Fundraising: Donor Discovery Visits Find ‘Treasure’

What’s the most effective way to raise money? Special events, direct mail, phone calls? The reality that many board members of nonprofit organizations often find difficult to confront is that face-to-face visits remain the most effective strategy for fundraising, far outpacing special events, direct mail and telephone calls. Personal visits for fundraising fall into three main categories: discovery, cultivation, and solicitation. My family and I enjoy visiting a South Texas museum and observing the enthusiasm and energy of younger visitors. On Saturday mornings, you’ll see many children lining up to participate in the museum’s Treasure Hunt. This popular activity for children and families sends participants scurrying through every part of the museum to find answers to questions related to the dazzling and informative displays. In addition to more knowledge about science and history, the finishers receive prizes. Discovery visits with donors interested in your organization resemble the Treasure Hunt, although the stakes are higher. The key to a donor Treasure Hunt is to search and uncover donors with values compatible with your mission and your organization. When donors make a gift to your organization, they are saying in a very tangible way that your mission reflects their values. As shared values between you and your donor increase, so also does giving. Why should you conduct discovery visits? Many organizations lack a clear understanding of the values of their donors—the information they have now doesn’t give a clear picture of the donor’s philanthropic interests and how those interests might be fulfilled by the organization’s own values, vision, and strategic plans. Thus, discovery visits provide an enjoyable and highly productive way to identify a donor’s giving priorities and values and learn how the interests of both the donor and the organization can be realized. Discovery visits accomplish three objectives:

  • Provide a meaningful opportunity for the organization to listen to a key constituent;
  • Help to develop a philanthropic profile of the donor; and
  • Train and engage the organization’s volunteers in the cultivation and solicitation process.

Suggested questions can vary from prospect to prospect and will reflect the personalities of the volunteer or staff member, as well as the donor. Remember that as you seek to identify the donor’s values, interests and giving priorities, you will learn what to ask, how to ask and whether you should ask. Here are a few questions to get you started.

In what organizations are you involved? For most donors, philanthropic giving brings a sense of fulfillment at the ability to make a difference, to change a life, to save a life. During your visit, ask the donor about other organizations in which he or she is involved and why. Invite the donor to share with you programs or projects that have captured his attention.

Remember your first gift? Discuss giving, perhaps asking the donor to recall the first gift or the gift that meant the most. Engage the donor in a conversation about projects or programs that would inspire substantial giving. Are there organizations to which the donor contributes regularly?

What should our organization do? Answers to the questions above can lead the discussion to your organization and provide an opportunity for you to ask the donor his or her thoughts on future programs and fundraising efforts. On what projects should your organization focus and what might you do to capture and sustain the donor’s interest? Discovery visits should remain conversational and focus on ascertaining interest and giving potential. Once you have the information, be sure to transcribe it and put it in the prospect’s file—either that manila folder in the file cabinet or in your data management system. You’ll want those nuggets available when you take the next steps. When conducted successfully, discovery visits will provide crucial information for follow-up visits and help in engaging the donor in your organization (cultivation) and, ultimately, asking them for a gift (solicitation). The relationships you establish will increase the potential for support for your program or project.

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