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Getting to Know Your Donors

Resource Center - Foundation

Have you ever noticed how many great books there are on “the ask?” If you are new to fundraising and want to learn how to solicit gifts, the good news is that there are tons of great resources on this seminal task.

Unfortunately, there are many nonprofits who are not ready to ask for major gifts—not even close. They may have some great major gift prospects, perhaps generous annual fund supporters, but they do not really know these people. A face-to-face, in person relationship must be initiated. Regretfully, many fundraisers find the first visit, or “discovery” call, very challenging; perhaps even more so than the actual ask (AFP Quick Poll, 2011).

A New Resource

Noting these difficulties, veteran fundraiser John Greenhoe, CFRE, has written what is believed to be the first book focusing specifically on the qualification visit. In “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call,” Greenhoe illustrates proven methods for beginning productive and meaningful relationships that will one day result in major gifts.

Greenhoe, who has raised millions of dollars for both the American Red Cross and Western Michigan University, theorizes that the stumbling block of the qualification call is a major contributor in the much-publicized short tenures of new fundraisers. It is his observation that fledging fundraisers who are disciplined and purposeful in initiating new donor relationships are generally successful, while those who are not tend to leave the profession. Put simply, qualification calls are a major obstacle for many fundraisers.

School of Hard Knocks

Greenhoe’s personal experiences led to the book’s publication. In his early days as a major gift officer, Greenhoe struggled to set up qualification calls. With the help of a mentor and through plenty trial-and-error, he eventually became proficient at the task. The lessons he learned in years of making hundreds of ID calls are generously sprinkled throughout the book’s text.

As a practitioner who has successfully trained thousands in the art of the qualification visit, Greenhoe focuses first on prospect motivation—why would they want to meet with you?—and methods for the initial approach that are comfortable for both the fundraiser and prospect.

As a door opener, Greenhoe suggests sending a letter, often from a person of authority or recognition, introducing the fundraiser and encouraging the prospect to meet. Greenhoe then recommends a rigorous regimen for following up via the telephone, which remains the best way to schedule the first visit with most major gift prospects.

Rowing Along With the OARS Method

As a way to add discipline to the fundraiser’s telephone outreach, Greenhoe recommends a system called the OARS method:

  • “O” – One Hour a Day

Full-time major gift officers should try to spend at least one hour per work day attempting to reach prospects via the phone. This is an effective method of starting to feed new prospective donors into your pipeline. For maximum success, try varying the time of day (early in the morning, late in the afternoon) when you call.

  • “A” – At Least Seven Calls Per Prospect

While you should not call your prospects every day (that’s harassment), you should try to call them at least seven times before moving on. According to the American Marketing Association, it takes at least seven calls to reach the average “C” level (CEO, CFO etc.) executive.

  • “R” – Recycle Your Prospects

If you cannot reach your prospects after seven calls but have no direct evidence they do not want to meet, think about recycling them. Have you considered that your prospect just got married or had a death in their near family? There are many reasons why they may not be available. Consider setting these people aside and trying again in three to six months.

  • “S” – See Them, and/or Cross Them Off

Realize that donor qualification is very much a numbers game. It is not unusual that at least half (perhaps more) of the prospects you attempt to qualify will turn out not to have valid major gift potential. Rather than being discouraged by this, simply realize that you need to see enough people to increase your major gift pool. Be sure, however, to keep your list manageable. If you have more prospects than you have time to qualify, try to prioritize and cross those you can’t get to off your list for now.

The Casual but Purposeful Visit

Greenhoe recommends conducting discovery calls in a manner that can be viewed as both casual and purposeful. Visits with a relaxed tone tend to put prospects at ease, but at the same time the prospect must feel there is a sense of purpose to the visit. The thought that the prospect’s time is somehow being “wasted” is death to the development officer.

To instill confidence in the novice fundraiser, a list of set questions can be taken into the visit with the promise to the prospect that answers will remain confidential (a sample list is included in the book). The fundraiser will use these questions to determine the prospect’s overall interest in and affiliation with the nonprofit, and also to predict if the prospect might one day consider a major gift.

The Time is Now

For many organizations, there will never be an ideal time to begin a major gift program. Any worthwhile effort will require both patience and an up-front financial investment. However, the perfect storm of declining government support, a sometimes uncertain economy and the evolution of cutting-edge fundraising practices have dramatically increased both the need and the opportunity for major gifts. Using the simple tools in his book, Greenhoe shows than any nonprofit can begin to diversify its fundraising revenue through a dedicated effort focusing on high-potential individuals.

John Greenhoe, CFRE, is a senior fundraising practitioner located in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and the author of “Opening the Door to Major Gifts.” The new book has gained enthusiastic endorsements from some of the world’s leading fundraising professionals, including Harvey McKinnon, Laura Fredricks, Guy Mallabone and Gail Perry. A graduate of the Saint Mary’s (Minn.) University MA program in philanthropy and development, Greenhoe has used his expertise to successfully train thousands in the art of the discovery call. A writer and speaker who has delivered national conference talks in the US, Canada, Italy and New Zealand, Greenhoe will be a featured presenter at the October 2013 Southern Africa Institute of Fundraising conference in Johannesburg.

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