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Three Quick Tips to Improve Your Donor Visits

By Mary Walker, Petrus Blog Contributor

Donor meetings can be intimidating to both new and experienced development professionals, but they also have the potential to be such fruitful blessings to our ministry.  In my years of fundraising, I've developed a series of steps that helps me prepare and plan before my donor meetings.


In a previous life, I spent 11 years in technical sales for a large computer company. Before I made an important call or presentation, I would say the prayer to the Holy Spirit. I memorized this prayer in second grade—long before I understood the words. The prayer is very “all purpose.” I used it before tests in high school and college, difficult conversations, and sales calls. The prayer doesn’t ask for a specific outcome, but requests God’s inspiration for the work I was about to do. 

In the corporate world, my prayer was a private endeavor, with me grabbing a bit of silence away from coworkers, often in the restroom before the call. Years later, when I went to work for St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M, I LOVED working in an environment that was much more open to prayer. In fact, prayer was key to the development process. 

Early in my employment, Greg Gorman, my boss, was preparing to make an important visit, which would include a “big ask.” He excused himself to go to the chapel and pray. I was inspired by Greg’s humility. Although he certainly worked hard and prepared well, he also recognized that he couldn’t control the outcome.

Development officers are partners with God. Communication is the foundation of all successful partnerships. Our communication through prayer is essential to the holy work we do!

So—before each visit, spend some time in prayer, and ask your coworkers to pray too. 

Prep for the Person and Be Ready to Listen

Development officers in Catholic ministry are privileged to connect with benefactors in an intimate and personal way. We are meeting them on a spiritual journey. They give us their stories, and we offer them a way to make their journey even more profound. We help them integrate their own personal story with God’s magnificent story of salvation. What a blessing that is!

Perhaps you know a lot about the person you are visiting, or maybe you know little more than a name. Take a few minutes and mentally review what you know about the person you are going to see. Do a quick online search too. Ask yourself these questions ahead of time, and if you don’t know the answers, be prepared to listen and learn more! 

  • What do they know about your ministry?
  • How are they involved in your ministry? 
  • What matters to them? 
  • Do you know why they would be inclined to offer support? 
  • Do you know what they LIKE and DON’T LIKE about how your ministry operates? 
  • What is their family like? Do they have pets? Hobbies?

This information can build a bridge of communication. Have a few opened ended questions in mind, and be prepared to observe and listen. And, you WILL find surprises along the way.

One benefactor in particular comes to mind. He was an active widower who loved to travel. He had the means to enjoy the finer things in life. As we got to know him better, mostly by listening, we noticed that he had a great respect for priests and religious. He wanted to make sure there would be enough of them around to serve the faithful. He was also concerned about the spiritual future of our youth. He loved learning about how our campus ministry gave students leadership experiences in the Church, and how those experiences let the students picture themselves as priests, brothers, and sisters—an essential step in vocation discernment. Over several years, he made significant financial gifts, as well as an estate gift.

Our prep work and willingness to listen helped us secure these gifts AND gave us the blessing of knowing this delightful man. 

Assemble Your “To Go” Box

Your visit will end, but you want the memory to remain! Always take along some things to leave behind. These could include: brochures, a formal proposal, book, a prayer card, rosary, photo of your ministry “in action,” plant, or whatever you think will resonate with your benefactor! It can’t hurt to take an assortment with you—and decide in the moment what to leave. Hint: If your benefactor has a beloved pet, you can’t go wrong bringing a small treat or gift for that family member!

It’s the thought that counts with these mementos, not what they cost. The benefactor who wanted to promote vocations loved to receive computer printed newsletter information and photos of students in formation.

Bonus Tips

Remember: While you may have a “script” in mind for how the visit will unfold, your benefactor doesn’t! For those of us who like to go in with a plan, we have to be flexible, and 15 or 20 minutes of prep ahead of time makes it easier for us to switch our focus. Yes, there are things you want to accomplish in the visit, however, you also want the visit to be a pleasant experience for your benefactor and YOU! After all, you hope that this visit is just one encounter in a long-term relationship.

Finally, just about every experienced development officer has a story about an outstandingly great visit AND a terrible experience that went off course. Our job is to consistently implement the best development practices and trust in God to do the rest. When we look at the lives of the saints, we see similar situations—sometimes things went smoothly, and at other times, events diverged from what seemed to be God’s path. It’s great when we can directly see the fruit of our holy hard work of development. When we can’t, faith, patience, and humility will carry us through. 


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