The Qualification Call…Gulp!

By: W. Milton Key, Jr., Partner

It’s here…the time you’ve set aside each week to make qualification (or discovery) calls to a few donors, with the goal to determine if an in-person visit is warranted, to further qualify them as bona fide major or planned gift prospects.

You’ve prepared by reviewing gift histories, wealth screen profiles, and various online resources…but you’re not confident about what to say to the person after she/he answers the phone.  You’re not alone and there’s hope.

Consider these steps before making your next round of qualification calls:

  1. Set the tone with your tone. Put the person at ease, with a personable, positive tone in your voice.  Introduce yourself (use name, title, organization), thank the person for taking your call, and let them know you’re intention is to be brief.
  2. Break the ice. With calm and ease, establish that you aren’t calling to ask for a gift, but to thank the person for her/his faithful support of your organization, or for attending a recent event, to follow up on a referral from your board member, etc.  Give the person a chance to respond and follow up with a related question(s), if appropriate.  Next, ask them a short question about why they support your organization, how they learned about the event, etc., so you can engage the person and start listening.  If the person seems to be warming up, ask a follow-up question.  (Congrats!  A conversation has begun.)
  3. Assess and ask. Your research prior to the call helped you determine that the person likely has ability and affinity to give more.  If you’ve discerned there’s no more affinity, gently wind down the call by thanking the person for their time and support, ask her/him if your organization can count on their continued support, and invite her/him to contact you if you can be of assistance in the future. (Send a short handwritten thank you note.) If you’re sensing there is, indeed, affinity for your organization, ask for an opportunity to get together with the person for no more than an hour to update them on the organization’s current priorities and get her/his input on those plans or plans for the capital project or program tied to her/his recent gift(s).  Almost everyone appreciates being asked their opinion.  It’s a great way to get to know someone and discern if there could be a match between the person’s interests and your organization’s priorities.   (The appointment can happen in a restaurant, in the person’s home or office.  Ask the person if she/he has a preference, or invite them to your campus or office, for a brief tour and visit.)

As is the case with so many things, practice makes perfect.

  1. Experience the call in your mind. Take a moment or two before your qualification calls, to inhale/exhale a deep breath and think about each call.  Imagine that you are relaxed and comfortable.  You are engaging the person, and she/he is being responsive.  It is a friendly, energetic, brief call.  You have been able to convey appreciation and reflect positively on yourself and your organization.  You have been able to form a connection with the person and have learned something about their involvement with or interest in your organization.  You have been able to secure an in-person qualifying visit with the person or you have been able to rule them out as a prospect for deeper engagement, at least for now…a helpful outcome, either way.
  2. Role play with a colleague. Before you make your calls each week, spend a half hour or so with your mentor or a colleague you trust, alternating between the development and prospect roles.  You’ll develop script notes (for reference during the call – not for reading), a rhythm and a comfort level that will boost your confidence and prepare you for the calls.

I trust you’ll have even greater outcomes from your qualification calls with these suggestions.  Please share, if you’ve identified other tips that work well in producing desired outcomes.

Happy calling!