What to Do When the Prospect Cancels [The EverTrue Evangelist]

This is another installment of The EverTrue Evangelist, a blog series about the challenges facing advancement professionals and how EverTrue’s GivingTree can help. If you missed Jim’s first two posts, check them out here and here. 

Any fundraiser who travels is well aware how challenging it is to set up good prospecting meetings around an anchor visit. I know from 30+ years of experience that if I had a dollar for every donor who cancelled an appointment, I could have made a major gift myself.

A decade or so ago, a colleague and I planned a trip to Philadelphia around an anchor visit that we had been trying to arrange for months. The elderly widow of a prominent alumnus had agreed to meet us at her club for lunch to discuss creating an endowed teaching chair in his memory. We each arranged for a few filler visits with other alumni and prospects, but the obvious intent of our trip was Mrs. Smith (not her real name). We could hardly believe our good fortune, and had already begun planning how we would announce the chair’s establishment.

When we arrived at her club, we were informed that Mrs. Smith had no table reserved and, indeed, had not been seen for several days. Thinking that perhaps there had been a miscommunication, we drove to her home and rang the doorbell. After several unanswered rings and knocks, we turned around to make our way back to the car, concerned, befuddled, and not a little disappointed… when the door creaked open and a disheveled older woman appeared.

“Mrs. Smith?” “Yes…?” We introduced ourselves. No recognition whatsoever. We reminded her that we had an appointment. No recollection of that. We told her that we were from her late husband’s alma mater. Not even a glimmer of familiarity. Clearly, the meeting was not going to happen, and there would be no endowed chair forthcoming. It would have been unethical to continue the conversation about a gift.

Not only was our primary appointment cancelled, but we also had no other appointments until dinner that evening—and, truth be told, none of those other meetings justified the trip to Philadelphia. I don’t recall how we filled those five hours, but I’m sure it involved a pleasant lunch together, wasting both the afternoon and our institution’s resources.

What if, instead, we had been able to make a stewardship call on another alum nearby, thank a loyal donor or volunteer, or even snag a last-minute meeting with an unassigned prospect? That’s where GivingTree can help. (Please note that all screenshots of GivingTree in this post contain dummy data.)

I don’t know of any statistics about the rate of appointment cancellations, but I suspect that 25% or more of my meetings over the years were cancelled, abbreviated, or rescheduled on the fly. The rate is probably even higher for new gift officers without existing donor relationships, or for MGOs who focus on prospecting. Although a cancelled meeting is always a disappointment, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that a visit from a fundraiser is likely to take a back seat to a family matter, business crisis, or medical issue.

Whether you’re planning for an upcoming trip or you’re trying to pivot when unforeseen circumstances arise during your travels, GivingTree can help you plot your next move. The platform makes it easy for you to access and sort through constituent data—without having to put in a data request—so that you can be proactive and find great prospects to meet with, wherever you are.


According to Mike Meech, leadership gift officer at Brown University, GivingTree has been a fantastic asset to his work on the road:

“Traveling involves a lot of logistics and scheduling, so being able to look at all your prospects on a map is great. GivingTree enables me to target certain areas of interest and identify people that I did not originally plan to meet up with, but who would be complementary to meet with at the same time. We are on the road a lot, so the mobile interface has been great.”

Who lives or works down the street? Where in Seattle are my high-capacity prospects located? Which rated but unassigned prospects would make for a great filler visit? Can I justify that trip to Tulsa? Do we have other alumni working at the Googleplex? These are the types of questions every fundraiser should be able to answer.

In fact, with GivingTree, many of our customers are finding answers to those questions every day. Terry McManus, assistant dean of development and alumni relations at Boston University School of Law, said that GivingTree has been helping him and his team work smarter:

“Whenever we’re trying to find prospects or schedule meetings out of town, if we have travel coming up, or if we are trying to find specific individuals to reach out to for an event, GivingTree is usually the place we will go first—it just makes everything so much easier.”

I can’t be the only one who’s woken up in the middle of night in a cold sweat, having dreamt of making a zip code query—either combing through massive USPS directories (“A-L” and “M-Z,” if memory serves) or thinking through an online search, trying to decide which areas to include in my request for a database query of Los Angeles alumni. (Can I drive to Rancho Cucamonga in time for lunch?)

Enough of nightmarish queries and wasted hours on the road. How can you maximize your efficiency, both before and during a fundraising trip? How can advancement teams ensure that gift officers are making the best use of time on the road, having more—and better—meetings with prospects, and raising as much money as possible with limited resources?

We believe that GivingTree can address your many woes as a road warrior. We’re committed to making your fundraising travels more efficient and productive, and, in turn, helping you build the donor relationships necessary to the mission of your organization. Please reach out to my team at EverTrue if you’d like to learn more.

Jim Zimmerman is the Chief Evangelist at EverTrue and previously spent three decades in advancement. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

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