Discovery: Don't put it off - it matters now more than ever!

discovery Nov 05, 2020

If you don’t start a terrific conversation now, another nonprofit will. And when that donor is ready to give, it won’t be you they think of.

Put simply, the #1 way to ensure your university’s success and your future success as a fundraiser is to stay ambitious and consistent with discovery now.

Discovery is arguably the hardest part of fundraising. It means, by definition, that you are calling someone you don’t know. For most of us – even seasoned fundraisers – cold calling is consistently nerve-wracking, sweat-inducing, and just plain awkward.

Why is discovery so uncomfortable?

Fear. Fear of intruding, of offending, of making someone angry, of rambling or sounding stupid, of getting hung up on, or even being yelled at.

How can you conquer that fear?

Make discovery a habit. Like every other fear - the more you do it, the less scary it is. Make dependable time for this work and put it on your calendar. Even three focused hours a week will yield incredible dividends. And it becomes weirdly addictive – the more discovery you do, the more curious you get, the more people you want to meet. Success breeds success!

Flip your approach. Instead of trying to convince yourself to make horrifying cold calls to strangers who are just waiting to hang up on you, what if you could see it as an adventure? One of the coolest things about being a fundraiser is getting to know hundreds of fascinating, generous humans. How else would you meet a philosophy professor turned hedge fund manager, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, a Hollywood screenwriter and a beloved history teacher all in one day?

Now is actually the perfect time. Right now, we’re hearing from hundreds of fundraisers in every pocket of the country that alumni and friends of universities are:

  • easier to reach because they’re traveling less and/or working from home,
  • more open in conversation because we all need some human connection,
  • easier to connect with faculty because Zoom doesn’t require a flight or car ride, and
  • more open about their gift interest because virtual visits are more purposeful and focused.

If you’re not already making discovery a priority, this really is your moment!

Here are a few steps to make it easier in this new world of virtual visits.

5 Steps to Great Virtual Discovery

1.    Send a truly personalized email asking for a phone or video meeting. Make this email about them (not you, or the dean, or the newest initiative) and you’re much more likely to receive an answer.

2.    Two days later, take a deep breath, smile, and dial. Call them. On the phone. Think of every reason you hang up on robocallers and avoid doing those things. Be the genuine voice of their alma mater, calling because you care.

3.    When you connect, be curious. Don’t worry about not having the answer to every possible question. (Those are great opportunities for follow-up!) Instead, ask them great questions. Everyone appreciates being heard and understood and this is how you discover the difference they’d feel proud to make at your university.

4.    Don’t leave them wondering why you called – or yourself wondering whether they’re likely to give. Find a phrase that feels comfortable, practice it so it’s easy to spit out, and turn the conversation to giving before you hang up!

5.    Make a follow-up plan. If they really are interested in giving, how and how often will you stay in touch? Right after you talk, brainstorm what cool things you can send and people you want them to meet to keep the university at the top of their mind. When you can’t be in-person, this kind of follow up makes all the difference!

Don’t put off discovery! Seize this moment when people are eager to make a difference in the world.

You know that nothing is more satisfying as a fundraiser than knowing that you’ve connected generous humans to the difference they want to make. And you want to be the nonprofit that comes to mind when donors are ready to give. The only way that happens – again and again, year after year – is to make great discovery calls now.