askingThis article is an excerpt from Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift, by Jerold Panas. Click here to order.

You’ll find that one of the most difficult steps in getting a gift is actually not the face-to-face presentation. And it’s not that special moment when you actually ask for the gift.  

What’s most difficult is getting the visit.  

I’ve been raising funds for a long time and I agonize more about making the phone call for the visit than I do the actual presentation to the prospect.

But here’s the good news. When you get the visit, you’re 85 percent on your way to getting the gift. All of our studies indicate this.  

Note I don’t call this an appointment. That may seem like a small matter but as we know in this business of asking, success is in the details. An appointment has a negative connotation. If you need to have a root canal, you call your dentist for an appointment. Or maybe a proctologist you call for an appointment, if that’s your particular need!  

Fundraising Habits

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The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, by Jerold Panas

Jerold Panas has observed more boards at work than perhaps anyone in America, all the while helping them to surpass campaign goals of $100,000 to $100 million. Funnel every ounce of that experience into a single book and what you have is The Fundraising Habits, the brilliant culmination of what Panas has learned firsthand about boards who excel at the task of resource development.

But a visit, that’s quite different, quite pleasant. And this call for a visit should be the first step in a joyful journey. You’re giving your prospect an opportunity to invest in saving lives, in changing lives. What could be more ennobling, more rewarding than that?

As you pick up the phone, don’t be concerned if you feel pangs of anxiety. I’ve found that without challenge, there’s no achievement. To ease those palpitations and help ensure that you get to see the person, follow these 11 suggestions:

1.  Always send a letter in advance of calling for a visit (see appendix). I’ve worried about this. Will the letter actually prompt some turn-downs or make it impossible to get through on the phone? Does it give the prospect extra time to prepare arguments for closing off a visit? I can assure you that sending a letter is the most effective way possible of securing the visit. And on top of everything else, it does save five or ten minutes in trying to explain on the phone why you want to see the person.

2.  Practice (practice, practice) your opening. Even with all my years, I still write out what I’m going to say on the phone.

3.  Even though I use a script, so to speak, I don’t read it of course. It has to sound spontaneous. But writing it out means I don’t miss anything. And the truth is, the script gives me confidence. Keep in mind Churchill’s admonition: “I have to practice a great deal in order to make a speech sound spontaneous.”

4.  Have a calendar handy. Remember, your purpose in making the call is to set the date for the visit. Get ready.

5.  This is probably the most difficult part of all. Have you ever done this? You stare at the phone. Minutes go by. You know at some point you have to punch in the numbers. But you hope someone will phone, so you won’t have to make the dreaded call. But the telephone doesn’t ring.

Resolve that you’ll fling the whole weight of your spirit into it. Okay, get ready. But wait. There’s one thing I’m going to suggest that I know will help you.  

6.  Stand up. If you don’t believe this helps, just try it. Standing releases a flow of energy that simply doesn’t exist when you’re sitting. Best of all, I actually like a cellphone so I can do some pacing. You know what? When I stand I feel I can lick the world. I can make that call. I’ll get that visit. I’m standing and I’m determined. You’ll feel exactly the same.

7.  Smile when you talk. Your prospect will “hear” the smile in your voice. Explain that you’re following up on the letter you sent and want to know when it might be convenient to meet.

8.  Keep the small talk brief. Oh certainly, be cordial and pleasant. But your focus has to be on setting the visit.

 “Hi, Mary. This is Jerry Panas. I sent you a letter the other day about the new library at Middleton School. When is a good time to see you and John, next Tuesday or Thursday?”

That may strike you as terse. Okay, do what’s comfortable. But your task isn’t to engage in extended conversation. Your job is to get the visit.

9.  Be upfront about the amount of time you’ll need. “I’d like an hour with you. Will that be all right?”  

What happens if the prospect says she can only give you 20 minutes? “Well, I was hoping for more, but if you’re tight on time, let’s do it in 20 minutes. This program’s so important I’m willing to take whatever time you’ve got.”  (You’ve probably found, as I have, that when a person tells you he can only give you 15 or 20 minutes, he ends up giving you all the time you need.)

10.  Be focused. Your job is to set the date for the visit. It’s not to make the sale or discuss the case. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to make the sale on the phone. It won’t work.

11.  Move the conversation on and set the date. I like giving a person a choice of dates: “What’s best for you, John, next Tuesday or next Thursday.” Social psychologists tell us that a person is much more apt to make a positive decision if there’s a choice.

Great! You’ve got the date. You’re well on your way to getting the gift. Follow this immediately with a letter of confirmation and appreciation (again, see appendix). Make it brief.

I never call to confirm a date before the visit. In fact, I try to make myself virtually unreachable! I don’t want to make it convenient or easy for a person to cancel at the last minute. I let my letter put all the arrangements in place.

One last tip. Call your best prospects first, those you feel are the easiest to talk with. After a few calls, you’ll have the model down pat.

Jerold Panas is among a small handful of the grandmasters of American fundraisers. He is considered one of the top writers in the field and a number of his books have achieved classic status. Hailed by Newsweek as "the Robert Schuller of fundraising," Jerry is a favorite speaker at conferences and workshops throughout the nation. He is executive director of one of the premier firms in America and is co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. The very term "philanthropy" would mean less without Jerry's influence. He lives with his wife, Felicity, in northwest Connecticut.