Father on phone feeding baby from Flickr "The Commons" to illustrate How to set up a major gift solicitation appointmentOne of the most common questions my coaching clients ask me is how to set up a solicitation appointment. The very thought of picking up the phone freezes them with fear. Their minds are flooded with worrying questions like: What will they say? How will the prospect respond? What if they mess up?

Setting up a major gift solicitation appointment

Here are the tips I coach my clients through.

  1. Get your materials together

    It's best to make 5 - 10 calls at one time. Even 15 if you can.

    It takes a lot of effort to make the first phone call. It takes almost as much effort to make the second call. But by the third or fourth call, you start getting into a rhythm. You are able to test phrasing and play with intonation.

    So make sure you have what you need to make those calls. Here's what I suggest:

    • A list of the major gift prospects you want to call

      It's great if you're able to access their database records. That way you can see if anyone else from your organization has tried contacting them. Or if they just sent in a gift. But sometimes a list of names and phone numbers on a piece of paper is better for helping you get the calls done. Having access to too much information can be distracting.

    • An index card with 3 things you'll say

      It's awkward to be in a call and forget what you wanted to say, only to remember it after you hang up the phone! So write down 2-3 things you want to accomplish in the call. Since the sole purpose of this call is to set up an appointment, these three things might be a good start:

      1. OK time?
        I rarely ask if it's a "good" time. I don't need a good time. I just need 30-60 seconds of their attention to be able to get on their calendar. But with the advent of cell phones, you never know what people will be doing when you catch them. So I typically start out with, "Hi this is Marc from [the name of the nonprofit]. Am I catching you at an ok time?"
      2. Set appointment
        This is the main goal of the call, but it's easy to talk yourself out of it. Make sure it's one of the bullets on your index card.
      3. Get off phone
        You only want to set an appointment. You don't want to visit about family or work or the weather. You want to set an appointment and get off the phone. If you do this well, you'll set the right tone for the appointment itself. People will know you're not going to waste their time.
    • A phone

      Seriously. Whether you're using a landline, a cell phone, or VOIP, make sure it's working and the batteries are charged! While you're at it, it can helpful to clear a section of your desk. And it's probably best if you're not feeding a baby like the father in the picture here.

    Warning: Don't waste alot of time "getting your materials together." Gather materials doesn't raise any money. Solicitation appointments do. It's far more important to get into action than it is to be perfectly prepared.

  2. Smile

    Smile before you dial. Your phone call will give clues to the prospect about how your visit will be. So sound as interesting and appropriately enthusiastic as possible.

    Studies have consistently shown people can "hear" if you're smiling. If you've ever managed a phonathon, think about the tone in the voice of a caller who's intentionally smiling and one who isn't. The non-smiler sounds more like Eeyore than like an interesting human being.

    Let your prospect know you're an interesting human being!

    Bonus tip: Standing up also helps your voice be more animated and energetic.

  3. Psych yourself UP not OUT

    Self-talk can kill your phone effectiveness. Most of us worry that we'll be catching people at the wrong time. Or that we'll be bugging people.

    Listen: we're calling adults. So let's treat them like adults! If we're calling them at a bad time, they can choose to let us go to voice mail!

    Moreover, we might just be catching them at a good time. Even at an amazingly good time. So as you're remembering to smile, remind yourself that you are offering people a great opportunity. That you could well be catching them at the right time. That they may have been meaning to call your nonprofit and you're making it easier for them.

    Any of you who have done alot of these calls know these can be just as true as the others. Phone calls are hard enough on their own. Don't make them any more difficult with your negative self-talk.

  4. Dial the number

    Seriously. Don't chicken out and opt for sending an email. Dial the number.

  5. If a person answers

    When you dial, one of two things will happen: the phone call will get answered or it won't.

    If it gets answered, you're off to the races:

    Hi is [prospect's name] there? [wait for answer]
    Wonderful. This is [your name] calling from [your nonprofit]. Am I catching you at an ok time?
    Well, [donor name] exciting things are happening here at [your nonprofit]. I'd love to get together with you for 15-20 minutes to talk to you about our [fund, project, program opportunities]. Would your schedule permit us to get together Tuesday afternoon or next Monday?

    You'll notice a few things in this script:

    • An "ok time"

      First, as I mentioned before, I ask if I'm catching them at an "ok" time. If you ask them if it's a good time, you might get them thinking about all the reasons why it's not a good time. Why do that to yourself? If they answered the phone, most likely it is an "ok" time. So ask them that instead. The best part? If it isn't an "ok" time, you can still ask them for the appointment. You'll be respecting their need to get off the call by getting to the point of your call--setting up an appointment.

    • Let them know it's about an ask

      It's far too easy to get to a solicitation and then chicken out. You try lying to yourself, saying things like "The timing wasn't right." But in reality you just chickened out.

      To prevent that, let the prospect know you want to talk about something specific. Don't make the wording so specific that they'll get into the ask on the phone. You don't want that at all. So let them know you'd like to talk to them about "the annual fund" or "the project" or "camperships."

      Do this, and even if you chicken out at the appointment, nine times out of ten you'll find the prospect say, "Now what was it you wanted to talk about?" Boom. Before you know it, your solicitation is back on track.

    • "Schedule permits"

      This is at odds with any sales training you'll get. Those trainings will tell you to not give the prospect any "outs." Put them on the spot and make them make a decision.

      But I've scheduled a lot more appointments by letting the prospect's schedule be the bad guy. Rather than making it a decision if they want to talk, I assume they do. If it doesn't work out, it's not because they don't want to, it's because their calendar won't let them. Right now. If they use this out, I always ask, "When would be a good time to check back with you?" or "That's too bad. May I check back with you in a couple weeks [or "months" depending on the situation]?

  6. If a person doesn't answer

    Many of you will breath a sigh of relief. Avoid letting that sigh come during the voice mail recording! When you leave a message, use a similar script as the one above. And promise to call them back in a couple days.

    Some trainers recommend not leaving a message until after the third attempt. I'll leave that up to you. In an age of "caller id," I find myself preferring to leave a message on the first call.

    When you call them back, be sure to use a phrase like, "Hi [donor name]. This is [your name] calling back as I promised..." This sets up the expectation that you are a person of your word. You keep your promises.

  7. Get off the phone

    Don't dilly-dally. Once you've agreed on a time, thank them courteously and hang up. They have things to do and you have more calls to make.

    What if they want to get into the ask on the phone? What if they say something like, "C'mon. I know you're going to ask me for money. How much is it this year?" Look back at your index card. You'll be reminded that the goal of this call is to set up an appointment. You can try phrases like:

    • "I'd really like to show you [this video/a rendition/something]. Would next week be better for you?"
    • "This project is just too important to talk about over the phone. Let's find a time when you and [his/her spouse] can get together."
    • "Ha! I love your candor! If I thought I could do our cause justice over the phone, I would. But I'd much prefer meeting together. Is evening better than during the day?"

    The one exception to this rule is if you're going to ask them to give what they gave last year. Then you might be able to chuckle and say, "Well thanks, [donor name]. I wanted you to see how grateful we are for your support. I was going to ask you to consider giving that gift again this year."

    Only use that in select circumstances where you know the prospect. And be ready to take down a credit card number!

That's all you need to set up a major gift appointment!

Those 7 steps will get you in the door. These are the steps I use on my own fundraising calls and I teach to my one-on-one coaching clients.

What would you add?

Have you tried steps like this? Did they work? Or do you have other strategies you've found to be effective? Let us know below in the comments!

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