Whoever said, “God is in the details,” must have spent some time as a fundraiser. It never ceases to amaze me how minutely this business is analyzed. Every conceivable aspect of how to raise money has been placed in the balance and weighed against the alternatives. This is most evident in the manner in which solicitation are performed. One of the first rules of fundraising is that people give to people. Therefore, deciding who should go on a solicitation can be one of the most critical choices an organization makes.
There are a few possible dispositions for a solicitation team, depending mainly on the resources available to the organization. Usually, a team is composed of two or three people. Each of those people should have a well-defined (even scripted) role to play in the solicitation. Their combined strengths can yield a powerful presentation, capable of handling most any situation that may arise.
If a three-person team is conducting the solicitation, it is most likely composed of a staff person, a volunteer, and a fundraiser. Whenever possible, the staff person should be the chief executive officer of the organization. This is particularly true in major gift solicitations, when you want to communicate to the prospect that their support is so critical as to warrant the attention of the most senior management. The CEO is the best person to communicate the strategic vision of the organization. They can also explain the various aspects of the project the prospect is being asked to support. Whoever the staff person is, their knowledge of the organization and the project should be comprehensive.
The volunteer has perhaps the most critical role in any solicitation. Choosing the appropriate person can determine your ultimate level of success. The first consideration is that the volunteer should be a peer of the prospect. The volunteer should be someone for whom the prospect has a great deal of respect. This will give the volunteer’s endorsement that much more weight. Another critical factor is that the volunteer needs to make their own gift prior to participating in any solicitations. As they say, “You can’t sell soap if you don’t take showers.” Every volunteer must lead by example with his or her own generous commitment.
During the presentation, there should be some time for the volunteer to talk about what the organization and the specific project means to them. This should be a passionate statement, about how the volunteer came to be involved and why they have offered their support. The volunteer should try to draw upon any emotions or other motivating factors that they share with the prospect. Perhaps they have both been members of the group for a long time, and they can talk about how much the organization has grown and blossomed. The volunteer’s comments should be an emotional appeal, tugging the heartstrings of the prospect. Finally, the volunteer should “set the bar” by quoting their own level of commitment and asking the prospect to do something similar.
The fundraiser can serve a number of functions in the course of a solicitation. They can supplement the comments of the senior staff person with their own knowledge of the project, particularly the progress of the ongoing fundraising efforts. The fundraiser can outline any potential volunteer duties the prospect might be asked to accept. It may be the fundraiser who actually makes the request, asking the prospect to consider a certain gift with specific terms. If the prospect has questions about how they can redeem their pledge, the fundraiser should be able to answer them. Finally, the fundraiser can use their experience as a seasoned solicitor to affect the outcome of the ask. While all solicitations are different, there are certain similarities between prospects that give a conditional yes answer, a maybe, or even a negative response. Based on their experience in similar situations, the fundraiser may know some specific tactic for motivating the prospect to do more. If the fundraiser is an outside consultant, it may be appropriate for them to say as little as possible, reserving their comments for the times when their experience points out a clear path.
There are other possible permutations for a three-person team. A second volunteer may take the place of either the CEO or the fundraiser, depending on the nature and size of the solicitation. It is even possible to have three volunteers conduct a solicitation, if they are well rehearsed and they present a uniquely effective combination.
If a two-person solicitation team is used, it is typically either two volunteers or one volunteer and one staff person. If a staff person participates, the size of the request can often dictate whether it is the CEO or a development officer. There is also a question of logistics. If the fundraising activity is very intense, it may be necessary for the CEO and the development officer to serve on separate solicitation teams, thereby increasing the number of prospects that can be seen. In those instances, the single staff person would cover both the CEO’s and the development officer’s portion of the presentation.
Another possible combination for a two-person team is simply two volunteers. Having well-trained two-person teams of volunteers can be helpful in particularly intense periods of activity. For instance, in the later stages of a parish campaign the plan may call for seeing as many as 30 prospects per week. Even if the pastor and the development officer split up, they still may not be able to cover all of these meetings. Even if they could, they would sacrifice their strategic control of the campaign for participation in some relatively low-level visits. In such a scenario, it behooves them to organize their volunteers into well-trained teams of two. Armed with a list of assigned prospects, those teams can fan out into the community and accomplish a great many solicitations. The pastor and development officer can reserve their participation for those meetings where they can have the greatest impact, while supervising the campaign’s overall progress.
As a rule, allowing someone to solicit gifts by themselves is discouraged. Having at least two people present takes much of the pressure off of a lone solicitor. The second person can contribute any comments the first person forgets. In addition, while one person is talking the other person can observe the prospect, trying to determine which aspects of the presentation are most effective. Whatever the arrangement, the composition of a solicitation team is a critical component of the fundraising plan. It warrants careful consideration, and can have a profound impact on the ultimate success of any fundraising effort.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.