Donor First Impressions

The prospective donor’s first impression of you and your organization is during the initial contact—usually by letter or phone call. The person who makes that first contact is the person to whom the prospect cannot say no. This is often, but not always, a member of the board. The phone call or letter should be personal and warm and also to the point. Whether the letter is from you or a board member, tell the prospective donor who you are (unless you are already acquainted), what you are doing, and what you want.

“I’ve been the development officer at the college for five years now. We’re calling a few people to ask for advice as we prepare to launch an effort to build our endowment. I’d like the opportunity to visit with you for 45 minutes or so next week.”

A week before the scheduled visit, send the prospective donor a reminder letter including the scheduled date and time and a brief reference to the subject of the visit. This reminder signals to the prospect that you are organized and the appointment is important to you.

Also before the visit, do your research about the prospect and practice your opening remarks, primarily so you don’t talk too much during the first visit. Make your clothing professional and appropriate to the prospect’s lifestyle.

Arrive on time. This let’s the prospective know you take your work seriously and you can be counted on. As you walk to the front door, put a smile on your face and stand up straight. Hold your notebook in your left hand so you will be able to shake hands with your right hand.

Greet the prospective donor using the appropriate title and last name, unless he or she has already told you to use a first name. While this approach may seem formal to you, it will demonstrate respect and politeness. Of course, if the prospect requests that you use his or her first name, by all means do so.

The first visit is a visit, not an interview or interrogation. Like all visits, it begins with a measure of chit chat. Remember, however, that the visit is scheduled for 45 minutes only. As soon as practical, tell the prospect about your involvement with the organization, state the purpose of the visit, and outline the mission and work of the organization and do so in five minutes or less. The tone should be warm, but concise and direct. The actual time for this beginning will depend both on your organizational skills and on the extent of the questions and participation by the prospective donor during the opening remarks.

After explaining the work and priorities of the organization, it is time to move the conversation in a direction that begins to connect the work and the priorities of the organization to the values of the prospective donor. Since you have set the stage with a positive first impression, an open and productive conversation is likely to flow.