This is the third post in our series on reaching out to new prospects.
So far, we’ve tackled the inner game and we’ve set up a process that will guarantee a full pipeline for the foreseeable future. If you haven’t yet, I’d suggest taking a few moments to read the first two posts in the series.
It’s now time to send some emails and make some calls!
Email First, or Call First?
Should you email first, or call first?
My recommendation, as always, is to test it. There are pros and cons on either side.
I’ve tinkered with both. For me and the portfolio I currently manage, emailing before calling works best.
The intro email paves the way for a follow-up call. It gives the prospect a sense for who I am and why I’m reaching out. That way, during the call I’m able to focus on building rapport and nailing down a date/time to meet.
If you don’t have an email address for your prospect, send a letter via snail mail. Or, just go ahead and call. Depends how urgent it is.
Your Framework for Success
Before giving you a sample email script, I’m going to outline the framework I use. I love a good framework. And I hope you do to!
It’s important to learn the rules of effective emails so we can properly break them later.
Successful emails share much in common with successful phone messages:
- Short – 5(ish) sentences ideally, perhaps as high as 8-9 for first emails.
- Simple – Make your email about one thing.
- Get to the point early – Don’t make your prospect wade through a lengthy preamble before making it clear what you want. This instinctively feels sketchy to people.
- Provide relevant context – They’re going to ask Why me? Don’t make them guess.
- Down-to-earth – Use simple, uncomplicated language. Don’t be stuffy.
Within those guidelines, here are the ingredients I use, in order:
- Short, friendly greeting
- Get to the point
- Answer the Why me? question
- Make it easy
- Keep the initiative
I’m in academic fundraising which, in some ways, is its own animal. So, I’m going to provide two sample fundraising emails scripts.
Here’s a word-for-word script that’s served me well in an academic setting.
Greetings from [institution]! I hope this note finds you doing well.
I’m writing because I’d like to treat you to lunch in the weeks ahead. With so many new developments underway at [institution], we want to make sure we’re keeping current with alumni attitudes and perceptions. Your feedback is very valuable to us! Plus, I’d be interested to hear about the work you’re doing these days with .
Perhaps we could meet at [restaurant] on [street near prospect’s home or office.] I will call you on Tuesday to see if we can arrange a time.
Hope to meet you soon!
[Your name, title, etc.]
Pretty basic, right? Let’s take a closer look at what’s going on.
First of all, it’s fairly short and to-the-point. Nine sentences, about 100 words. You could probably tighten it up even more.
I come right out with what I want: “Let’s get together for lunch.” This in itself piques curiosity. The prospect will ask Why me? The next few sentences answer that question.
Next, suggest a location. My goal here is to do all the work. Don’t make your prospect figure out how your visit is going to come together. Suggest a restaurant near his office – someplace he probably goes all the time. And pick a decent one. Three stars on Yelp is a good rule of thumb.
Then, keep the initiative. Don’t ask for a call back. Instead, tell your prospect when you’ll call to follow-up. You’re letting him know he can’t just ignore your email and be done with it.
In a non-academic setting, or anytime your prospect’s base level of affinity is pretty low, consider the following changes:
- Get to the point faster – Move the pleasantries to the end of the email.
- Establish credibility – This is a sales technique I’ve adapted a bit for nonprofits. If you’re identified someone as a potential prospect, you have reason to believe they care (on some level) about your cause. But why should they talk to you? Build credibility by briefly highlighting a startling statistic.
- Arouse curiosity – How can you pique your prospect’s interest? Try hinting at a role for him in solving an important problem.
Here’s a sample script for a non-academic setting, or any situation where the prospect has little to no attachment to the organization.
I’m writing because I’d like to treat you to lunch in the weeks ahead.
Our city’s challenges probably aren’t news to you, but did you know that [startling statistic related to your nonprofit’s work]. We have some ideas for how we might solve this problem and are eager for feedback from community leaders like you. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Perhaps we could meet at [restaurant] on [street near prospect’s home or office.] I’ll call you on Tuesday to see if we can arrange a time.
I trust your summer has been a good one so far. I look forward to connecting soon!
[Your name, title, etc.]
Similar set-up to the first sample, but what’s different about this email?
It gets straight into the offer to meet over lunch. Again, this is often enough to pique someone’s curiosity. Usually they’ll read on.
Friendliness and warmth are still important and still there, just moved to the end in this version. If the prospect isn’t a stranger – maybe they’ve come to an event or given to the annual fund – go ahead and open with a nice warm intro.
Next, this email uses a quick statistic to demonstrate expertise. You’re letting your prospect know you have deep knowledge related to a cause she cares about.
It then answers the Why me? question and helps the prospect envision herself in a heroic, problem-solving role.
Drilling Down on Relevance
I can’t overstate the importance of making your outreach as relevant as possible to your prospects. Let’s take some time to go a little deeper here.
The first question to enter your prospects’ minds when they open your emails is going to be, “Why me?”
So make it about them! This isn’t the time to tell them everything about your organization. And it’s certainly not the place to talk about how “ground-breaking,” “life-changing,” “innovative,” or “world-class” you are.
You have to meet your prospects where they are. Where do they fit in? Help them visualize this. Then tell them how they can take the next step.
Now, I should mention here that the most powerful, most relevant connection you can have is a referral. “Jim suggested I reach out.” If you have a referral, use it! And at the very beginning of your email.
Anything is better than nothing. But, don’t worry if you don’t have a referral or the perfect “in.”
Here are some other ideas:
- “I understand you attended our event last month.”
- “Your past support is much appreciated.”
- “I admire your work/leadership in our community and would welcome the chance to hear your feedback on [issue related to your cause].”
- “I look forward to visiting with [school name] parents/alumni in the [geographic area].”
Scaling Up or Down
Not convinced the person you’re contacting is major gift prospect? The sample emails above are “scalable.” Take things down a notch by swapping “lunch” for “coffee.”
Or, on the flipside, maybe the prospect should get attention from your most senior leadership. It’s pretty easy to adjust it to say “our Dean/President would like to take you to lunch.”
For known major prospects, you might also want to change your approach to the Why me? question. Consider framing lunch as an opportunity to discuss high-level involvement instead of simply offering feedback. Something like this:
“We have many students interested in [prospect’s industry]. I’d like to speak with you about visiting campus to meet key faculty and share your experiences with our students.”
People like being recognized for their expertise. And since giving tends to follow involvement, get your prospects plugged in by tapping into their relevant knowledge and skills.
Over 1,300 words and nothing on subject lines!?
Obviously, they’re pretty important. In many ways they’re the difference between an email that gets opened right away, one that gets flagged and perhaps opened later (usually not), and one that’s never opened at all.
There’s plenty of good info out there about how to write a good email subject line, so I’m not going to belabor the point here. As always, test several options. I also try and follow these general guidelines:
- Again, relevance is key
- Arouse curiosity where you can
- Avoid subject lines that sound like the mass marketing emails your organization sends
And, of course, here are some sample subject lines that work well for me:
- [Org name]: Lunch?
- [Mutual acquaintance] suggested I reach out
- Visiting [geographic location] from [Org name]
- In your area soon – hope to see you!
- From [Org name]: In your part of town next week
- Reaching out to [School Name] [academic program] alumni
- Would love to get your feedback
Wrapping Up + FREE Mini Course
Remember, there’s no silver bullet. Use the framework and scripts above to test new ideas in your outreach to new prospects. Find what works and do more of it!
And perhaps most importantly, stay committed to the process.
Want to take a deeper dive into email writing for gift officers? I have a free course for you. CLICK HERE and sign up at the bottom of the page.
Take a moment to leave a comment and let me know if you think the templates above would work for you. Or, if you have a killer outreach script you rely on, please share. I’d love to learn from you!
In the next post, we’ll talk about the follow-up phone call. You told your prospect you’ll be calling and soon it will be time to pick up the phone. I’ll give you a word-for-word script.
Liz Sandoval says
The script, and advice, is great and very helpful. I have trouble with the subject line, what is your thought on that? Both for new prospects and for people I am getting in touch with after some time has gone by. (You might have covered this but I didn’t catch it in your post.)
K. Michael says
Hi, Liz. There are a few thoughts about subject lines near the end of the post. In general, I try to keep mine relevant to the prospect, friendly, and informal. I try to avoid anything too generic, like “Hello from [Org],” or lines that sounds like e-newsletter subjects. If you’re not already, try sentence case instead of proper case.
I would also suggest a handwritten note vs. typed. My response rate is exponentially higher when I take the time to hand write it! Practice good penmanship!
Larry Foster says
Great ideas that I look forward to using.
Trisha Gooch says
K. Michael – I have been fundraising for 12 years. I have sent many emails, made many calls and NOT gotten many meetings. I recently tested your email text, phone call, follow-up email (edited to fit my mission – not an academic institution) with four donors and was 100% successful in getting face-to-face meetings. Thank you. Really, thank you.
I also would like some more ideas for compelling subject lines.
K. Michael says
Trisha, so glad to hear it! Thanks for letting me know. Best wishes for your continued success.
Stay tuned, more to come on subject lines later this year.
Courtney Taurisano-Sprague says
I am new to the development world and I wanted to let you know that your blog posts are incredibly helpful. Thanks for the great advice!