Nine Tips for Major-Gift Solicitors
Nine Tips for Major-Gift Solicitors
Nov. 22, 2005
By Norman Olshansky
The following are nine key steps to securing major-gift donations:
1. Do your homework
Make sure you are familiar with the services and programs that your organization offers. Review its points of pride (major accomplishments) and, if possible, be prepared to share a personal experience that impressed you about the special work that the organization provides.
Gather important information about your prospects. Develop a profile of your prospects together with other leadership and staff. Questions to answer:
- What are their interests?
- What have they contributed to previously?
- What is the largest gift they have ever given?
- Do they give individually or through their company or family foundation?
- Do they have a philanthropic fund with a local foundation? If so, how large is their fund?
- Are they candidates for estate-planning and/or deferred-gift discussions?
- Who are their key financial advisors?
- Have they recently sold a business or inherited significant resources?
- How is their business doing?
- Do they have a loved one who might be appropriate for memorializing or honoring with a gift?
- Are there other people who can be supportive with the solicitation who have special relationships with the prospects?
- What are the likely concerns the prospects might raise in the solicitation?
- Determine in advance what would be the best setting to conduct the initial meeting.
- Would it be helpful to have staff or others participate in the solicitation?
- What materials, hand-outs or visuals would be helpful to have for the solicitation?
- Finally, establish a "rating" for the prospects. How much should you ask them to consider as a gift?
2. Leaders lead
It's important that campaign leaders make gifts prior to soliciting others. It will be easier to obtain a quality gift from your prospects if you are comfortable that your gift is also credible and a quality one, based on your own personal circumstances. The ability to share the fact that you made your gift when you are soliciting will give the prospect more confidence in your support and leadership. Prospects will take into consideration what leadership has given in determining their own gifts. Initial gifts will be "yardsticks" for giving by those who follow.
3. Personalize the solicitation
Major gift solicitations should not be conducted over the phone. Large gifts often are not closed with one visit. Family members, financial advisors and/or business partners might need to be involved prior to a decision. Obviously, if you know who the key decision-makers are (if they are not your prospect), they should be included in the solicitation meeting. A major part of the success of a solicitation is the chemistry of the relationship between the solicitor(s) and prospect, as well as how one is asked. If at all possible, at least two solicitors should participate in the solicitation. It demonstrates to the prospects the importance you have put on their gift, it shows that there are others equally committed to the success of the campaign, and it allows different perspectives to be heard. The old saying that two heads are better than one also applies to solicitations. While one person is answering questions or explaining the need, the other person can better observe responses, body language, etc. Evaluating the solicitation and together determining best approaches for follow-up are enhanced with multiple solicitors.
4. The appointment
The most critical aspect of major-gift solicitations is getting the appointment. Be enthusiastic, and let the prospects know that you want to share with them some exciting information about the organization, which is a project near and dear to you, and that you would like to solicit their advice and support. Make sure that you make the appointment at a time and place that is convenient for both the prospects and solicitors. Also, try to schedule at least 30 to 45 minutes for the initial meeting.
Try to avoid an environment where others might overhear conversation or where there will be distractions. If a prospect asks if you are looking for money from him, be candid and enthusiastic:
"Absolutely! … I would like to tell you about the organization and have you join me as a supporter this year … but just as important, we would like to get your input on additional ways we can succeed in our efforts on behalf of this great program, which is doing such amazing things."
Make it clear that you will be asking for support.
5. Engage the prospect
Do not try to close too quickly. Share the vision, services, benefits, points of pride and needs of the organization. While informing the prospect of the needs, you also are demonstrating the commitment of leadership. Donors want to be confident that they are giving to organizations with knowledgeable and committed leaders. Enthusiasm is contagious, and so is negativity. It's your choice.
6. The meeting
Take a few minutes to break the ice and to establish a comfortable environment. Introduce yourself and those with you through your involvement and commitment to the organization and the services it provides. In a concise manner, share with the prospect the value of the organization and what it has accomplished. Refer to the points of pride; emphasize the opportunities for the future based on the new vision and strategic plan for expansion or further development of the organization. Discuss the importance of their participation in addition to their financial support. Your organization needs their advice, expertise, identification of new leadership and introduction to other prospective donors. Once you have shared your enthusiasm about the project and demonstrated the needs, it's time to request the gift.
Using the number that was agreed upon during the rating session, (see item No. 1) the ask can be introduced as follows: "We would appreciate if you would consider a gift of $ _____ to the campaign." (If there are significant projects or programs that need to be funded at the level of the request, mention the one or two that you think would appeal to the prospective donor.) PAUSE: Once you have asked for the gift, be silent and let the prospect respond with questions or other comments. There is no need ever to apologize for asking for a gift. The individuals you are approaching expect you to ask, have likely been asked before by many organizations and have, at times, been solicitors themselves.
8. Questions, objections and dialogue
Answer the questions as best you can, but don't get into a debate. If you're unsure as to how to properly answer a specific question, tell the prospect you will find out the answer and get back to him or have one of the staff provide them with the details. (Make sure you or staff follow up promptly.) If the donor offers a gift significantly lower than what was requested, you can supportively ask if they might be inclined to give a more substantial donation if they could pay off the gift over time or structure it as a deferred gift, with certain tax benefits. Do not press if they indicate that what they had offered is the limit to what they want to do.
Thank them as enthusiastically as possible and ask them to complete the pledge card. If they indicate that they want some time to think about it and discuss it with others, thank them for their consideration and request a specific time when you can get back to them for a response. Think of yourself as an enthusiastic salesperson … you are not "begging." Make sure that you are a good listener as well as a good presenter.
Let your prospects know how important their support is to the campaign, and ask them if they can introduce you to others who also might be interested in your important work.
Once the gift is closed, stress the importance of your organization's need for cash by the end of the year. Thank them, and have them complete the pledge card.
9. Follow up
Make sure 1) that appropriate staff and/or leadership are briefed on your solicitation and any new leads, and 2) that there are follow-up communications thanking the prospect -- even if a gift was not made. A handwritten thank-you, from the individual who initially set up the appointment and/or was the solicitor, in addition to whatever is sent officially by the organization, is always appreciated. Solicitations should be a positive experience for the prospect. A successful solicitation can set the stage for future involvement. An unsuccessful solicitation can turn off a donor to the campaign as well as to future potential for support.
Keep in mind that people are more likely to contribute to make dreams happen than to solve problems. Success equals connecting the donor to the organization in their heart first and only then through their pockets.
Norman Olshansky is the president of NFP Consulting Resources, a Sarasota, Fla.-based consultancy. For more information, visit http://www.nfpconsulting.com.