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Ask Andrea: A Great Way to Get Your Major Donors to Meet with You

Ask AndreaDo you have a question to ask me? Email me, Andrea Kihlstedt, at for your chance to be featured in the column!

Now, let’s get to this month's important question about getting face time with major donors.

Dear Andrea,

It’s the eternal struggle - getting in the door of a major donor for some face time.

Donors’ time is valuable, especially those with deeper pockets who typically travel, serve on Boards, and are active in the community. They receive a lot of asks, a lot of emails, a lot of meeting requests.

What verbiage or buzz words do you recommend to get them to say ‘yes’ to a meeting? Do you say you’d like some time for feedback, to see how they’d like to be involved, to give them updates about the impact a past gift has made? Please share what kind of meeting asks you’ve found to be most helpful.

Lisa B.

Ask Andrea: Calling a donorDear Lisa,

Your question is one that should be on every development director's mind. Because, really, you can't raise serious money sitting in your office! You've got to get out and meet with donors.

But as you suggest, they are busy and many of them have gotten a bit suspicious of development directors calling to set up meetings. They don't want to be manipulated or "cultivated" or set up for "the ask." And can you blame them?

Imagine if you had scads of money and people started beating a path to your door. You'd get pretty good at fending them off too.

My friend and partner in Capital Campaign Masters, Gail Perry of Fired Up Fundraising, has come up with the answer: Advice Visits!

If when you call your major donors and they tell you that they're too busy to see you. Here's what to do.

Stop talking and start asking for advice!

Don't set up a meeting to tell them about your organization. Instead, meet with them to get ideas and suggestions from them.

You may get good and important advice. You'll learn also more about them and their philanthropic priorities.

Think about it this way.

If you tell a donor you'd like to come tell them about your organization, they know that all you want is their money. And they know that they've got to sit there and listen while you talk. That doesn't feel good.

But if you ask a donor to help you think something through or give you their advice, you care about them for more than their money. And they'll get to talk!

Gail has written lots of great material about advice visits. She suggests using these phrases.

“I have an idea up my sleeve and I want to bounce it off you.”

“We’re thinking about an interesting project and I want to pick your brain about it.”

Of course, there are times when you do want to meet with a major donor specifically to ask them for a gift. If that's what you plan to do, that's what you should say when you call to schedule the meeting.

If you've already built a strong and resonant relationship with the donor, she'll be likely to schedule a meeting for that too.

Advice visits must be authentic and honest. Don't pretend. Don't use buzz words. And most important -- Don't ask for an advice visit and then do all the talking!

What fundraising questions do you have?

Send your questions to Andrea at

Ask Andrea: Celebrity Challenges

Andrea Kihlstedt loves to help people solve their fundraising problems. She has provided advice and friendly encouragement to lots of people over her 30+ years in the fundraising business. She’s also written four books on fundraising. Andrea lives in New York City with her husband and her old cat, Hairy Potter. You can find her at Capital Campaign Magic.

Topics: Fundraising