Posted August 1st, 1997

Can We Talk? A Basic Guide to Interviewing

For some gift planners, meetings with donors and prospective donors can sometimes be a daunting experience, one that generates nervousness, trepidation, and even outright fear. However, with proper preparation and forethought, the interviewing process can be a pleasant experience for both parties, and the gift planner can come away with a great deal of useful information that may eventually lead to a significant gift.

  • PREPARATION: First, determine why the person you will interview is qualified as a prospect. Then try to compile as much practical information about the person as you can, from your own files, from other files in your organization, from volunteers, and from easily accessible public sources. But don’t go overboard. At a bare minimum, you should know the following about your donor or prospective donor:
  • *Approximate age and family status.
  • Educational/occupational background.
  • Giving history at your organization.
  • Recent contacts and relationships.

MAKING THE APPOINTMENT: This procedure will vary, depending upon the size and scope of your organization (large vs. small, national vs. local/regional, etc.) A phone call asking for an appointment is standard procedure, perhaps preceded by a letter. And if it is to be part of a major trip to Florida, for example, have a particular day and time in mind. If necessary, repeat your name and title so that the prospect will know who you are. Follow these general guidelines:

  • Avoid early morning and early afternoon appointments.
  • Mention that you will be “in their neighborhood” and would like to stop by for a visit, etc.
  • State that the reason for the visit is to bring the prospect information regarding current developments at your organization.

Unless you know the prospect very well and/or the prospect lives close by, always send a confirming letter once the appointment has been made.

THE INTERVIEW: Prospects for planned gifts tend to be older people, 65 years of age and up. Some are friendly, many are lonely, a few can be intimidating. In short, they are all different, and each interview will be different.

Be punctual, even if you have to drive around the block to kill time. Save luncheon interviews (and dinners) for the more important meetings — yes, there are and should be such priorities. And don’t overstay your visit; one hour can be ample.

With older prospects use your common sense. Be sensitive to seating and lighting arrangements. Speak clearly and slowly, if necessary. Be very careful with using first names too quickly, and do not take notes during the interview. Remember to LISTEN.

For first interviews the main goal is to get acquainted, not to walk away with a gift commitment or even a request for a proposal (though such miracles can happen). A second goal is to collect information and, with an acknowledgment to Robert F. Sharpe, Sr., and the National Planned Giving Institute, the “4 Ps approach” is a very effective method of conducting a first (or second) interview by focusing primarily on:

PEOPLE. The important people in the prospect’s life, their names, approximate ages, and relationships.

PROPERTY. What does the person own? Securities, real estate, life insurance, retirement plans, or collections? But don’t press too hard.

PLANS. Estate plans already in place are important. Who is the person caring for in those plans (children, other relatives, employees)?

PLANNERS. The names of the person’s attorney, accountant, gift planner, other advisors.

To this list can be added a fifth “P”– Philanthropy. It is always helpful to try to identify those charitable organizations in which the donor has a strong interest, including your own.

SUMMARY AND FOLLOW-UP: The information you gleaned from the interview needs to be recorded, the sooner the better. Handwritten summary notes compiled in the front seat of your car immediately following the interview are best. If time permits, dictating complete information for later transcription is even better. Whatever procedure is followed, a complete and confidential summary of the interview needs to be put in writing and shared with those staff associates or research files as may be appropriate in your organization.

In addition, a thank-you letter should be sent promptly following the interview, perhaps along with an accompanying memento or gift. The letter should be separate from a subsequent proposal letter, if one is warranted.

Getting to know donors and prospective donors can be one of the most rewarding aspects of a gift planner’s professional life. There is little that is more satisfying than initiating and nurturing a relationship through a series of one-on-one interviews that eventually culminates in a significant planned gift — a gift that not only meets the personal needs of the donor but also brings new financial strength to your organization or institution.

The publisher of Give & Take is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advisory service. For advice and assistance in specific cases, the services of your own counsel should be obtained. Articles in Give & Take may generally be reprinted for distribution to board members and staff of nonprofit institutions and other non-donor groups. Proper credit must be given. Call for details.

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