Preparing for Out-Of-Town Donor Visits

Posted on 03/01/2021

One of the best ways to cultivate relationships with important donors (and prospective donors) is through face-to-face meetings. Personal interaction allows gift officers to gain valuable insight into a prospect’s personality, interests, and gift capacity, while providing opportunities for the prospect to build bonds with the institution and learn about its priorities.

Unfortunately, most institutions don’t have the luxury of seeing all of their donors in their own backyards. In order to have those important in-person meetings, some out-of-town travel is often necessary. And while there may be a glamorous side to life on the road, traveling to meet with donors can also be a lot of work. When a trip doesn’t go well, it’s often because the gift officer didn’t take the proper steps to prepare.

With all that goes into travel planning, starting early is critical to success. As you consider the trip planning process, here are 5 tips to ensure productive out-of-town visits:

  1. Use data to identify good prospects. Data and predictive modeling can help you assess which prospects should be added to your potential visit list. Consider your larger donors to be your “anchors” for the trip—these meetings are critical and should be your starting point to guarantee that the travel is worth your time and investment. Once those visits are secured, broaden your scope by reaching out to a more diverse group of prospects, including those who have never made a gift but have capacity based on your research. It’s important to add donors you want to steward or engage as volunteers as well.
  2. Make meetings appealing. Find a setting and a structure that works for each individual prospect. For example, young alumni and reunion volunteers often feel comfortable in group meetings. Being flexible with visit times and locations is also key so that donors do not need to go out of their way to make meetings work for their schedules.
  3. Prepare an elevator pitch. Outline all of the main points that you want to discuss and practice the ask if there’s going to be one. This will help you stay on task, especially if the meeting is short. In addition, create a mini-briefing for each visit with key biographical information.
  4. Go over trip logistics. Setting reasonable expectations for yourself is important, so be sure to establish some guidelines around the necessary travel time between meetings, the number of visits that you can handle per day, etc. Ask co-workers for advice as you are planning your trip—if someone has visited the city before, they can provide valuable insight into good hotels, meeting locations, and how best to get around. Be sure to share your itinerary with your supervisor and all of your colleagues before you leave.
  5. Prioritize your follow-up after the meeting. Capture the important details and the outcome of the meeting as soon as possible, through quick notes or even using a phone recording app. This will help you draft a more complete contact report later, when you have more time. Aim to send an email to the prospect within 24 hours of the meeting, expressing thanks and answering any questions that weren’t covered during the conversation. In those emails, include links to your institution’s website in order to provide additional information regarding topics that were discussed or ways prospects can get more involved.

Successful trips require a strategic approach to everything, from how you structure your meetings to where you stay. With thoughtful advance planning—including a healthy dose of prospect research, an attention to logistics, and proper prep for every conversation—as well as prompt documentation and outreach after each visit, you’ll be more ready than ever to hit the road.

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