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How to Ace Your Next Discovery Visit

Emma Keating
Published:  03/13/2019

Meeting new donor prospectsThis article is adapted from a 2019 AHP Webinar Series event presented by Jennifer Svihus, MBA, CFRE, Senior Associate, Bentz Whaley Flessner, and Jennie Stewart, MBA, CFRE, Director of Philanthropic Initiatives, St. Jude Memorial Foundation.

Discovery visits – from the first phone call, to meeting in person, to qualifying a major gift prospect – are critical to the success of a philanthropic organization. But with only so many hours in the day, this type of prospect research can become overwhelming. Jennifer Svihus, a senior associate at Bentz Whaley Flessner, and Jennie Stewart of St. Jude Memorial Foundation walk us through their time-proven strategies for a successful discovery visit.

A discovery visit is a one-time event, although “rediscovery visits” can occur among previous prospects as well. It’s normally your first visit with a donor or a prospect and should be used to determine whether the prospect qualifies as a major gift donor.

Ideally, the discovery visit helps you to focus on your work and who you should be spending time with. On the first visit, your prospect should give you one of three answers: “yes,” “not now” or “not ever.”

A “yes” answer means the prospect has both the capacity to give and interest to give, but a “not now” answer doesn’t mean “not ever.” Rather, the prospect has the interest to give but cannot donate at that time depending on a variety of economic and financial reasons.

A “not ever” answer can mean there is capacity to give, but the likelihood of this prospect developing interest in your organization is too slim, and you should cross this prospect off your list. This shouldn’t discourage you. Disqualifying an individual from your prospect list is just as useful as adding them to it.

Here’s how to make the best of a discovery visit:

  1. Start with an introductory letter. Once you have a list of major gifts prospects, reach out to them with a personal email or letter, stating the purpose of the visit. This should be signed by someone significant to your organization, such as the CEO, a physician partner, a previous patient and donor or a volunteer.

    Send this letter a week before making the first phone call.

  2. Prepare ahead of time. Have your calendar ready before you call, with at least a few dates and times in mind to meet. Also, look at the prospect’s giving record. Have they given to your organization or others in the past? How much? What personal ties may they have with your organization?


  3. Make the call. Know the top “big picture” talking points for your organization and make sure to remember the purpose of the call – but still allow the interviewee to tell his or her story. This is ultimately about them, not about you. Be an active listener.


    Svihus and Stewart say that in general, you should call a prospect seven times before crossing them off your list. Don’t bombard them with calls, however – call them about once a week, during different times of the day to accommodate their schedule.

    Smile while you’re on the phone, and don’t forget to practice your pitch. This phone call is setting the tone for your discovery visit, and a comfortable phone conversation lends itself to a successful discovery visit.

    If they don’t respond after seven calls, cross the prospect off your list for now and try calling them again in three to six months. Leave a voicemail if they don’t pick up to let them know why you called and that you appreciate them and follow up after the voicemail with an email.

  4. Get the appointment. Prepare what you want to say on an index card, but don’t read from a script. Be concise and conversational.

    Pursue a specific meeting time, place and length. “Can we meet Monday afternoon at X Café for half an hour?” Offer to meet them at home if it’s more convenient and stress that you don’t want to take up much of their time.

    If the prospect will not meet with you in person, despite trying to accommodate their schedule, try to see if you can do a discovery visit over the phone. Ask the prospect if they could answer a few quick questions and proceed from there.

    A prospect may object to speaking with you because they had a negative experience with your health system in the past. This is an opportunity for service recovery. Acknowledge the negative situation and tell the prospect they can help you prevent it from happening to others. Share the complaint with the appropriate hospital department when you’re done.

  5. Don’t forget to follow up. During the discovery visit, always try to set up a future meeting to reconnect and touch base with the prospect.

Within 48 hours after the visit, send a thank you note to the prospect, providing any information requested and reiterating the ask one more time.

A successful discovery visit starts with a successful phone call, and calling a prospect is a way to make a connection with them and ensure a working relationship for years to come.

To read more about how to ace a discovery visit, listen to the full recorded webinar.

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Meet The Author

AHP logo
Emma Keating
Communications Team
Association for Healthcare Philanthropy

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