Development professionals face many hurdles when connecting with potential donors. How do you stand out in a donor’s overflowing inbox or avoid becoming yet another message languishing in the donor’s voicemail? Including a value proposition in your communication increases your likelihood of success. Spend some time developing one or more value propositions that are unique to the potential donor. Then, use these tactical, donor-centric approaches to help secure meetings.

1. Choose an auspicious day of the week to send an email

Many of us want to be off and running on Monday. We start the week—maybe even Sunday evening—by sending out emails to get a jump on the week’s business; however, so does everyone else. An email sent on the first day of the workweek may end up being just one more discordant note deleted from in an inbox screeching for attention.

Some development professionals have had great success sending an email on Monday evening. The donor or potential donor has likely tackled the task of emptying that full inbox, so your email will float to the top of Tuesday’s emails. One development professional shared with us that Wednesday was their lucky day—perhaps because by hump day, many folks have their tasks for the week completed or scheduled and are looking ahead to the following week.

2. Pick a propitious time of day for a phone call

Just as Monday might not be the best day of the week for success with email, an early morning phone call might result in a busy signal. Instead, try phoning at an “off” time of day—such as later in the afternoon. When a donor’s calendar is less likely to be booked and many of the to-do items have been ticked off their list, the likelihood of their accepting your call goes up.

You may also find success emailing later in the day. Your email will stand out in a less crowded inbox, and folks who like to take their inbox down to zero will make an effort to clear the email with a response.

3. Start with stewardship

Thanking donors for their previous support welcomes further conversations. Stewardship calls and emails demonstrate your respect for the donor and indicate that their relationship with your organization is a valued one. As a relationship of trust builds and strengthens, the donor will be more motivated to respond to your communications and agree to meetings.

If you are seeking a meeting with a potential donor, pay attention to dates or occasions when they might be visiting your organization—perhaps they are touring facilities or attending an event. A quick phone call or email to thank them for their visit shows respect and builds trust. If appropriate, include a photo from the tour or event. One development professional relayed people are reluctant to delete an email that contains a photo. Always be thinking of ways to leverage events.

“Events have to be in service of the ‘magic,’” said the development professional. “They can’t be the magic.”

Another way to leverage events is to schedule a meeting either before or afterward. The donor has already committed to the event, so carving out 15­–20 more minutes may be a more viable option. A donor we talked with reported having great success booking meetings around virtual events.

4. Link up on LinkedIn

Social media can be a powerful arrow in the development professional’s quiver of communication methods. Younger donors and potential donors often respond favorably to direct messaging. If you happen to see a post by the donor or potential donor on the page of another donor that you follow, you can add value to your message by commenting about what you saw.

Social media does not come without its pitfalls. Using social media that is tailored for professional use is more likely to yield positive results. If you are using social media such as Facebook or Instagram, be sure that your posts always contain content that is appropriate for professionals or consider having dual accounts—one for professional use and one for more personal content.

5. Offer choices

Sometimes the key to success in securing a meeting involves providing an easy and efficient way to respond. Offering several dates and/or times for a meeting in the initial email eliminates unnecessary back-and-forth efforts. When offering potential dates and times, be sure to hold them on your calendar, ensuring your availability.

6. Make the gatekeeper your ally

Whether the gatekeeper is a family member or a professional assistant, making the effort to develop a trust-based relationship with them will yield dividends. Go the extra mile by noticing and remembering things that are important to the gatekeeper in a genuine and authentic way. (Pro tip: Uncover their highest personality trait to make communicating with them easier!) Sending them birthday greetings or congratulating them on a recent success demonstrates that you value them as a person, rather than a hurdle to clear.

All your efforts in finally securing a meeting will be for naught if you don’t capture your best methods for success in your donor management system for reference the next time you’d like to invite the donor or potential donor to meet. Highlighting each donor’s preference is both efficient for dealing with that particular donor and sparking ideas for ways to connect with other potential donors who elude your efforts.


Learn more about securing meetings and other techniques for success in our virtual public offerings.

The Art and Science of Donor Development

The Professional Education Series