I’m a little embarrassed to admit it, but I’ve definitely had a few “qualification visits” that weren’t. As in, the visit happened, but the qualification didn’t.
At some of them I chickened out and didn’t ask the hard questions. At others, I simply let the conversation get away from me.
I left these meeting without any new information about my prospect’s capacity or interests. The result: a wasted opportunity.
Now, if this happens to you, it’s not the end of the world. There’s value in simply having a face-to-face meeting. And often, you can find a way to get back in front of someone.
But, I prefer to qualify a prospect when I have the chance. It’s a better use of my organization’s resources.
Let’s define our term before getting too far into this. By qualification visit I mean a face-to-face meeting with someone you think could be a major gift prospect. Many organizations call these folks “suspects.” Perhaps they were referred to you, or you’re aware of their giving to other organizations. Maybe you used a wealth screening service, or have an in-house prospect researcher who dug them up.
Either way, you have reason to believe they could make a major gift – however your organizations defines it – and the next step is to get to know them and find out. This series of posts will show you how.
We’ll start off, as always, with the inner game. What is the psychology of qualification visits? Are there fears that can get in the way? We’ll also step into our prospects’ shoes.
Next, we’ll cover preparation. Much of the work is done before we even sit down with the prospect. This is good news! But, after the appointment is scheduled, what’s the best way to prepare for it?
And, finally, we’ll get into what to say. I’ll provide some specific language you can test drive next time you’re out doing qualification work.
Part 1 – Mastering the Inner Game
If you’ve been in fundraising for a while, you’ve felt the tension between building relationships and asking for money. I viewed the two as mutually exclusive for a long time.
It’s a fine line, but top performing gift officers walk it well. For them it’s both/and, not either/or. They build great relationships AND reliably ask for support.
I also tended to make first visits all about me. I was way too worried about being liked by my prospects. Would they think I was interesting enough? Persuasive enough? Would I be able to sustain a conversation?
As you’d expect, this led to anxiety. I had to learn how to get out of my own head.
If you can relate, it’s time to check for invisible scripts.
“Invisible scripts” are our untested assumptions about the world around us. They run on autopilot and affect our behavior without us even noticing.
Here are a few that were holding me back:
- I can’t build a good relationship if I start out talking about money.
- If this prospect doesn’t like me, I’ve ruined our chances at ever getting a gift from her.
- My job is to get my prospect to do something she doesn’t want to do.
As you can probably tell, my scripts tended toward either black-and-white thinking, or focused on remote, negative possibilities.
Invisible scripts lose some of their power over us when we dig them up and write them down. I always feel a little bit foolish when I first read one aloud, but it’s an important first step in mastering the inner game.
Next, we need to reframe our thinking using replacement scripts. For example:
- I look forward to a respectful conversation where I’ll learn about my prospect’s philanthropic capacity and interests. I will warmly invite further involvement as it makes sense.
- By agreeing to meet with me, this prospect is demonstrating interest in our work. Our visit is an opportunity to help her take a step toward achieving her philanthropic goals.
- My job is to connect philanthropic capacity and interest with the good work of my organization. If such a match is made with this prospect, it will be entirely her decision. And we’ll treat her very well if she becomes a donor!
Good replacement scripts do a number of things: 1) focus on what you can control, 2) avoid black-and-white thinking, and 3) find the positive.
Inside Their Heads
Getting out of your own head frees you up to get inside your prospect’s head. And I’d argue that much of your success depends on figuring out what your prospect is thinking. Why is he meeting with you? What does he hope to get out of it?
No two major gift prospects are exactly alike, but many have similar needs and desires when it comes to their charitable giving. Some are pretty basic, some are noble, and others are ego-centered and a little selfish. This is okay.
Whether they say it out loud or not, here’s what they’re thinking:
- Why me?
- What’s the need and how big is it?
- Do I care? How much?
- What can I do to help? Am I really needed?
- What would it look like to get more involved?
- How will I feel if I do?
- What type of attention will I get?
- What are other people like me doing?
- What would it say about me to get more involved?
- Do I trust this organization and this person?
Sure, you need to be able to talk about the nuts and bolts of your organization. But, don’t ignore the bigger picture. Your prospect’s decision to give or not will have more to do with the answers they find to these questions than anything else.
We’re largely talking about motivation here. Your goal is to figure out what makes your prospect tick – to get inside their head. Which you can’t do if you’re stuck in your own.
So, now that you’re out of your head and into your prospect’s, how do you prepare for that qualification visit coming up on the calendar? It’s a great opportunity – you want to make the most of it. The next post will cover how to get ready for the meeting.
In the meantime, leave me a comment. I want to know what you do to get inside your prospects’ heads!