This guest post by Claire Axelrad, nonprofit coach and consultant.

Did you know you're 85 percent on your way to securing a gift if you can get your prospect to agree to a visit? So says veteran major gifts fundraiser Jerold Panas in his iconic book, Asking. He also says,"If you want to milk a cow, sit by its side."

But how do you get the cow to cooperate? Ay, there's the rub.

Why is it so hard to get a visit with a prospect?

It just is. People screen phone calls. They don't answer emails. They're busy. And let's face it, they know what this is about. Once you get in the room with them, you have your chance to win them over. But how to get there?

Acknowledge to yourself that the hardest part of fundraising is getting the visit. Once you accept this, you'll be less frustrated. There's nothing wrong with you if you're having a hard time getting through to someone; it happens to everyone. Persevere. Try different channels (phone, email, text, social media, etc.) until you find one that works. Here are some specific tips that will help you get in the door.

1. Remember that 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 by asking your prospect if he or she has time for your call. If you launch into trying to schedule a visit while your prospect's attention is on anything else, you risk failure. If the prospect only has five minutes, say you'll take four, and stick to it.

3. Tell the prospect why you're calling. If they're a former donor, begin by reminding them how much they're valued, and thank them for their previous gift. People will do what they've done before (they already went through the decision process of whether or not to give to you). 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 that you want to see them to: (1) get their feedback/advice on your new project/campaign as a longtime supporter, volunteer, or community leader with an ear to the ground, and (2) explore a giving opportunity. Ask when they can see you for 20 minutes at their convenience.

5. Don't talk about specific dollar amounts yet. Save this for the in-person visit. Frankly, it may not come up until the second in-person visit. Major gift solicitations take awhile. The most common objections to a visit run along the lines of:

  • "I don 't want to talk about/don't have money to give."
  • "I'm too busy to meet."
  • "I'll give, so you don't need to spend time with me."
  • "I'd love to meet, but I 'm going on vacation. Why don't you call me when I get back?" (Ever notice how it's always vacation season for major donor prospects?)

If this happens, promise you won't ask for money on this visit. Say that you'd still appreciate their advice on your project or campaign. It's been said that if you want advice, ask for a gift; if you want a gift, ask for advice.

6. Offer choices for timing of the visit. Don't let tell them tell you they'll think about it and get back to you. Offer two or three choices, and they'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!


CLAIRE AXELRAD, JD, CFRE, is a sought-after coach and consultant and was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals. She brings 30 years of frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification.

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