Major and Planned Giving: Face to face wins the race
The hardest thing for most development officers to do is to GET OUT OF THE OFFICE and spend time face to face with donors discussing a major or planned gift. Sometimes the problem is based on a latent fear of being put “on the spot” and not knowing what to say.
One way to overcome the fear is simply to be enthusiastic. Take a cue from Vartan Gregorian, former CEO of the New York Public Library. According to Jerry Panas, author of “Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift,” Gregorian makes everyone feel as if they’re his best friend.
“He’ll hug you ... he hugs everyone. He uses your first name three times in one sentence,” Panas writes, explaining that when people enter Gregorian’s office, he gets up from his desk to greet them.
“He doesn’t walk. He bounds. Even from the first meeting, his enthusiasm is contagious. He is effervescent,” Panas writes.
That might not be your style. But the fact remains: Exceptional fundraisers do have a “fire in the belly.”
Self-confidence is another important ingredient. Panas also talks about Bruce Heilman, former chancellor of the University of Richmond and an introvert with great self-confidence. Believing he was the right person to do his job helped Heilman to be successful, Panas explains. By the way, when Heilman arrived, the university was near bankruptcy. In 15 years, endowment grew from $800,000 to $200 million. A $50 million campaign was completed two years ahead of schedule and immediately followed with a $55 million campaign, which was completed successfully ahead of schedule. And yet, Heilman hated speaking and public meetings.
“Self-confidence is about at the top of the list for me,” Panas quotes Heilman as saying. “If that fails me at any point, I know I’m not going to get the gift. I’ve lost. You have got to have the feeling you can do it. If you move forward with a claim to the space, people will make room for you. In fundraising, self-confidence is essential. You’ve got to know you’re a leader.”
When you have the appointment, you can risk seeming overly friendly, but you cannot risk appearing frightened or aloof.
Then, make each contact an interview designed to a specific purpose rather than just a friendly call. All meetings must have an objective. What do you need to know about this prospect to lead her to become a donor? Prepare a checklist.
After brief small talk about common interests, get down to business. Develop an interview technique to achieve your objectives. Watch professionals on television (such as Larry King) to learn how to refine your techniques. Frame several key questions to establish your course, such as:
1. “What are some of your best memories with our organization?”
2. “If money was not the issue, what should/could we be doing that we are not currently doing?”
3. “What, in your opinion, are some of our programs that are so important they should always be considered ‘permanent’? Why?”
4. “On a scale of one to ten, where would our organization fall in your list of philanthropic priorities?”
If these questions don’t work in your situation, find something to put forward for the donor to consider, such as:
1. “When would be a good time for us to talk about a significant gift for our college of leadership?”
2. “Bill, here is something I’d like you and Mary to consider: We are developing a college of leadership, and I’d like you to think about being a lead donor for this project.”
After those kinds of questions, veteran gift-planning consultant Harvey DeVries has taught me to ask, “Bill and Mary, here is a wonderful way for you to multiply yourselves and your values in the lives of the people we serve. Would you be willing to consider a gift in the range of $_____ in order to __________ (gift opportunity) if we can show you how?” (Who could say no to that?)
Watch and listen for reactions to the level of giving you’re describing. If prospects seem startled by the gift size, explain how other donors have been able to make commitments such as these without affecting their personal lifestyle or disinheriting their heirs. Always have effective stories, even if you have to borrow them from someone, like me.
Remember this point: People do not give because your organization needs money. They give because people need help. Institutions don’t need help and they don’t need money. Rather, your institutions have answers and solutions. You need funds to translate those solutions into direct responses for people.
The ability to motivate donors is concerned with helping them do things they never thought possible. So open with a purpose or consideration. Later you’ll offer technical and tax information (benefits).
Finally, your success is measured by getting people to respond. There are times you don’t even have to ask a direct question; you simply present the opportunity to them, and they see the vision. They are inspired to move. Panas says that motivation isn’t salesmanship. It is helping people understand what must be done and giving them the opportunity to experience the magical joy of doing it.
Jim Gillespie is president of Indiana-based philanthropic consultancy CommonWealth and can be reached at 317-826-3300. Or log on to http://commonweathusa.com.