And They are Off - Getting Your Leadership Gift Phase Off and Running

Posted by admin on Aug 10, 2018 10:55:27 AM

As your organization begins a capital campaign, the first task is to focus intensely on securing "Leadership Gift" pledges (often classified as $100,000 or more, pledged over five years). It is impossible to underestimate the importance of Leadership Gifts and the process of soliciting those commitments.

With the entire campaign in front of you, it is important to have tasks your volunteers and professional staff can concentrate on-tasks that will produce immediate results while building the essential foundation for a successful effort. I recommend that you begin to form a transitional leadership team to get the campaign up and running and begin raising early money. What follows are some points to bear in mind as you begin.

The Importance of Early, Large Gifts 
The Leadership Gift Phase is the most important and critical activity in the campaign. Leadership Gifts:

  • Get the campaign started and legitimized; they help build campaign credibility
  • Build needed momentum and excitement through unprecedented results
  • Set the standard of giving and lifts the sights of all subsequent prospects
  • Determine the eventual outcome of the campaign.

The Program
The first step is to set a goal for the Leadership Gift Phase. Typically this goal should represent anywhere from 40% - 70% of the overall campaign goal depending on the nature of your particular constituencies. Begin by seeking a lead gift of at least 10%, and hopefully as much as 20% of the campaign goal, then continuing in a prioritized manner with solicitations down to a level of $100,000. In order to achieve this, you should target a specific list of prospects. It is our recommendation that both the leadership team (volunteers) and the professional leaders (staff and professional counsel) of the organization accept responsibility for the success of the Leadership Gifts Phase. Adopt a benchmark of making a set number of solicitations per week.

Following this phase, you can begin a Major Gifts Phase, which will seek significant gifts of lesser amounts, $25,000 to $99,999, and raise an additional 20% - 40% of the goal dependent on the Leadership Gift Phase goal. You will need to identify a larger number of prospects in the Major Gift range. Although in some very large or small organizations, the number could be significantly more or less, I like to organize a Major Gifts Committee of 25 - 40 volunteers (who are also Major Gift donors) to carry out the larger volume of work involved. Committee members should be recruited from successful solicitations made as the campaign progresses. I will follow this article with more on this phase later. The Leadership Gifts Phase will be the most important activity in influencing the remaining components or phases of the campaign.

The solicitation of large gifts requires a highly personal and structured approach, given the extraordinary nature of the activity. These gifts are just too important to be treated casually or without consideration of the long-term effects (especially if not done right!).

Extensive preparation must be undertaken to accomplish an effective solicitation which yields the desired and needed result. In charitable fundraising, these approaches are often personal as well as business-like. I recommend all Leadership Gifts Phase visits be conducted in the prospect's home whenever possible - most major decisions involve both the husband and wife and are best considered in comfortable and familiar settings. You will have to keep to the campaign's agenda during these visits, but you will also be dealing with people on very human and personal levels as well. Remember, your campaign is about more than money; it is also about the future of your organization and the fact that people's lives will be changed for the better if you achieve your goals. Most prospects will be targeted for gifts larger than they may have ever considered (or thought of as appropriate) for your group, or any other non-profit institution or cause.

Your mental attitude is an important first consideration:

  • Convince yourself this is work you can do, and do well
  • This work is on behalf of the mission of your organization
  • Completing this campaign successfully will make the your world (and the prospective donor's world,a better place
  • Adopt a sense of urgency and priority for the work at hand
  • Know the Case and the objectives of the campaign

Work together to select the first prospects to whom you will appeal. Begin by asking those prospects who are most likely to give, and give generously. The hardest part is getting started. It is important that your first couple of solicitations be successful, as well as at the highest gift levels. The first two gifts will greatly aid your ability to get the second two gifts, and so on.

Because of the momentum it can produce, a $1 million gift at the early stage of a campaign is worth two or three times its numerical value while a $1 million gift at the end of the campaign is worth only $1 million. Early success will help you build confidence and enthusiasm too, not just for the money pledged, but for the commitments expressed by donors to your work. It is important to pick two prospects that will say "Yes".

If you are using fundraising counsel, they should:

  • Help determine the order of prospects for solicitation
  • Provide guidance on the proven methods and techniques for getting the appointment, making the presentation, requesting the gift, and any follow-up necessary
  • Research the prospects selected and devise a strategy for their solicitation
  • Prepare all materials (letters, a prospectus, other plans and detailed supporting pieces)
  • Take you very personally through a thorough briefing before the call, to ensure you are well prepared. This would include role playing, and meticulous discussion of how to handle the response, and careful planning to ensure proper follow-up. They should also provide, a debriefing afterwards, to discuss what, if any improvements or modifications should be made on future solicitations
  • Assist you in follow up, closure, and provide overall management of the program

Steps in the Solicitation Process

1. Preparation

  • Solicitor(s) mental preparation
  • Prospects agreed upon
  • Best team of solicitors chosen (minimum of two)
  • Background research
  • Determine the exact gift size to be sought
  • Strategy developed

2. Make contact and set the appointment

  • Determine the best time to call
  • The format of the meeting - breakfast?, coffee?, dinner?, setting?, spouse?
  • Who else should be there - another Board member? Other donors?
  • Coordinate schedules before calling
  • Call and request the appointment
  • Don't "give away the store" over the phone - be yourself but follow the script

3. Proposal prepared

  • Personal letter with request amount (to be left with the prospect after the visit)
  • Case statement and other background materials
  • Pre-visit briefing - a rehearsal

4. The solicitation meeting

  • Warm-up conversation, refreshments/lunch/dinner, etc.
  • Overview of the challenges facing the organization
  • Explanation of the needs and the proposed initiatives
  • Mention of the needs/plans for a part of the case they are involved or interested in (if appropriate)
  • Rationale for the campaign and our objectives
  • Presentation of the opportunity - the specific request
  • Tell them the impact of their gift will become part of the case
  • Handling their initial reaction
  • Set a definite time frame for their decision and your follow-up

5. Follow-up and closure

  • Thank-you letter sent immediately
  • Anticipation of their response and additional information
  • Personal follow-up by the agreed or natural date - purposeful
  • Arrangements for documentation of their gift

Visits usually take about 45 minutes to 1 and 1/2 hours, depending on the setting, circumstances, and the personalities involved. If an addition solicitor is with you, be careful to discuss and plan your respective roles. I like to do a debriefing as soon as possible after the visit, to capture the salient points, sense of the visit, and plan the follow-up process.

The very beginning of any capital campaign is the shakiest part of the effort. Your volunteers are not yet convinced the effort will be successful and are often apprehensive about whether you are doing the right things. By getting your capital campaign off to a sound start you will ease those apprehensions and instill confidence in the process. Most of all, you will be doing everything possible to ensure the ultimate success of the effort. A sound start is securing Leadership Gifts. Seeking these gifts can be a difficult undertaking, but highly rewarding in the end. Follow proven fundraising principles and show your volunteers what works and why.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to

Topics: Capital Campaigns, Communications and Networking, Fundraising Principles, leadership gifts, major gift fundraising, Major Gifts

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