Major & Principal Giving, Strategic Planning, Talent & Training

Discovery visits—a tedious and often a dreaded task for major gift officers. Most fundraising professionals realize this necessity but often do it reluctantly. These visits are valuable for focusing your work, increasing philanthropic support, and can be personally rewarding.

Building your donor pipeline—prospect identification is how the pipeline gets filled. Identification comes from physician referrals, grateful patients, annual giving staff, and the prospect management team. What we decide to do with these names is called qualification or discovery. If this work is ignored our pipeline will dry up and ultimately new philanthropic support will disappear. Discovery visits allow for determining in one meeting, whether a person qualifies as a major gift prospect. How does this activity turn into a strategic and interesting aspect of our work—through a shift in perspective—from viewing this work negatively to seeing discovery work as an opportunity to meet interesting individuals while sharing new developments at our organizations.

Three Keys to Successful Philanthropy Discovery Visits

Develop a Process

The first step develops a structure for tackling the work. One method is dedicating a specific day each week to focus on discovery visits. This helps ensure the work will happen. Choose several hours on a given day dedicating this time to discovery work. Block it on your calendar and when this day rolls around close your door and begin.

Use Proven Methods

The second step identifies how to approach discovery work. A proven method begins by sending out introduction letters. Prepare a batch of letters addressing ten to twenty names on your prospect list and post them. Other methods for making first contact include email or telephone calls. These may not be as successful—knowing yourself and your prospect will help determine if these other methods will yield greater success. Once this practice has been established, begin follow-up phone calls to the names on your prospect list. The goal of these calls is to secure a face to face meeting. Keep your conversation succinct. Find a convenient date that works with both of your schedules. Schedule the meeting for 30-45 minutes. If you don’t reach someone on your list, give them plenty of opportunities to respond—your time to call may not be their optimal time for receiving calls. SEVEN calls at different times and days of the week will help optimize response rates. Keep in mind on average only half of calls will result in a meeting.

Prepare for the Appointment

The third step prepares for the appointment. Be prepared! Confirm the appointment date and time with an email or note, gather information on the prospect, identify several key points about your organization, and create a set of questions to ask the prospect. Remember, the goal of the meeting is determining major gift prospect interest and ability. It is important to focus on listening to the prospect throughout the visit—it’s about their experience not about you. Information about your organization comes after determining their interest. Before ending the visit, think about the next steps in relationship building. Next steps can include tours, a follow-up research report, or a meeting with a leader. Suggest this to the prospect as a follow-up before leaving. Note: determining that the prospect is not a donor is valuable too. The process is about qualifying and disqualifying.

After thanking the prospect for their time and restating your follow-up plan—conclude your visit. You have now reached the final step. Take a moment and jot down some notes before driving away. When you get back to your office write a thank you note to the prospect and reinforce your planned follow-up in the note. Record the meeting in your donor database. You have now completed the discovery call and undoubtedly heard some interesting stories and shared information about your organization. Success comes through contact. Now you are ready for your next discovery visit!