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Open your Donor's Door with an Advice Visit

By Gail Perry

Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. -T. S. Eliot

Advice Visits are an excellent tool to help nervous board members actively open doors to prospective donors. Advice Visits are based on adage: “If you want someone to give you advice, just ask for money. If you want money, then ask for advice.”

Asking donors for their opinions and guidance helps to create a closer relationship between the donor and your organization.  In fact, they are complimented when you ask them for advice and help.  Good fundraising practices hold that you should ask more from your donors than just a financial contribution.

These conversations are also grounded in the best sustainable fundraising strategies: you must treat donors like people, not like pocketbooks.  This means that you should give your donor a deeper more complete relationship  - much more than just a financial one.

An Advice Visit is a personal one-on-one meeting between you (or your board member) and a potential or current donor to your organization.

This meeting is called the Advice Visit, because that is truly what you are after-advice. This visit is emphatically not about money.

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Your only goal for visiting this person is to ask them what they think of your project and ask for some serious guidance. It is always beneficial to get other people’s thoughts about your cause, especially if the thinking comes from important potential donors with deep pockets!
If you are meeting with a community leader, chances are good that your visit will be highly productive.

You cannot ever have all the best ideas, and cannot know everyone who might be interested in your project or cause, or the people your volunteers might steer you to. It takes lots of people, all thinking together, offering lots of advice, to figure out how to put an organization smack in the middle of the entire community’s radar screen.

“Can I Pick Your Brain?”: Advice Visits Can Open Important Doors

The best way to open any door in town is to ask the person for their advice.  Try calling them up and telling them, “I have an interesting project up my sleeve.  Can I take you out for coffee and pick your brain about it?”, or, “my organization is trying to do xxxxx, and I am not sure how we can accomplish this.  Can I come ask your advice and get the benefit of your perspective?”

Advice Visits are easy; in fact, there is not a better door opener and cultivation tool. You can do more in a half an hour with one important prospect than you can do in an entire evening of small talk at an event. This is a perfect opportunity to promote your cause and cultivate a potential donor in a direct, personal way.

The “Informational Interview”

If you have ever read What Color Is Your Parachute?, the book describes a meeting called the Informational Interview and asserts that anybody will be willing to talk to you if you are seeking  their advice and counsel.

When you go to the interview, you are, in fact, genuinely seeking this person’s advice about your important cause.  People are usually complimented when someone approaches them just to ask for advice and you will be surprised at the number of doors that will open if you just ask for advice.

If you have never tried an Advice Visit, then a world of possibility and connection awaits you.  People want to help nonprofit causes, because they care about their communities, regions, country, and world.  You will find help where you seek it, and you will be particularly successful because you are not asking directly for money.

You are merely setting up a situation in which the help can be offered if the person is so moved. In fact, you will probably be amazed at the person’s willingness to help you.


Another reason the Advice Visit is successful is that the person being visted will invariably give you an important lead or suggestion that will help you further your cause.

Best of all, the person almost always offers to do something to help you. This is a great step forward.  If the person offers to take any action on behalf of your cause, even if it is just a phone call, then they are involved. When someone acts to help your cause, that person is becoming invested in your success.  They become part of your team. They are putting themselves on your organization’s bandwagon.

If the person you are visiting is a potential major donor, note carefully their questions about your project. The questions asked contain valuable information because they indicate the direction of her inner thinking about your cause.  Their questions may point to important opportunities you are missing, connections you need to make, or gaps in your case for support. They are also a window to your potential donor’s thinking about your project.

Rules for the Advice Visit

Rule One: Make Sure You Are Interesting, Not Boring

As you tell your person about your cause and seek his advice, you should be watching carefully for his reaction. If your prospect seems to not be very interested in your cause, then you should not drag on.. If you are perceived as boring or droning on and on, you will never be welcomed back!

Rule Two: Ask for a Short Appointment and Leave at the End of That Time

Always practice good manners and get up to leave when you said you would.  If your prospect is on a roll, talking and talking, and asks you to stay, then do so. But never overstay your welcome.
When you are an important, extremely busy person, nothing is worse than a well-meaning visitor who stays forever.

However, if you are interesting and keep the meeting short, then your prospect will be much more likely to see you again when you ask for another visit.  It is even good to end the meeting deliberately when the person is not quite finished talking, even if he has warmed to the topic and has plenty more to say. Then, when you call for a follow-up visit, he will be happy, even eager to visit with you again, because he has more to say and knows you will keep him too long.

Rule Three: Make Sure the Person You Visit Does as Much of the Talking as Possible

You are after his advice and thinking. Only tell him enough about your project to keep him interested. The important points are to share your personal passion and excitement for the cause and why you are personally involved. Then just ask questions, such as:

  • What do you think about the project?
  • What about the organization?
  • What about the need – is it real?
  • What interests you personally about the problem we are addressing?
  • What do you think our best strategy is for lining up support?
  • Who else would be interested in hearing about this?
  • Who else can help us? How can we get them on board?

You can go far by just asking great questions.

You will be amazed at what you will find out in the Advice Visit. Many nonprofit it supporters think they need to do a “pitch” when they have this visit. A pitch is the last thing they should do. Instead, they should be quiet and listen.

People will offer to do so many things for you! If they suggest a prominent person in the community whom you should approach, then always ask them if they will help open the door to that person. That way you will not be making a cold call; this influential person will be helping to make the introduction, in effect, blessing you and your cause.

Board Members Find These Rules for One-on-One Advice Visits to Be a Relief

Board members are usually happy to find out that they do not need to be prepared for an endless, detailed presentation. They are comfortable with the idea of seeking advice and input. After all, they are the community representatives on the board.

It is totally appropriate for your board members to be asking other community leaders for their best thinking on how to achieve the organization’s goals. They do not have to present a detailed case for support in order to be effective personal advocates for the cause.

If your board members take on Advice Visits with vigor, they will become actively engaged in bringing their own friends into the fold as well as VIP community leaders whom they know.  You will find that they actually like these visits.

If you set your board members to make Advice Visits, you will be surprised at the energy and gusto with which they will tackle meeting with their friends, associates, and community leaders.
Your organization can only benefit when your board members reach out to their social and professional circles in order to gain advice and help.  As they take on their appropriate role as personal advocates for your mission, they will help expand your organization’s social capital, making valuable friends and contacts who will be willing to help you out in many different ways.

Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE, is a nonprofit fundraising and governance consultant, speaker and blogger. She is the best-selling author of Fired-Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action. Her Fired Up Fundraising approach, developed over the past 25 years, has helped organizations raise hundreds of millions in gifts and support. Gail consistently earns rave reviews for her workshops and speeches, and her “Easy Fundraising for Board Members” workshops are popular internationally. She invites us to her FiredUpFundraising.com blog where you can find free fundraising tools that will help you raise the major gifts you need.



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