeare: “To thine own self be true.” You’ve got to know your own strengths and weaknesses. I’ve known major gifts officers who were super charming and charismatic in person, but who could not write their way out of a paper bag. If that’s you, stick to the phone and in-person meetings as much as possible. If you’re sending an important letter or email, have someone proofread it on your behalf. And vice-versa. I oversaw another major gifts officer who wrote the most compelling emails you’d ever want to see. Inspiring, almost to the point of tears. In person, however, he could be a bit awkward. So it was better for him to get the visit and begin to build the relationship using writing skills. Once positive first impressions are made, folks will tend to be a lot more forgiving.

      As to whether we should address folks formally or familiarly, that depends on your organization. I must confess that these days I find that 95% of folks prefer the familiar title (unless they’re clergy or politicians). Folks want to be known as people; not as titles. The goal is not to simply conduct polite transactions but to build strong, loyal friendships. Thanks for chiming in!

  4. I find the “asking for your opinion on some of our new initiatives” is a good way to get in the door.

    After nearly 25 years of setting up many of my visits out of town, I am now working locally and find it harder to get appointments than when I could say “I’ll be in Denver June 8-10”. You’re never a sage in your own town. Giving them a couple of specific date options is a good idea.

    Another wrinkle to this is working through personal assistants. Just getting the name and contact for that person is often the hardest part, and I have always made a point to send a thank you note to both the donor and the assistant who can set the stage for the next visit if her or she is treated respectfully. And a couple have actually become donors!

    • Thanks Gregg. Agree that giving a couple of options is a good idea. It’s the old sales technique. “Do you want this couch or that one?” You never ask “Do you want a couch?” And making friends of the assistant is an excellent idea. The gatekeepers hold a lot of sway. Appreciate the suggestions!

  5. Love this post, Claire. Such good tips. Where did you get the drawing of the cow? I’m forwarding this to my daughter who is a one person development dept at a small nonprofit. She and ED are working on their visiting/asking personally program.
    Joanne Fritz (@joannefritz) recently posted…Is Facebook Worth the Hassle for Smaller Nonprofits?My Profile

    • Thanks Joanne! The cow photo comes from A child’s garden of verses (1905) It is in the public domain. The original book is available at the Internet Archive (www.archive.org/details/childsgardenofve06stev ). Tell your daughter I’d be happy to be helpful if she has questions. :-)


    • There’s no magic formula, sadly. Persistence is important, as is a gentle, warm non-aggressive style. Part of it depends on who you’re approaching, how closely connected they are to your organization, how busy they are, and what kind of vibes (if any) you’re receiving. Trust your gut. You’ll know when you’re stalking. In most cases, folks are simply busy, busy, busy. Make it as easy as possible for them to connect with you. Some folks absolutely hate to talk on the phone. You’ll never reach them that way. You may have better luck emailing or even texting. So try different channels. Also, you may be the wrong person to try to connect with this person. If it’s not working with you, try someone else. No response usually means not now, not you, not this way, not for this purpose, not sure… it doesn’t usually mean no. If that’s what it meant, they’d let you know! Good luck, Claire

  7. Chris Root says:


    • Your best bet would be to use the email to try to get an in-person visit. Remember, you’ll never get milk from a cow unless you’re sitting by it’s side. Use the same type of language you would use in a call. And use punctuation to give it an upbeat tone of voice. Something like:

      “Hi! This is Chris at [your charity] and I’m writing because I’d love to meet you for a cup of your favorite beverage! Why? Because you’ve been a loyal supporter and I’d love to get to know you better and find out more about why you became involved here. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing [your charity] and do you have any thoughts or advice as to how we might meet the needs in our community even better than we’re doing now? Your feedback would be invaluable.

      And, of course, I’d also like to update you as to what’s going on here and chat about your philanthropic commitment this year. We’d love to get you more involved if you might have an interest.

      When is a good time for me to call to set up an appointment?
      Please let me know, and feel free to suggest any time — morning, noon or night — that’s convenient for you.

      I look forward to connecting soon.”


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