5 Insanely Successful Ideas for Getting The Appointment with Your Major Gift Prospect

Ok, you’re about to pick up the phone to try to schedule a meeting with a donor prospect.

Making that phone call can be the moment of truth!

Yikes. This can be the moment of truth.

It can be scary.

It’s also a moment when fundraisers and volunteers chicken out.

I remember when I was a staff fundraiser, that I waited for my “good days” when my energy was up to make those phone calls.

Here are 5 insanely successful ideas to help you make that phone call and get that appointment.

But first, remember why you are phoning for a visit:

  • To determine IF the donor HAS interest in your organization.
  • To determine IF the donor even has CAPACITY to make a significant gift.
  • To find out exactly WHAT the donor is interested in and WHY the donor is interested in your cause.

I call all this stuff “reconnaissance.”

It’s market research.

It’s scouting out ahead.

It’s gathering KEY DATA that can lead to a major gift.

So, if you remember that this visit is purely “recon” and not a presentation, you can EXHALE! Right?

Gotta make those reconnaissance visits!

Here are my favorite ways to get in the door:

1. Thank you visit.

This is by far the easiest call to make.

And how wonderful for the donor – she knows that you are not going to be asking for money.

The stakes are low.

And the potential for each party to enjoy herself is high.

Here’s what you say over the phone:

“It’s my job to know our donors, and I’d love to hear about your experience and why you gave.”

What donor would not be happy to have that visit?

If you want money, ask for advice. If you want advice, ask for money!

2.  Advice visit.

Advice visits are my absolute favorite kind of visit.

They are low pressure, very enjoyable, and usually yield TONS of info.

I’ve raised LOTS OF MONEY in my day by asking for advice.

Here’s what you say when you pick up the phone:

“We are working on a new, big project. I’d love to see what you think of it.”


“I have something up my sleeve, can I come by and pick your brain?”


“We are thinking of xxxx new project. I’d love to get your impressions of this plan.”

You have to remember that big donors are willing to see you IF they know they get to do the talking. Then they know it will not be a boring visit!

I’ve written a lot about advice visits: They can get you into any door in town.

AND board members love advice visits – they are perfect for them!

3. “Get to know you” visit.

This is for a cool, or even cold call.

My friend, Eli Jordfald, Senior Major Gifts Director at the Lineberger Cancer Center at UNC-Chapel Hill, uses these next two strategies often.

Smile into the phone and it shows in your voice!

This is a “tell me about your personal experience” visit.

Here’s what you say,

“I understand you recently (attended a performance, visited our hospital, participated in a walk, helped in a project, were served by our organization – whatever fits here). . . . I’d love to hear about your personal experience.”

Just introduce yourself.  Be warm and conversational.

And see if you can develop a conversation.

Use the conversation to determine the level of the prospect’s interest. IF they show some interest, ask if you can visit personally.

But don’t let the prospect think you are scheduling a visit to their city just to see them!


“I’m planning to be in Los Angeles next month, and I’d love to come by and say hello.”

Don’t say, “You are such a huge prospect that I am flying across the country just to come see you!” :)

4. “Would you be interested in learning more?”

This, too, is for a cool call, with someone you don’t know well.

You may know that they are wealthy and generous, but you don’t know how interested they are.

You are calling someone who has recently visited or participated in your organization’s work.

Use this along with the “Get to Know You” visit idea.

This question is nice because it’s all about the donor, and the donor’s wishes.

That phone call is becoming easier and easier!

5. “I have an idea I’d like to run by you.”

Use this when you already have a relationship with the prospect, but they are hard to reach.

One of my favorite clients has a couple of very key prospects who are world travelers, big business people, and very difficult to get in front of.

Yesterday, I was helping develop some strategies to stay in front of these very important prospects.

I told my client to be “charming and vague” on the phone.


“I have an idea I want to run by you.”

This sounds intriguing. It feels interesting. And it seems important.

Probably the most important thing is for her to be charming.

You want the prospect to feel like visiting with you is fun. That way he’ll make the time!

Want more help getting in the door?

Then join me for my next Major Gifts Prospecting Workshop on Wednesday June 26,

“Discovering Major Gift Prospects for your Cause.”

This important virtual workshop will help you jumpstart your own Major Gift effort for your organization.

We’ll give your current major gifts effort a serious boost toward more productivity and higher results.

We will cover major gift prospecting from A to Z: how to screen prospects, how to organize “screening sessions,” how to involve your board in prospecting, how to rate and categorize your prospects, how to figure out where to focus.

And we’ll also talk in detail about the toughest – and sometimes scariest moment in fundraising – how to get that first appointment with your prospect.

I’m including a ton of handouts and worksheets to help you get organized, rate your prospects, and make those key appointments.

Check out my detailed workshop agenda here, along with registration information. (If you are an INSIDER subscriber, then you are already registered!)

If you think it will help you raise some serious money, then I hope you’ll join me on Wednesday June 26!



  • Karen

    I use a lot of these already, yet still find there are days when it is hard to call and make those appointments. When I read this, I thought – I CAN DO THIS!! Thank you, Gail. I am going to read this every day.

  • gailperry

    You know, Karen, we all need moral support in this work! It can be lonely! : )

  • Robin

    This is printed out from a similar post you posted last year and is pinned on my cork board by my phone–I often look at it before picking up and calling! Thanks Gail!

  • gailperry

    Hi Robin! Yup I published an earlier version of this post last year, and revived it because I thought it would be so helpful to my readers during “Major Gift Month.” I am glad to know that you also thought it was helpful to YOU! :)