Re-Thinking the Phone Call Before the Discovery Visit

The sense among many development officers is that the primary purpose of calling a new major gift prospect is to get a visit.  The initial research on the prospect’s capacity has been completed and the next logical step, the conventional wisdom says, is to get the visit.

But in this day of doing more with less and increasing the return on investment in the development enterprise, such an approach seems to be somewhat inefficient.  Why would we automatically use a phone call to set up a visit?  Can’t the phone call do more for us?  Why wouldn’t we use the phone call to begin the discovery process and, perhaps, save the time and expense of a visit?  Here is what I mean.

When we get a new prospect on the phone, why not use the call to ask initial questions about their impressions of our institution?  Why not use the call to get a better sense of how they feel about an important new initiative?  Or ask how our institution has stewarded their annual giving in the past?  Why not seek their advice and feedback on some important topic?

By asking questions such as the ones above, the development officer will collect meaningful data about the prospect and make a more informed decision about setting up a discovery visit.  It may be that the answers to these questions strongly suggest that the prospect’s interest and/or capacity is limited and, thus, a visit is not needed.  This is good development work, an efficient use of resources, and should be cheered.  On the other hand, the prospect’s answers may indicate far more interest and capacity than previously thought and may warrant a more strategic response by the institution than a simple visit.

We do better development work when we use every opportunity to show interest in and ask thoughtful questions of donors and prospects.   An initial phone call is not a discovery visit, but it also should be much more than the tool to set up that visit.



  1. Jason, great insight on doing more with less. Given that email has also become a prevalent first touch point in communication, how do you feel about discovery and cultivation via email versus phone versus in person? Recently our organization received an email from a (new) person/corporation wanting to learn how they can support one of our major annual fundraising events. We used the email contact (from them) as an opportunity to set up a face to face meeting. Email and the internet seems to add a new dimension to the processes of discovery and cultivation, right?

    • Thanks for reading and for your response Jory. No question, e-approaches to connecting with prospects and engaging donors are ubiquitous and, in many instances, helpful. No medium is more efficient in collecting data than a personal visit, though. The problem is that personal visits can be financially inefficient. Therefore, my suggestion is to use pre-visit strategies to begin the discovery process and making initial assessments about capacity and interest prior to the possible visit.

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