Fundraise Smarter

How To Give the Perfect Tour To a Major Gift Prospect

Posted by Andrew Littlefield on Feb 26, 2015 8:01:00 AM

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perfect_tourI had the greatest college job a student could ask for.

I was a tour guide for my university.

This job was an absolute blast. I got to spend my days talking about the school I love, walking around outside, and hanging out with a bunch of classmates I loved. Our office was inside my school's gorgeous football stadium. This also happened to contain the fancy restaurant where they brought all the bigwigs visiting the school. During my time there, we saw multitudes of famous athletes, TV personalities, politicians, even Burt Reynolds.

Best of all, this job was a public speaking boot camp.

I gave daily tours ranging in time from 45 minutes to 2 hours in length to groups ranging from 1 to 40+ people. Every day. For years.

I talked. A lot.

I also learned a thing or two about how to give a great tour. A tour that convinces someone to make a major decision.

Fundraisers and major gift officers find themselves giving these types of tours all the time. How can you expect someone to give thousands of dollars to your organization until they've stepped in the door and seen what you do?

So how do you give "The Perfect Tour?" Let's look at some elements that make for a great tour experience.

Have a script (and be able to say it in your sleep)

I had to memorize a 17-page script for this job. Word-for-word. Only after you demonstrated that you could recite this entire script on a tour were you allowed to deviate from it and add your own bits.

I practiced this script for hours on end. I made up melodies to sing it to (to help my brain commit it to memory). I would bore my friends to death spouting random facts. I carried it everywhere.

The result? I rarely got tongue-tied or nervous in front of visitors. I could do it in my sleep!

"But doesn't it sound robotic if you do that?"

Only if you practice it like a robot! Part of my practice routine (and audition) was making it sound conversational. Much like an actor memorizing lines for a play, I had to act and work to make it sound like a normal conversation.

It's not easy! It takes practice and repetition.

Know your "wow" moments (and time them strategically)

For my campus tours, I had a whole list of "wow" moments. I knew exactly which impressive, newly-renovated buildings on campus to bring my visitors through. I had a handful of over-the-top impressive stats that I threw out at exactly the right moment.

I even knew where to stand so that my visitors could get the most impressive view of that building.

They were my secret weapons. I could turn a lifelong rival of our university into a super fan in 2 hours flat.

You need to know your "wow" moments for your organization. If you have an impressive new building, show it off. If you don't have that, make sure you have a handful of impressive stats at the ready. Don't dish them all out at the beginning, dole them out evenly across your whole tour. That way, you seem like a never-ending fountain of information.

Know your audience and what's important to them

We had some fascinating, high-tech science labs on our campus. Crazy stuff you wouldn't believe.

But if my tour group consisted of a bunch of music majors, guess what?

They couldn't give a rat's ass about them. I could tell them we were harboring alien lifeforms in our biology labs and it wouldn't matter.

The lesson here: know your audience and what matters to them. What will they feel a connection with? What do they care about?

This will require some research beforehand on your part, which you're already doing. But beyond job title, salary, and wealth screening research, dig into their online footprint. What groups do they belong to on LinkedIn? Are they active on Twitter? What do they tweet about? Google their name. What does that turn up?

This will help you identify potential connection points. Write these down and be ready to tie them to your organization.


Know the common objections (and have your trump card ready)


Before making a major decision, most people will try to poke it full of holes. It’s not because they don’t like you, they’re just trying to see what the potential issues could be.

So they seek out problems. They raise objections and point out flaws.

On my university tours, visitors would bring up stats they heard on other school’s tours. Maybe a negative rumor they heard from a classmate at school.

Don’t be surprised by this; be prepared. Know what the common objects are and have your counterpoints at the ready. Be ready to rattle off statistics to put their mind at ease at the drop of a hat. Have them down pat, just like your script.


It’s always better to talk about yourself and leave your rival out of it.


You know how Pepsi is always talking about Coke in their ads? Every year, they put out ads making fun of Coca-Cola and doing taste-test challenges.

But Coke never talks about Pepsi. In the Coke world, Pepsi doesn’t even exist. There is only cold, delicious Coca-Cola.

Coke doesn’t talk about Pepsi, because they don’t need to. They know they’re #1.

Other schools in my state would always bring up their rivals (us) in their tour. I know because my visitors would tell me this. They would also tell me how surprised they were that I didn’t talk about or put down our rival schools.

I would smile and say one thing:

“Coke doesn’t talk about Pepsi because Coke knows they’re the best.”

Be a Coke, not a Pepsi.

But how do you get them in the door?

In order to give this amazing tour, you have to get donors in the door. So how do you attract visitors in the first place?

Fundraising consultant Gail Perry has an ingenious method of doing this called the Advice Visit.

Rather trying to pull people to your facility with a you-centric appeal, play to their egos and ask them to come in so you can ask them for advice!

Hey, we all have egos and we all enjoy having them stroked. Everyone wants to feel like their input is needed and valued. This way, you get a chance to show prospects that they're valued and get them in the door to see what you do.

And once you've shown them what you do? It's time to shut up and listen! In another post, Perry suggests asking what their impressions of the tour are, then closing your mouth and letting them talk. It's amazing what can happen when we listen instead of talk...

Did I miss anything important? Tell us how YOU give the perfect facility tour in the comments!

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Topics: Major Gifts, Nonprofits, Tours,

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