For fundraising success at any university, it is essential to continually replenish your donor portfolios with new prospects. As prospects move down the donor pipeline, new ones must be sought after to start the process of engagement and ensure future major gifts. These new donors are found through qualification visits where you meet with potential prospects to assess both their wealth and affinity to your school. If these prospects meet a certain criteria, then you should keep them in the portfolio. Here we present a step-by-step process to ensure your qualification visits are done most effectively.
Getting Qualification Visits
When trying to set up a qualification visit, it is important that you present a targeted message to the prospect that matches their self-interest with your institution’s mission. Without a targeted message, it is unlikely that the prospect will respond to you for a visit.
The two types of self-interests that can be tapped into when crafting a message include: affinity self-interest and career self-interest. The affinity self-interest is an area of importance to the prospect such as their former academic program, a faculty member they admired or a club/sport they participated in. It is important that the opening sentence mentions something specific to the recipient to grab their attention. Sample affinity email:
Email Subject: Mumford University Computing Club
I recently saw that you were on the Mumford Computing Club that won the national hacking competition in 1997. University News just did an article on it. It would be great to update you on the Computing Club and get your feedback on some of their upcoming initiatives. The team is hosting a special event this spring that I want your thoughts on. I can also update you on the direction of the university under new president, Dr. Sharon Lewiston. Would you have 20 minutes for me stop by your office on February 3rd between 2pm – 5pm?
The career self-interest pertains to how your university can help the prospect’s career or engage in partnership activities with their company. Sample career email:
Email Subject: Mumford University and Next Engineering
Congratulations, I recently read that Next Engineering made the Chicago Top 100 Companies list. It is always good see our Mumford alumni doing big things! It would be great to connect with you to learn more about your career path and discuss ways Next Engineering could partner with the university. This can include recruiting, joint research, event sponsorship, senior projects and advisory boards. I can also update you on the direction of the university under our new President. Would you have 20 minutes for me stop by your office on February 3rd between 2pm – 5pm?
You should be persistent with these messages to get a response, but not so much that it is a bother. With this in mind, it is recommended that you reach out five times by either phone and/or email. Here is an email that you can send as a last ditch effort to get a qualification visit:
I am finalizing my trip to Chicago today and wanted to see if we can confirm a meeting. It would be great to talk to you about all the ways Mumford University is partnering with companies like Next Engineering. Let me know if one of those days works and I would be happy to come to your office.
Preparing for the Visit
Once the qualification visit is confirmed, you must get prepared by completing research on the prospect. The more you know, the more you will be able to direct the conversation towards desired outcomes. The information you should find out prior to the meeting includes:
- Past giving
- Activities as a student
- LinkedIn for current job and title
- Zillow for home value
- Company overview
A couple days before the scheduled visit, make sure you send a confirmation email like the below. This message about “looking forward” to the visit, will help prevent cancellations.
Looking forward to our meeting on March 25th at the Starbucks on Main St. If you need to reach me that day, my cell phone is xxx-xxxx. I have researched Next Engineering and have some ideas to run past you for collaboration activities. See you Wednesday.
During the Visit
The goals of a qualification visit are to assess the prospect’s wealth, gauge their affinity to you school and leave with a next step of engagement. The information you want to find out during the visit can be placed into four categories: Business, University, Family and Assets (BUFA if you need to remember it). Here are the questions you can be ask to find out about each topic.
- Is your office nearby? (To get them talking about their company)
- What do you work on at Next Engineering? (To start a conversation of ways your institution can partner with them)
- What majors do you hire from? (To start a conversation about possible recruiting opportunities)
- Do you know of other alumni at your company?
- Do you have equipment you don’t use anymore? (Gift in kind opportunities)
- What was your most memorable part of Mumford University? (To see what their true passion is with the school and potential for a future gift)
- How did our university help your career most? (Another question to find out what they are passionate about)
- Who was your favorite faculty? (To see if they have affinity towards a faculty/department)
- Were you part of any clubs or sports? (To see if they have affinity towards those areas)
- Who do you stay in touch with at Mumford University? (To see affinity and if they know other successful alumni)
- When was the last time you were back on campus? (Indicates how they felt about their last school experience)
- Do you have kids? How old?
- Where do your kids go to school? (To see if they are paying for private school or college)
- Do your parents live in the area? (To see if they are caring for elderly parents)
- What does your spouse do for a living? (To assess their total wealth)
- Where did you grow up? (Indication of any potential generational wealth)
- What part of Chicago do you live in? (To see if they live in an affluent neighborhood)
- Are you going on vacation anytime soon? (To see if they have a vacation home)
- What hobbies do you have? (To see what assets they have and ways they spend money)
- When do you plan to retire? (This will reveal a lot of their financial situation)
After the visit, you should put together a detailed summary of the meeting and put this information into your advancement database. It is at this time you must decide what level the prospect is – major gift or a lower level. That decision will determine if the prospect will stay in your portfolio and start the engagement process. It is also extremely important that you follow up with the prospect within 48 hours of the meeting. This timely follow up will show the prospect that this relationship is important and the action items from the meeting are already moving forward.
Overall, qualifications should be happening on a continual basis to ensure your portfolio is being refilled with quality prospects. It is important you approach potential prospects with a targeted message that shows them the value of interacting with your university. While on the qualification visit, make sure you uncover certain information to determine if the prospect is worth engaging at a high level. Finally, your follow-up after the meeting must be timely to start moving the prospect towards targeted engagement activities which will hopefully culminate in a major gift.