It probably shouldn't be considered news that if you want to succeed in fundraising, you have to know how to talk to people. No matter how fantastic the cause, a fundraiser will not get results without nailing the basic skills of making donors feel comfortable, getting past gatekeepers, and getting prospects to return calls. But while we all know that these things comprise the backbone of raising money, these fundamental skills can still be quite challenging to master!

With that in mind, Bill Mountcastle, the president of Health Giving, visited Foundation Center's New York office in December to lead a workshop on this very issue, Get Donor Prospects to Call You Back. Here are a few tips gleaned from the session:

Script yourself

You have a very brief window of time in which to make your impression. Flubbing those precious seconds could ultimately cost you a new donor, so guard against mistakes as capably as you can! The simplest way of ensuring that your phone call counts is to write a script, practice, and role-play in advance. Not only do you need to be prepared with ready words for a prospect, you also need to be prepared in case you end up speaking with a gatekeeper (receptionist, assistant, etc.), or if you get the prospect's voicemail. (Chances are, you will probably get either a gatekeeper or voicemail.)

Think about the goals of your call. If you get the assistant or receptionist, you want them to pass you along to the prospect rather than getting rid of you (it's their job to try and get rid of you!). If you end up getting the prospect's voicemail, you need your extremely brief message to spur the donor to return your call. Don't give a full pitch over voicemail, but rather just enough information to pique their interest. And if you actually get the prospect on the phone, you want them to commit to an appointment with you by the end of the call.

Make your prospect's fears disappear, quickly

Put yourself into the prospect's shoes for a moment; Why would they not be delighted to talk to you? A few very understandable reasons:

  1. They think you're selling something, or asking them to do something that they're not particularly eager to do.
  2. They think you will waste their time.
  3. They think you will be exactly like the last annoying fundraiser they just hung up on.

You need to allay these fears immediately. Lose the slick, salesy approaches, the long-winded nervous explanations, and the tense, high-pressure pitches. Use a commanding voice, but remain calm and natural in your speech, and get to the point ASAP. Be relaxed, polite, and above all, interesting. Phrase your wording in such a way that it's clear that a meeting would benefit both of you. For example:

"I'm reaching out to meet the leaders in the community [surrounding whatever the cause is in which they're active]. I want to learn more! I'd like to set up an appointment to learn more about you and your efforts."

When you have said your piece, listen and pick up feedback and signals from the prospect. Try to learn something from each call you make.

Be specific

If the call is going decently well, strike while the iron is hot and suggest a meeting. An easy way to flub this one is to be too soft in your request. Do not make an open-ended suggestion about meeting for lunch "sometime," and do not ask the prospect what date would be good for them. Choose a specific date and ask if they would like to meet for coffee. Keep a back-up date up your sleeve in case the first date doesn't work out. When it comes to scheduling a meeting, leaving the ball in the prospect's court gives them too much room to wiggle out of the meeting altogether. You want to be off the phone within a few minutes with a concrete appointment in both of your respective calendars.

You're on your way! However, there are plenty more factors involved in successful cultivation of prospects. To continue learning, see what other guidance Health Giving can offer or check if any of these related books are at our libraries and Funding Information Network partners:


TRACY KAUFMAN is the Engagement Specialist at Foundation Center New York, where she organizes guest speaker programs and helps visitors find information that they need.

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