Who Are Your Access People?
Every organization that raises (or strives to raise) major gifts faces the same challenge upon identifying a new prospect: How do I reach out to this person and develop a meaningful relationship? Unlike other types of fundraising such as direct mail, online giving, phonathons and small annual gifts, cultivation of major-gift prospects requires the critical first meeting, which can be facilitated by a door-opener or “access person.” With strong collaboration and information sharing between fundraisers and prospect researchers, the latter can play an essential role in identifying access people.
Who is an access person? He or she believes in your cause and may (or may not) be a donor. He knows your organization and, most importantly, trusts your professionalism to have an introductory meeting with no solicitation. She also appreciates your respectful method: developing long-term relationships that may lead to a solicitation often after as much as a year and a half to two years of cultivation. This method seeks to develop donors as genuine partners, not as funders who engage in a monetary transaction and then move on.
Access people also have certain characteristics, and as author Malcolm Gladwell coined, they are connectors: people who have meaningful personal, social and professional networks of immediate and extended family, friends, colleagues and other valued contacts. In our world of six degrees of separation, the access person effectively strengthens and expands his networks with the online social-media tools that so many of us use such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.
Access people are essentially characterized by the types of salient affiliations they may have with the prospect you’re trying to engage.
Specifically, the access person may:
- know the prospect directly or know someone who knows him or her directly;
- have the same interest as the prospect, ideally related to your organization’s work or unique to the access person and prospect (such as being avid car collectors); and
- communicate in the same style, such as being from shared professional backgrounds or similar upbringing or speaking in another shared language.
Let’s take, for example, a fictional couple in its early 50s with two children. The two own a small, private software company and have turned it into a successful growing business. At some point, they may have the opportunity to sell the company — thereby making them capable of a seven-figure gift — or their children may choose to enter the family business (making the family a multigenerational prospect).