Tips for getting your toe in the door

A fundraiser friend of mine is struggling to meet her goal for number of donor visits per week. She’s heard it said often enough to believe she won’t raise money – real money that is – sitting at her desk. My friend is eager to be out and about, meeting with the good folks who support her organization. Unfortunately, not as many of them are eager to meet with her.

“How can I up the percentage of yes’s to my requests for visits?” she asked. “People are polite, but most say it’s not necessary for me to come see them – that I shouldn’t waste my time stopping by. They tell me they’ll continue giving without a visit. What more can I say?”stick_figure_waving_on_text_11688

Before reaching into my answer bag for a quick response, I decided to check with some folks in the trenches. After all, it’s been a while since I’ve practiced what I preach about fundraising. Maybe it was time to test my usual counsel against that of actual practitioners.

So I posted my friend’s question to a LinkedIn group. By week’s end more than 40 fundraisers had weighed in, with the majority advising that my friend not be so quick to take no for an answer. “Overcoming objections is part of the job,” I was told.

The advice offered by the online advisors fell into four categories, which I’ve summarized in the headings below. I’ve also attached a representative comment to each point.

  • Assure that a visit isn’t a bother. “I would suggest she tell her donors that it is never a waste of time to have the opportunity to personally thank her benefactors. She might ask if she can stop by and bring a cup of coffee and chat for a few minutes,” a fundraiser named Karen suggested.
  • Promise to keep it brief. “You can tell people that you will be ‘in the area’ and happy to stop by for 15 minutes,” Phil advised.  “I have had some very productive meetings with people who were initially hesitant,” he added.
  • Have a purpose that makes sense to the donor. “Can you answer the questions ‘why me?’ and ‘why now?’ People are busier than ever,” Richard wrote. “Sophisticated donors filter ‘purposeful’ meetings from ‘grip and grin’ visits. Perhaps more time should be spent to narrow the list and have higher quality names that warrant strong “why me and why now.”
  • Ask for advice, not a gift (this time).  “I have found great success in setting appointments with donors when I call to let them know that we are looking for ways to improve a process and I would like their opinion and advice on some of the ideas that have been offered,” Debby advised. “This is also effective when following up after an event to thank them for coming and to see if they could share ideas for ways that we could have made it more enjoyable, more mission-centered, memorable, etc.”


For all a fundraiser’s best efforts to get a toe in the door, some donors truly don’t want to be seen. They’re not simply being humble or playing hard to get. Their “no” really is a no. In these instances, as a fundraiser named Michael cautions, “it’s more damaging to ignore the donor’s word,  irrespective of the priority level. If there a really important message to get across, use the channel that the donor prefers.”

To which a wise man named Jim added, “Be mindful of the three P’s: persistence, pushy, and pain – in that order. Stray too far into pushy and the relationship could be damaged.”

The face-to-face visit remains the gold standard of donor cultivation. It’s a prize worth seeking, with persistence, but not at risk of the relationship. When the goal is growing givers’ hearts, donors’ preferences trump fundraisers’ priorities every time. And that includes letting a donor’s nay be nay – even when we’d rather hear yea. There are many ways to nurture relationships. The savvy fundraiser uses them all when trying to get a toe in the door.

And there’s the answer to my friend’s question. I’m ready to give her a call.

Talk back: What pointers would add to the list above? How do you work with resistant donors?


  1. I agree with everything here. The visit does have to be about the donor. On another note, should we reconsider the success of a fundraiser based on this criteria. Not discounting the effectiveness. Just need to rethink our expectations. This can be very disheartening for some who are otherwise successful.

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