The number one thing to avoid saying when you call a planned giving prospect

So somebody was interested in learning more about how to update their will.  You know because they sent in a reply form from one of your marketing efforts.

You sent them the information they requested making sure to spell their name correctly on the cover letter.  You entered their contact information in your database.  You set up a calendar reminder so you could call to follow-up in about 2 weeks.  You’re busy but you made sure to grab your phone and dial their number.  And, you’re in luck because they actually answered the phone.  So what do you say?

The answer I most commonly get when I ask that question to folks is, “Did you get the information I sent?”

STOP!!!  That’s it!  That’s the number one thing to avoid saying when you call a planned giving prospect!


Number one:  Because you never want to start off with a yes or no question to a prospect.  If you do, most of the time they’ll just say “no”.  It doesn’t matter what you ask them.  “NO” is the first word we learn as babies (next to mama and dada).  And people are especially trained to say “no” to strangers calling them at home.

Number two:  Everyone is so busy.  They won’t remember what you sent them.  Then they’ll say “no”.  Then you’ll have to say, “Oh, well I’ll resend it.”  End of conversation?  I hope not.  But it usually is.

Number three: Let’s face it.  You should be calling them with an objective.  What is it?  If you plan that out before you pick up the phone, you’ll have a strategy for your call.  And the strategy should be to accomplish one or all of the following:

  • Build rapport
  • Learn why they requested the information in the first place
  • Understand why they requested the information from your organization
  • Determine why they care about your organization
  • Uncover their estate planning and philanthropic goals

In the end, it’s all about them.  It’s about getting their needs, wishes and dreams aligned with your organizations’ mission.  What’s written in the brochure you sent them doesn’t really matter.  And it won’t matter if they got the brochure or not.  The brochure they requested was a door opener for you to uncover why they care about your organization and how you can help them understand how planned gifts can work.

When I make the calls (as a volunteer for my favorite charity), I start off by saying “thank you” first.  Then I go on to ask what prompted them to start giving to that particular charity.  I try to get them to tell me their story…. why they care.

I may thank them more than once for their donations and interest.  Then, after rapport has been established and sometimes after listening for 20 minutes about their life story (which is usually very interesting), I get to asking why they were interested in information about how to update their will.  Most of the time they remember.  Sometimes they don’t.

Then I may ask if they ever considered leaving money to the organization in their will.  That’s a “yes” or “no” question.  But it’s ok to ask it now.  A lot of times they’ll say “yes”.  Or at least I’ll get to hear their objections and so I can provide reasonable rebuttals that might help them understand the process better.

Even if they say “no” at this point, you can continue by asking “why not?”  The decision tree is endless for this kind of call.  But by asking if they received the information, you’ll turn the call into a short one and a waste of time for both you and your donor prospect.  That’s for sure.

Oh… And wanna’ know what else you should avoid saying when you call a planned prospect whom you have never met?  “How are you?”  Nothing could be more disingenuous than to have a complete stranger call your home and ask you how you are right off the bat.  Come on folks.  You don’t know them yet and you don’t care how they are.  It’s a waste of three words and a wasted opportunity to create rapport with a loyal donor.   But I’ll leave more about that for another post.

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