We recently surveyed fundraising teams across the world, asking them to share their challenges trying to raise major gifts in today’s environment.

The survey revealed some interesting feedback about the situation on the ground in development shops everywhere. 

It turns out that everyone’s #1 challenge was in discovering and qualifying more major gift prospects. 

No surprise here. For almost all fundraisers, the important work of discovering new major donors can be a huge challenge. 

Wasting time with the wrong donors? 

I remember when I was a front-line fundraiser. I found myself spending so much time with prospects who I thought “might’ give. It hurts to remember how much time I wasted with these individuals. (How much time have you wasted yourself?

I never could figure out whether they were serious about making a bigger impact on our work. Even more, I never knew how to bring up the idea of a gift. 

“How do you talk about this stuff?” I would think to myself.

Are they qualified prospects, or not? 

I knew somehow that I needed a stronger process between nice dinners with the donor and a formal high-stakes Ask Meeting. I needed a stronger discovery process. 

Now that, I’m older and wiser, I have more experience under my belt. 

Finally, after decades of wandering in the dark wondering if Mr. or Ms. Major Donor Prospect would really, really make a gift, I developed a path out of the mishmash and confusion. 

What a relief. I’m happy to share that my partner Dr. Kathryn Gamble and I have developed a solid discovery process that works. I mean, it works Every. Single. Time.

The Discovery Call Playbook

Now, we can give our clients a roadmap with every single donor. Our Discovery Call Playbook follows an established path. Here’s where it comes from: 

Discovery is based on permission.

We always ask the donor for permission to bring up a topic. “If I may, can I ask you about . . . . ? Or “would you like to”  . . .

Asking a donor for permission helps them feel like it’s all about them. And that they are in charge of the process. They never feel pushed.

Discovery is based on questions.

All those years, when I wondered if those big donors would make a gift or not, I didn’t know what questions to ask. 

Often, if you ask the donor, they will tell you where they stand. 

Remember, she who asks the questions really does control the conversation. Just think of it as an inquiry process. 

You can find out if they are interested in having a Gift Conversation. Just ask (nicely.)

Discovery is based on conversations.

Ah, conversations. They’re usually pleasant because there’s “give and take” between both parties. You ask the questions, and you follow where the donor wants to go

All you have to do is ask the donor: What kind of impact do they want to make? When might they want to do it? 

Discovery is based on listening.

Remember, listening is a lost art. When you listen to the donor, you honor her, by holding the space for her to share her deepest feelings. 

One of our clients, a recent Major Gifts Intensive student, said this: 

Our biggest takeaway was to listen to donors. This was very powerful for our board. We secured a $600K gift just by listening.

How to have a successful Discovery Call

We always teach our clients and Major Gifts Intensive members, how to hold a successful Discovery Call. 

Our clients can now make a thank you phone call, and smoothly turn it into a Discovery Conversation. 

You can too. As I’ve shared, you can use a series of questions to ask donors to find out if they are really serious or not. 

This is how you qualify your prospects. It’s as simple as 1-2-3.

The Soft Skills of Major Gift Fundraising 

It’s all based on the soft skills of fundraising. Power listening skills. Gentle inquiry. Asking the right questions. This is the best discovery process of all. 

Bottom Line: Discovery Calls can be easy. 

Do more of them, every day, and you will find the special donors who have super capacity and want to help – right now! 

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.