How to get meetings with prospects when you can’t even reach them on the phone

Thos of us in major gifts can spend hours and hours trying to get our prospects’ attention to ask them to meet.

Okay, in the ideal world, we’d get volunteer peers to open the doors for us.  But volunteers have only so much time, and sometimes there are many good prospects mined from our databases but no volunteer that has a connection with them.

Besides, often our prospects are already connected through previous giving history.  Many of them are giving way below capacity. Since the connection presumably exists, it seems like a no brainer that the major gifts office should be able to schedule a discovery meeting to see if they qualify for a major gift.

The problem is often on the other end – – we call, but nobody picks up the phone.  Maybe after a few tries, we leave voicemails.  Our calls are never returned.

I don’t know about you, but when I can actually get someone to talk with me on the phone, my success ratio of getting a meeting with them is quite high.  And then when we meet and I tell them what my organization is up to they almost always want to support.  But if I can’t even get them on the phone, I have a hard time getting them to that next level.

And of course, part of the problem is that we’re often measured by activity.  No completed phone calls equals no moves, so it looks like we’re not doing anything with our time.

So here is my arsenal of strategies that I use to try to connect with donors to schedule meetings.  I’m going to break them into 2 categories – calls to people’s homes and calls to people’s office.

Calls to people’s homes

TRACK – I make a series of calls without leaving a voicemail at first.  Hardly anyone returns voicemails, even the most charming, compelling ones.  When I’m at home, I hardly return voicemails either.  Do make a note of every time you tried to call and didn’t get an answer.  This will help you pay attention to when you’re calling, so that you can try to call different times during the day, and even different days of the week.  It will also help you see how many attempts you’ve made.

FINALLY LEAVE A VOICEMAIL – I know I said I don’t leave voicemails.  But after I’ve tried about 5 times, I do leave a voicemail.  I thank them for their support, assure them that I’m not calling to ask for money (because I’m not – – I’m calling to get to know them, do discovery, get their feedback, etc.), and I tell them that I have a few questions and would really love a moment of their time.  Then I leave my number.  They don’t call back, but guess what – – I record this as a move.

LEAVE ANOTHER VOICEMAIL AFTER A FEW DAYS – because I can’t stand giving up after one try, and besides, upon very rare occasion, people have called me back.  And it’s another move.

TRY THE OFFICE – If you don’t have their office information, do a Google search or peek at LinkedIn.  (They’ll see you looking at their profile though.)   Skip to the next section – Calling people at their offices.  If you don’t have their office number and don’t know where they work, skip to the next step.

SEND A LETTER – Ideally, have your executive director or board member sign it.  The message should say something to the effect of thanking them for their support and telling them that we’d just like a few minutes of their time.  Then the text should say “That’s why I’ve ask (insert your name) to call you to arrange an appointment as soon as possible.”


If you’ve still gotten nowhere, park them for a few months.  There’s a problem with this – your boss wants you to only have hot, active prospects in your portfolio and wants to see moves on all of them.  However, I have connected with people after failing to reach them for over a year, and then when I finally do connect with them, they become major donors.  So, fight for space in your portfolio.  You’re the fundraising expert anyway, right?  Does your organization want major donors or not?

While they’re parked, continue to send them cards, information, invitations to events, and so on.

Revive them again after a few months and try again.  If you don’t have any success, then reassign them elsewhere – direct response or leadership giving or wherever is appropriate.

Calls to offices

REACH THE EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT – I have good success with executive assistants.  If you don’t know who your donor’s assistant is, call the main number for the company and ask “May I speak to whomever handles XXX XXX’s calendar?”

When you reach the executive assistant, say something like “I’d like to make an appointment with XXX  XXX – – I’m calling from (your agency), but just to be clear, I’m not calling to ask for money.  Since he’s a community leader with a history of support, we’d really like to get his thoughts on a promising initiative.  Would he have any openings on (insert a date a few weeks from now)?”

Usually the executive assistant will ask for a followup email outlining the purpose of the meeting.  This is good because now you’ll get the executive assistant’s email and the correct spelling of her name.   Then follow up with the email with the above message, and be sure to thank her very sincerely for her assistance.

If she offers reasons why the prospect can’t meet, never just go away.  Always have a follow up plan.

He’s too busy – – express that you understand completely.  Might you try again in a few weeks?

He’s too busy now and will always be too busy – – again, you understand completely.  However, he does have to eat lunch – could you buy him lunch at his favourite spot in exchange for the opportunity to ask him some questions and get his feedback?

He doesn’t support this cause – – again, you understand completely.  Just to reiterate, you’re not asking for money right now.  You wouldn’t be calling if this weren’t so very important.

Call our Community Investments office – – thank you so much, we will certainly do that to talk about corporate support!  However, this meeting request isn’t to ask your company for money – it’s about getting XXX XXX’s thoughts.

With these strategies, I have a good “get the meeting” ratio.  Of course, the best way to get the meeting is to have someone open the door for us – – ideally a peer volunteer who already has a connection.  But while we’re working on that, we have to continue meeting prospects in the meantime!





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