Rediscovering the art of discovery calls

publication date: Aug 22, 2013
author/source: Teresa Marques

The “cold call” strikes fear in the hearts of even very seasoned fundraisers, but it can be an essential step in the cultivation of a new donor relationship. The goal of any cold call is to get an initial meeting (“the discovery call”) to determine if and why people believe in your cause and identify ways to engage them.

Despite the importance of these initial steps, many of us don’t take the time to think about how to do them most effectively. What’s holding you back from initiating a meaningful conversation with a new potential donor? More important things to do? Trying to “close” a gift? Fear?

Getting started

  • Look to your current supporters: Study your database and identify which of your annual or monthly donors might be moved to a new level of giving. Organizing a meeting is an effective personal form of stewardship (and is great practice!) that has value whether or not the donor ultimately “graduates” to larger donations.
  • Use your contacts: Ask your board, volunteers, current donors and program staff to think about introductions they could make, or leads they could suggest.
  • Build on existing events (tours, lectures, ceremonies, special events) to develop lists of people with whom you can follow up and meet.

Getting the meeting

  • Send an advance letter or email, indicating the precise time during which you’ll be following up.
  • Treat the gatekeeper (i.e., the executive assistant) with the same respect you would the prospective donor. A well-managed relationship with a gatekeeper can turn him or her into a key ally and source of information.
  • Prepare a script to introduce yourself: You work in fund development, and that’s okay. If you’re relatively new in your position, this can be a great reason to reach out.
  • Indicate that you’re hoping to schedule a meeting to share the latest progress under way at your organization and to get advice on a couple of key matters (be broad in the initial outreach, but be ready to get specific).
  • Smile when you talk! It’s amazing how it changes how you sound.

Once the meeting is booked, do your research and prepare briefing notes. To prepare, write out your meeting objectives, ideal outcomes, and any key messages to share.

In the meeting

In the meeting, put your companion at ease. Use questions to talk with someone rather than speaking to someone. You will notice that as you ask questions and give feedback, the person with whom you’re meeting will have a tendency to reinforce the topics that are most important to them. Remember, this is not about pushing, but about gauging interest. 

Before you end the meeting, be sure to identify next steps. Consider:

  • Inviting the prospect to visit or tour your organization;
  • Arranging a meeting with the CEO, a program specialist, or key volunteers;
  • Formalizing a way to keep the prospect up to date periodically;
  • Offering opportunities to become more involved as a volunteer

When it comes down to it, major gifts are inspired acts of commitment that can have a significant impact on an organization’s development program. It’s worth taking the time to prioritize how to fill your pipeline with major gift prospects. To do that, you need to invest the time to know whether someone is both capable of and interested in making a major contribution to your organization. 

Not everyone will be interested or will want to become further engaged – and that’s okay! Despite anxieties about “cold” calls, this knowledge won’t come to you without first picking up the phone.

Teresa Marques has worked as Principal Gift Officer at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation in Toronto for the past three years. In the past decade, she has specialized in major gifts and campaigns, but has worked in every development function, with a focus on healthcare philanthropy. She serves on the board of the Working Women Community Centre and was Chair of AFP’s 2013 “Fundraising Day” conference. She is a member of the Advisory Council of Imagine Canada.

Contact her at 416-535-8501 ext. 39557 or by email.

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