How To Get Donors to Agree to A Visit

By Laurence A. Pagnoni, MPA

In my work with thousands of fundraisers, the biggest challenge I hear is that it’s hard to get the visit. I sometimes struggle with getting the visit as well. Donors ignore our messages or they e-mail us back with short messages that say “No need to visit, everything is good.” It’s not easy. If it were easy, our organizations would not need us. I remind myself of that when I am having one of those days where no one seems to respond.

The first step is to craft your messages carefully. I have seen people spend weeks and even months writing and refining copy for marketing materials, carefully examining every word, passing proofs around to anyone with a pulse. So much time and energy is invested. Marketing is expensive, it is a reflection on your organization, and it should be done the right way. But what about your voicemails and e-mails?

Think of the last presentation you gave. No doubt you were prepared. You knew what you were going to say and what you wanted your audience to take away. Your goal was to inform, persuade, and/or inspire them. Hopefully, it included a clear call to action: what you wanted the audience to do because of your talk. Now, think of the last voicemail or e-mail you sent. Were you equally prepared with your message? Did you know what you were going to say and what you wanted the recipient to know or do? Did you spend time working on that message? Did you refine it so it flowed smoothly? Was it compelling?

Our donors are getting calls from lots of other charities.

What will you say that will separate you from the rest of the pack and encourage your donor to visit?

Here are some guidelines for developing voicemail script outlines to help you get more donor visits

Keep it short. In this fast-paced world, it’s more important than ever to keep our messages short and to the point. Look at Twitter, Facebook, and current website design. They all use snippets of information, not wordy and drawn-out messaging. Most people have the attention span of a hummingbird on Starbucks coffee. We are all bombarded with lots of messages, solicitations, and requests for our time and money from all areas of our lives. You must make your point quickly. I suggest you keep your voicemails under sixty seconds and your e-mails less than three paragraphs. I could go on, but…

Focus on the recipient. Your message should be all about the other person, not about you and your agenda. “You” should be used more than “I” or “we.” Instead of saying “I want to come out and visit you,” you can say, “I think you would enjoy or benefit from a visit because…”

Stress the benefit to the donor and those you serve. This is a huge point, and I find it to be one of the most challenging components of a message. How will the donor benefit from a phone conversation or visit? “You might find it helpful if I update you on how we are investing your donation and the impact it’s having here on campus.”

Include a clear call to action. What is the result you are looking for? If you are calling a donor to set up a visit, say it right upfront. “Hi Mrs. Howell, I am calling (or reaching out to) you today to set a time for us to visit.” Depending on what stage you are at with your donor, you may even tell them you are calling to set up a visit to talk about making a gift, how they might want to support the campaign, or something similar.

Say it with enthusiasm and passion. Your voicemails need to be upbeat and oozing with enthusiasm. Not so much that it comes across as phony, but just enough for the recipient to think, “Hmm, this sounds like someone whom I could hang out with.” People like dealing with happy, passionate people. Make sure that comes through in your message.

Write it out. Write out a voicemail script and practice it until you have it memorized. After you practice it enough, you’ll internalize it, and it will sound natural. Great actors practice their lines until they sound natural and spontaneous. Think of Meryl Streep. The dialogue she delivers was written by someone else, yet it sounds like she is speaking those words for the very first time because she has practiced and internalized them until they sound natural and convincing.

Record yourself. This is tough. I hate hearing myself on the playback, but it’s incredibly helpful. Every time I listen back to my recorded messages, I find new ways to make the message more concise and impactful. Leave yourself voicemails with your new message. Keep refining it until it’s just where you want it.

Get everyone on board. If you are managing gift officers, do you know what they are saying on their phone calls, voicemails, and e-mails? Are they sending the message you want them to send?

Here is a sample of a typical voicemail that I use to set up a visit with a donor

Hello Lorraine:

This is Joe from the Foundation for Follicly Challenged Men. I am calling to set up a time for you, Mike, and me to visit because I was looking at your gift records today and saw that you have been giving for over ten years. Other donors are telling me that they are benefiting from a visit to be thanked personally, updated on the impact of their gifts, and to provide feedback on how we can be better stewards of their donations. I will send you an e-mail follow-up as well. Our visit should take about forty-five minutes unless you and Mike have lots of questions. Would you let me know your availability to visit the week of January third or suggest another week if that one does not work for you? You can reach me here at 610-653-7906. And my name is Joe Tumolo with the Foundation for Follicly Challenged Men. If you are not able to get back to me, I’ll circle back next week. I look forward to connecting with you, Lorraine. Thanks to you and Mike for your continued support in our work.

Some comments about this message:

  • I let them know how long the visit should take. Most people can spend forty-five minutes. This relieves the donor of any concerns about our visit taking up too much of their time.
  • I alter this based on the how well I know the donor.
  • I always let them know what happens next. If the donor is not able to get back to me, I let them know I will keep trying until we connect.
  • I try to include any other decision-maker (spouse, partner, caretaker, etc.) in the visit.
  • This is a guideline. Everyone has their own style. What I say may not exactly fit your approach. If you like this script, adapt it to your personality.

Exercise: Set up a few hours to meet with your team. Work on a script outline for phone calls, voicemails, and e-mails. Practice and role-play among the group. Everyone has their own style, but they should all be sending the same message containing the five key components outlined above.

Managing a Nonresponsive Donor

Often, you’ll continue to try to reach a donor with no response. What do you do to get them to respond? How long do you keep trying? The last thing you want to do is irritate a donor. And the more time you spend chasing a disinterested donor, the less time you have for those donors who are open to a visit. The solution? Have a policy for how many attempts you and your team will make to reach a donor. Now, if the donor is a major or leadership donor, you might allow for a higher number of attempts. Second, decide what each attempt looks like. How many voicemails, how many e-mails or letters?

Here is an example of a written process for a five-attempt approach for reaching a donor:

  • Attempt 1—Leave a voicemail and send an e-mail.
  • Attempt 2—Attempt to reach, do not leave voicemail or e-mail.
  • Attempt 3—Attempt to reach, do not leave voicemail or e-mail.
  • Attempt 4—Mail survey (as discussed in Chapter 14).
  • Attempt 5—Final voicemail and e-mail.

Third, get creative. How can you reach that person? I know a fundraiser who will stop at a donor’s house with no appointment, and drop off a small gift from the college. He has never had a donor get offended. I would be impressed if someone had the courage and commitment to show up at my door.

Here are some other ideas you can try to help you connect.

Forget trying to get the visit. Say what? Yes, forget about trying to get the visit right away. People are busy. Instead, see if the donor is open to an initial ten-minute phone conversation. Once you get them on the phone, your job is to keep them on the phone as long as you can (provided they are engaged in the conversation). The longer you stay on the phone with the donor, the more likely you are to build trust. If the call is going well, then you can ask for the visit.

Another approach for completely unresponsive donors is to see if they have a LinkedIn profile. Look at their connections to see if you or anyone in your organization knows one of those connections well enough to call them and see if they can assist in reaching your donor. Mail a funny card. Have someone else in your office (or a board member) attempt to reach the person. A different voice might resonate better with the donor.

If nothing else works, leave them a final voicemail that sounds something like this:

Hi, Lorraine. It’s Joe Tumolo, calling back from The Foundation for Follicly Challenged Men. Gee, I feel like I am stalking you. The last thing I want to do is be a nuisance. I have been trying to connect with you because you are important to us and the men we serve. Sounds like it’s just not a great time. Please know we are very grateful for your support. Should your schedule change and you are open to a visit or even a quick phone conversation, please let me know. Thanks so much. Again, it’s Joe Tumolo and my number is 610-653-7906.

There is no silver bullet for getting the visit every time, but we need to do everything we can to increase our odds. Having a process keeps you from chasing the same donors over and over. You can always circle back to the non-responders. Realize that there are some donors who just don’t want to do more. They are perfectly content giving what they are giving but don’t want to talk about doing more. There are others who no longer want to give, and there are still others who are open to doing more. Our job is to find the ones who want to do more and build relationships with them.

We welcome your comments about this post on the LAPA blog.

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Related Posts

Has Donor Trust in Charities Changed?

In this age of “fake news”, “alternative facts” “hyper partisanship” and what seems to be a general erosion of trust, why should we even care?  And if we care what can we fundraisers do about it?

Of course, every fundraiser should care because trust is the lynchpin of a solid and sustainable relationship with a donor.  And because there are ways to measure trust, taking steps to increase the level of trust, and by doing so increase donor value and an organization’s net revenue.

Read More »

MacKenzie Strikes Again

You probably won’t recognize most of the names on the list of the top 50 mega-philanthropists.

MacKenzie Scott’s name, though, immediately rings a bell and puts a smile on the face of those of us serving in the non-profit sector.

Ironically, she is not on that list, unlike her ex-husband.

Yet we love her for the special sensitivity she shows us, and her latest “strike,” an announcement to give away $250 million in funding to small nonprofits, is no exception.

Read More »

The CEO as Chief Fundraiser: A Role That Should Never Be Delegated

Our recent posts have lasered in on fundraising perennials–retention of fundraising staff, annual funds, and why donors give.  Another perennial stacks up as equally worthy of thoughtful commentary, and that’s the role of the chief executive officer in fundraising.  

A short definition of a CEO is he or she who makes decisions.  Nowadays, we recognize the value of consensus decision-making, and that’s fine.  But the kinds of decisions I’m referring to are the big ones, decisions such as those made by the captain of a ship.

Read More »