The site tour is the Shangri-la of fundraising. It’s where the magic happens. It’s a destination we all try to reach and when we’re there – we are rewarded. It’s well known that if you persuade a potential donor to visit your site, they are more likely to donate to your organization. There are probably statistics somewhere to back this up, but I think that all I will say here is … “duh.”
You have a tour set up – the important thing is not to waste the opportunity. Make donor magic!
It’s difficult to get the attention of donors in this economic climate. If you have a board member who is finally bringing two of her best friends to visit your organization – it is a big step. Foundation visits can be especially complex since the program staff is constantly visiting agencies. They have seen it all – it may take some extra planning and preparation.
To make a site visit productive for any visitor and to ensure a future gift, don’t forget these four steps.
#1 Know your guests
Do your research. Know their potential for giving and their interests. Know their names and make certain your staff and president know them as well. There is nothing worse than hearing the headmaster mispronounce a potential donor’s name for an hour. It happened to me. I made the mistake of letting it go the first time – then I couldn’t correct him the next 15 times. It was agony.
Discover and take advantage of your guests’ connections to the organization. If they know a board member, try to have that person attend the tour as well. If they are a fan or friend of a professor, teacher, clinician or staff member, put that program or office on the tour.
#2 Take care of the details
Make use of your event planning skills. Start a few days before by sending out personal, friendly, confirmation emails. Make certain that you provide thorough driving directions. Is there enough parking for your visitors? Put up signs if necessary or provide someone to direct them to their parking. Will it be a hot day? Provide them with water or plan for periodic rest breaks. Be sure to let them know what to expect so they wear the correct clothing and shoes. Make it easy on the guests – the staff should wear nametags.
#3 Plan the agenda carefully, just not too carefully
There are some consultants and ‘experts’ who recommend a scripted tour with canned speeches and heartrending videos. I am of the opinion that a visit should be natural and heartfelt. I like to be just as entertained and touched as the visitors. A savvy Foundation officer will know whether it’s all too rehearsed.
That doesn’t mean that the tour shouldn’t be well-planned, though. The following is a check-list for organizing a tour.
- The Talent – this is the tour guide, someone with charisma who knows the program and can explain it clearly. I ask my guides to provide examples or stories as often as possible. For example, I have one guide at a program to which I just love to take visitors, who stops during the tour and points to a telephone… and tells a story. This was the phone where one very confused man, brought in by police as homeless with suspected mental problems, was able to call home to Peru. He wasn’t homeless, he was lost. This particular program deals with 1200 homeless and mentally ill people a year. They were happy to help a regular tourist.
- The Client – this can be a student, teacher, patient, parent, whoever can bear testimony to the service that the organization has done for them. I try to speak with them a few days before to tell them that we would like to hear how they came to the organization and how they’ve been helped. However, it doesn’t always work out that I can run through their presentation with them. It is sometimes a roll of the dice. However, I must tell you that I have never, in all my years of putting tours together, been disappointed. I attribute that to two things: 1) I have worked for amazing organizations and 2) I have learned to manipulate the heck out of a situation. If it doesn’t seem that the client is providing the right information – I start interviewing them. More often than not, they get on the right track and begin to tell some amazing stories. (Be sure you have tissues ready for your guests – and for you.)
- The Donor – (Notice I’m already calling them a donor – they will be, soon.) The most important thing to remember about your guests – listen to them very carefully. They will give you clues that can lead to gifts. Be aware of their questions, their demeanor. Stay near them to catch any nuances thrown your way. If you are the tour guide, it may be a bit more difficult, but it can be done. Walk with them, not in front of them. It allows you to establish rapport with them and you’ll be ready when they begin to talk with you.
Your connection with your guests allows you to be prepared for changes or trouble enroute. Did they suddenly show a lack of interest or disagree with something you said? Do they want to linger at one spot or seem to want to go off in an entirely different direction?
This is one of the most important issues and yet sometimes the most difficult. You are tired, busy, ready to move on to the next project, but you must follow-up. Have your next step ready before the tour. Know when you will next be in touch. Make certain that everyone associated with the visit is thanked. Finally, write-up the visit and record it in your database.
When there is a site visit scheduled, give your guests a memorable tour and be prepared to dazzle them with your magic!