Recently our Client Experience Leaders were sharing some best practices and tips that we give to our clients when they’re getting ready for donor visits, and I realized this list might be helpful to other fundraisers out there, too. 

When done properly, donor visits can be a powerful step in deepening the donor’s relationship with your organization. But if you don’t approach your donor meetings strategically, it can be a huge waste of everyone’s time and your organization’s resources.

Before you schedule your next donor visit, make sure to review our checklist for how to prepare for the visit, what to do while you’re there, and what NOT to do.


  • Confirm your anchor visits (your Tier A donors or whoever is the primary reason for the trip) BEFORE you make any flight or hotel reservations.

    Every trip should keep in mind your ROI, and if you are not able to get to the donor whose annual giving makes the travel costs worthwhile, you may want reconsider the trip altogether.

  • Do your scheduling outreach in waves.

    Start with your anchor visits, then work your way down the tiers. If you still have time available after your qualified donors, then you can look at your Pool donors and reach out to them. If you still have space after the Pool donors, you can reach out to your colleagues or data team to see if there are other donors in the area not on your portfolio that could be considered for a visit.

  • Give your donors plenty of notice before your planned visit.

    Donors have busy lives and schedules, and if you don’t give them ample notice before your trip, they may not be able to accommodate you, even if they would like to see you. Don’t wait until two weeks before the trip to reach out to your donors – ESPECIALLY your anchor donors. If it’s November and you know you’re going to fly to San Antonio next May, why not message your Tier A donors in San Antonio NOW, let them know you’re hoping to come out in May, and see if they would be open for a visit when that time comes. Think of it like a save-the-date. You may even be able to adjust your travel plans to accommodate their schedule if you have enough notice.

  • Be persistent in trying to reach your donors to schedule a visit, and try all the different ways to connect with them.

    We had a client who had a trip booked to California and REALLY wanted to meet with a new donor on her caseload but couldn’t get ahold of the donor. About 1.5 weeks before the trip, after multiple phone calls and emails, she tried texting her, and the donor responded back immediately and set up a meeting.

    • Here’s an example of getting creative with your outreach method: An MGO was attempting to get in touch with a donor he had not yet met, as he was going to be in her area. He first sent an email – crickets. Then he left a voicemail – crickets. Then he sent a short selfie-style video message, and the donor responded immediately and scheduled some time with him. Persistence and showing that he was authentic and legit (he was wearing his organization’s branded T-shirt in the video) is what got him the visit.
  • Reach out to your fellow gift officers and your colleagues in mid-level to see if there’s anyone in town you could plan to visit in your downtime.

    This is a great opportunity to bring Tier A mid-level donors one step closer to major gifts and to show major donors some extra love.

  • Send a reminder to your donors to say you’re looking forward to meeting with them, prior to the visit.

    We’ve had many MGOs say the donor didn’t show because they had forgotten because the MGO hadn’t sent a soft reminder.

  • Use Google My Maps to help you plan out your visit more efficiently.

    Here’s a video by Client Experience Leader Edie Dahlen that explains how to import your donor addresses into Google Maps to efficiently map out your route.

  • Use your downtime in between visits wisely.

    • Use your smartphone to dictate your meeting notes to yourself right after the meeting. That way, everything is fresh on your mind. You can even do this while driving to your next destination (just make sure you’re using hands-free technology).
    • Update your DEP with what you learned from your visit and your future plans while you’re still on the road. The meeting will still be fresh in your mind, and that’s when you’ll have the best ideas for short-term and long-term follow-ups.
  • Be creative in how you spend your time with the donor.

    If your mission is related to animal welfare, can you offer to go on a dog walking date with your donor? Or perhaps you and the donor share an affinity for an activity totally unrelated to your organization (e.g. wine tasting, gardening). You could offer to pull weeds alongside them or venture to a nearby vineyard.

  • Be open to where your conversations and connections take you.

    Especially in smaller towns but often in larger metro areas as well, wealthier families have ties to one another. You may make connections or in-roads with some silent donors or new donors simply by being present and open.

  • Define your objectives for each meeting.

    Is it a social visit to get to know the donor? Are you planning to make an ask? Is the donor interested in hearing about a particular program? Whatever your goals for the meeting, be sure to define them ahead of time so you come prepared with the right information and questions to ask.

  • Send thank you notes and any follow-ups to donors within a week of your return from the trip.

    Don’t let that great conversation fizzle out in the weeks after your visit. Follow up on what you discussed and send any additional information the donor requested.

  • It’s ok to cancel a trip if your biggest donor visits fall through.

    It’s a better use of your time and the organization’s resources to reschedule your travel than to head out in the hopes you’ll be able to find other people to visit.

  • The MGOs we coach have had a lot of success with drop-by donor visits by doing the following:

    • Informing the donor via phone or email that they will be in the area and would love to drop by a thank you gift.
    • Wearing a shirt with the organization’s logo so they look “official.”
    • Having a mission-related thank you gift to drop off if the door is unanswered (many times the donor will call back to thank them for the gift and they qualify the donor at this time).
    • If the donor answers the door, some of our clients find it helps to act as though they were expecting them NOT to be home and say they were in the area and just wanted to drop off a thank you gift, since they weren’t able to get in touch with them via phone or email. Then they aren’t pushy and only engage if the donor seems to want that.
    • Be prepared with your talking points if a donor is offended that you are spending money on gifts to the donor when the donor wants all the funds to go to programs.


  • Don’t show up unannounced.

    Unless you’re really just expecting to drop off a gift at the door or something similar. And even then, make sure you leave a voicemail or send an email or text to let them know you’re planning to swing by, what time you’ll be there, that you’re dropping off a package, etc. You want to give people a solid heads up before coming to their door or place of work.

  • Don’t spend the night at your donor’s home, even if they offer.

    This crosses the MGO / donor boundary line. No donor should see you in your PJs before you’ve had your morning coffee.

  • Don’t spend the whole visit talking about personal info without spending any time talking about the organization.

    Remember your objectives and find a balance.

  • On the flip side, don’t spend the whole time talking AT the donor about the organization.

    You don’t want to be so one-sided with your talking points that they don’t have a chance to share more about themselves or ask questions about your organization.

  • Don’t cram your schedule so full of meetings that you’re rushing in between.

    If you don’t leave some margin, you’ll have no downtime during the trip to process your conversations and write down what you learned. Try to leave enough room between meetings that you won’t be late or rushed, even if you hit unexpected traffic on unfamiliar roads. Too many meetings in a day leads to rushed conversations where you’re not fully present with your donors, which leads to more mistakes and leaves you so exhausted that when you get home it takes a week to recover.

  • Don’t put too much stock in meeting a local wealthy philanthropist who is not currently a donor to your organization.

    You might make a great impression, and they might be very kind. But your primary and secondary jobs on the road are to cultivate and steward existing donors on your caseload or your colleague’s caseloads. Trying to acquire new donors on the road is, at best, of tertiary importance and is generally unsuccessful.

  • Don’t donate your travel expenses to your organization.

    Follow the travel procedures and file promptly – this is being responsible with your organization’s resources.


What are your top tips for a successful donor visit? If you have anything to add, I’d love to hear from you!

I’ll leave you with one last thought: remember that an in-person meeting is not the same thing as a meaningful connection. If you do all the legwork to get there but aren’t prepared to be a true partner to your donor, you really haven’t moved the relationship forward at all.