How to Follow Up

I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again:  I have a failure of imagine when it comes to  visualizing what people do in their work.  So when my client told me that she “hadn’t had time” to follow up with a prospect, I admit, I was flummoxed. How could you not have time for one of the most basic functions of your job?

So I asked what had kept her from making a follow up phone call.  The answer—which took a while to get to—was another of those “oh yeah” moments.

It turned out that she really wasn’t too busy, though she certainly talked for a long time about all the other things she had to do.  We’ll get back to those in a moment.  What really, truly kept her from following up was that she wasn’t sure what that follow up was about.

There had been a meeting with the ED and a board member.  The development director hadn’t been part of that and no, neither of the other two had debriefed her.  So a call report wasn’t written and there had been no discussion on what the next step should be.  No wonder the development didn’t want to make that follow up phone call.

Documenting what occurs at various points in a cultivation process is not just busy work.  It is, arguable, the work that a development director must do. The goal should be that if all current players leave one day, a new set of players could come in and with a little rehearsal time, go right on with the show.

It would be nice if the ED or the board had jotted down salient points of the meeting.  It would also be nice if  I suddenly had back my 24-year-old body.  Neither of those things is going to happen.

What’s a nice development director to do?  Oh yeah!  The first step in following up must be getting the information from those who were there.

A call report is just a way to keep track of important things that have happened or been learned so you can intelligently figure what the next step in that journey toward making a gift should be.

Get together—in person, on the phone, via email—with those who were actually in the room with the prospect.  Ask them a few pertinent questions:

1.  What was the purpose of the meeting?  You may actually know whether this was supposed to be an informational, cultivation, or stewardship meeting, but you might be surprised to find that the people who were at the meeting had a totally different idea.  And this is, after all, a report on their meeting.

2.  Did they learn anything new while you were meeting?  I once had a dean tell me that no, there was nothing.  Of course, the prospect was a bit distracted, upset as he was that his wife had left him the day before!!!  Hello.  You think this might affect his charitable thinking?  In other words, if information isn’t forthcoming, dig a little.  And no, new doesn’t have to earth shattering.  It could be something small, but it might be helpful to know that the prospect’s mother went to the same school that one of your other board members attended.  Did they mention any dreams or desires for the future of the organization?

3.  What were the results of the call?  This is often the hardest information to get.  So ask, how interested was the prospect about the idea of supporting the organization or a specific project?  Did they ask for more information?  Did they want a tour, another meeting, something else?  Had they talked at all about how the gift—when a gift was made—would be recognized?

4.  What thoughts—if any—do they have about next steps?  Yes, yes—you already know from the last question that they want to take a tour; timing, however, is everything.  Is there any feeling (or was there, perhaps, a discussion) about when that tour should take place.  Any more—any specifics about what should be included or excluded?

Ideally, of course, the development director would actually be at these meetings.  I always convinced my boss that they needed to have me there to “staff” them.  But sometimes it is just not possible.  Still, as development director, you job is all about “coordinating and facilitating” fundraising.  And you can’t do that unless you have the information to hand.


Janet Levine works with nonprofits and educational organizations, helping them to increase their fundraising capacity and never to be too busy to fundraise.  Learn more at  While there, sign up for her free monthly newsletter.