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!
This article was very helpful. Thank you for sharing.
Jeff Brown says
Many of the front line fundraisers are very extroverted which can be good. But they have to remember to listen and ask questions and stop talking. While it is good advice to ask them questions, I have found that at times, the questions but also guide them.
I work at a university that has many alumni with dual degrees and many have spouses who also attended. That mean that he may have a BS from Engineering and an MBA from School of Business. She may have a BA in Education and a MFA in the arts. That is 4 distinct areas when speaking to the couple. If one or both played sports or were in theater/dance for example, then it gets even more complicated.
The choices become endless as to where to give so the initial questions may work best as open probe questions. Pointing out a something they had not considered usually garners some good will and making them feel comfortable that the expectation is that they give to what they want to give – and not some pre-arranged pitch for one of the units.
With planned and major gifts working in tandem, you can also cover different bases more easily. I had a donor who never thought he would make it out of the small town he grew up in. He wasn’t the best student either but he went on to have some success and he wanted to give back.
Structuring his gift so that the current dollars are weighted toward the center that helps students prepare for upcoming classes the summer before their freshman year was appealing to him. So some money went to support this program to help students he felt like where similar to him. Then out of that group of students, the ones who complete the summer program can apply for School of Business scholarships. The planned gift was structured to support both programs but the bulk would go to endowment so that the School of Business scholarships can be well-funded in the future.
Not to make things complicated, but asking questions isn’t enough. You have to be good at connecting the dots for them and painting a picture that intrigues them and that they can relate to. Ask the right open probed questions, listen carefully and repeat things back to them and then develop a plan and timeline.
Sensing the timing is very important so you want to be looking for clues as to when they can mentally focus on making decisions. If their daughter is about to be married, pay attention and time appropriately in other words.