Six Steps of Capital Campaign Solicitation
Soliciting prospects for capital campaign gifts is a process that requires proper education and training, and a plan. What amount will you ask for? Who will represent the organization during the solicitation?
In the book “Capital Campaigns from the Ground Up: How Nonprofits Can Have the Buildings of Their Dreams,” Stanley Weinstein notes that no two solicitation visits are alike. Some potential donors might know the organization and case for support well, while others will know very little about either. Some prospects will be people the representatives know, others will be strangers. Some will be supportive of the campaign, while others will object. Most, if not all will have questions. And while some will be able to decide in the moment if it is something they want to support, others will need time to think about it.
Below are the basic steps Weinstein suggests representatives follow to navigate through the capital campaign solicitation process.
1. Building rapport. This is the first stage of the solicitation process, in which you break the ice and establish a relationship with prospects. Look around at the things in their homes or offices for clues to what is most important to them. It could be photographs of family and friends, mementos that they have on display, etc. Ask an opening question that pertains to one of those clues and let them tell you about it. “Spend more time listening than talking,” Weinstein writes. “Don’t try to top the prospect’s story.”
2. Stating the case for support. When they’ve finished speaking, transition the conversation to discussion of the organization, what it has accomplished and its capital campaign goals. Refer to pre-prepared written materials such as a fact sheet. You should use your own words to talk about aspects of the capital campaign that excite and inspire you. When you speak from the heart about how the campaign will help those in the community that the organization serves, your sincerity will shine through to prospects.
3. Encouraging involvement. Ask open-ended questions that get prospects to validate the case for support in their own words. For example, when soliciting funds for a youth facility, ask prospects if they think it’s a good idea to invest more in positive programs for young people. If soliciting alumni for funds for an educational institution, you can ask what the institution meant to them when they attended it. Ask the question and then listen to what prospects say. Listen with the intent of understanding, not in anticipation of what you’ll say next. At this point, you might need to answer questions and address concerns. Be prepared to field these by providing accurate information. If a prospect has no objections or major concerns, you can skip Step Four and move on to Step Five.
4. Handling objections. When prospects have objections or concerns, avoid a “yes … but” response, Weinstein writes. Instead, use “yes … and” phrases. There will be some objections that representatives are unprepared for. In these situations, he suggests using what he calls “Weinstein’s bottom-line” reply. First, admit you’ve never heard that objection before and that it sounds serious. Say you will look into the issue and discuss the concern with organization leaders. Assure the prospect that organization leaders are doing their best to strengthen the organization, and that you encounter many people who believe in the organization’s “bottom line,” what Weinstein says is “the institution’s strongest and shortest rationale for support.” In conclusion, point to the bottom line to show that the organization will work to remedy the issue and become stronger, adding that to do so it needs support for projects, such as its capital campaign.
“By returning the conversation to the organization’s strongest points, fundraisers can often overcome objections. Moreover, prospects who feel they were heard and understood frequently become the organization’s strongest supporters,” Weinstein notes.
5. Asking advice. Ask prospects if there’s something they would like to see the organization do that it isn’t doing, if they have any advice on how to recruit more volunteers and if they know of other people who might be interested in supporting the campaign. Other questions Weinstein recommends are those that relate directly to the solicitation for funds, such as asking what would be the best way to approach a prospect’s company for a gift, what amount of money would be most appropriate to ask the company for, etc.
6. Closing. Pay attention to body language to determine prospects’ feelings toward the campaign. Is the prospect leaning toward you? This might indicate a favorable response to an ask. Are his or her arms folded or in an open posture? What have they said? How did they state the case for support? Are their questions positive? After a prospect has responded positively to the campaign, ask for a multiyear commitment. One way to do this is to comment on the prospect’s understanding of the organization’s mission and goals, and to note that to continue its services it needs support. Refer to literature that lists gift levels and ask prospects the level at which they can help. Practice the closing statement prior to the visit and know in advance the gift level you will target.
After you make your closing statement, wait silently for prospects to respond. They can respond one of three ways: yes, no or maybe. If they say yes, thank them and repeat the details of the gift, e.g., amount, time line, etc. If they say no, determine what it is they’re objecting to. If they’re objecting to the gift level, ask them what level of support they’d be comfortable with. If they are saying no to supporting the campaign, tell them they don’t have to decide at that time. Weinstein suggests first telling “no” and “maybe” responders that you’ll get them more information and speak again in a few months. If the response is an outright “no,” thank the prospect for his or her time and express hope that they will support the organization in the future.
“Capital Campaigns from the Ground Up: How Nonprofits Can Have the Buildings of Their Dreams” by Stanley Weinstein. 2004, John Wiley & Sons. $55. www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-0471220795.html