Far too many times, I have seen development officers and volunteers set off to solicit a very promising donor prospect only to return disappointed. Upon reviewing their solicitation carefully, frame by frame, I almost always find that a critical step has been omitted. “Well it seemed like a great call, they just didn’t come through.” More often than not, it was the solicitor who didn’t come through. This article presents eleven fundamental steps, that when practiced faithfully, will help ensure that you make the most effective solicitation and receive the maximum gift possible.
Though basic and logical, omission of any one of the eleven steps will compromise your solicitation and result in a smaller gift or no commitment at all. If you honor the list and follow the suggestions offered with zealous abandon, you will be far more effective in securing the gifts you seek and your organization needs.
1. Make your own gift first. This is the toughest decision you will have to make as a volunteer or development officer. But remember, your fundraising credibility will be greatly enhanced after you make your own gift commitment. Then move on, always asking the largest prospects on your list who are most likely to say, “Yes,” first. Never bring a volunteer who has not confirmed their gift first. It doesn’t matter who they are, they can only be effective when they are asking someone to consider doing something they have already done themselves.
2. Know your facts about your organization and project before calling your prospects. Does your prospect know about the group and its goals? Be prepared to present a compelling case for support. Learn as much as you can about the prospect and their interests before the visit—it will give you more comfort, credibility, and leverage.
3. Ask for a specific date and time to meet (include their spouse unless inappropriate). If they are uncertain about their schedule, begin with a tentative date. Avoid restaurants and busy public places as they will not offer an environment conducive to important personal requests. When possible meet with the prospect on your site. If this is not possible, meet with them at their home or office.
4. Always take a “co-solicitor” with you on calls. Identify a good match in terms of personal or peer ties if possible. A volunteer who has made a larger gift than the one you are soliciting will add leverage to your request. Your co-solicitor will strengthen your presentation and will help ensure the solicitation goes smoothly, properly, and according to plan.
5. Always make a “formal” request with a letter and informational packet. The solicitation should always be done during a formal and personal appointment, and should address the project and organization only. Including discussions of other unrelated business places the request on the same level as ordinary events. Requesting substantial gifts requires a degree of formality. Informal meetings deserve informal consideration and responses. Would your mortgage lender give you a six-figure loan based on a casual inquiry? Would your prospect make a major charitable investment on a casual inquiry? Think about it. Be ready to leave a proposal with the prospect so they can review and consider it over the next few days. As the excitement of the meeting fades, it is important that the compelling arguments of your case and details of the project are reinforced in writing.
6. Get o the request very early in your conversation, within the first 10-15 minutes of an hour long meeting. This leaves ample time to answer concerns and to make them more comfortable.
7. Convey “the ask” as an opportunity. Elaborate on the vision of the organization. Describe what your organization will be like after funding. How will the reinvigorated organization be more effective in practicing their mission? Outline benefits to your constituencies and to your donors (particularly business leaders who are often keenly interested in public relations benefits). Tell them why you are involved and what the organization means to you. What is the opportunity? Tell them with clarity, sincerity, and passion and you will present a powerful case for support.
8. Always ask the prospect to consider a specific gift amount. Present a clearly defined donor role. Ask them to consider a specific dollar amount. Outline how the gift will fund an area of interest and the benefits it will produce. This is crucial. The potential donor has no idea of what you specifically seek. Let them know this is not business as usual. Make your appeal unique, urgent, and specific. Your job is to suggest a challenging amount in a tasteful, unpresumptuous, and unapologetic way. Remember, you are asking for the organization and their beneficiaries, not yourself. Never leave the pledge card or letter of intent--unless you want a "token" gift. You must always follow up in person.
9. Always insist on an “in-person” follow-up meeting before you leave. Setting up a follow-up visit before you leave will make it much easier to meet the prospect again (preferably in 5 to 10 days). Even if only tentatively scheduled, the appointment establishes a defined period of time for the prospect to make a decision. Closing the request in person is as important as asking in person. A good cook takes great care in finding the exact moment to remove the dish from the oven. Proper follow-through is essential for a successful outcome in everything you do. Fundraising is no different.
10. Do not attempt to solicit or close volunteers over the telephone. Experience strongly suggests that requests conducted over the phone will result in substantially smaller gifts or refusals. Do not attempt either. If the prospect pushes for an ask or close over the phone simply say “this is too important for me to discuss over the phone, can I come by to see you in person for 20 minutes.” You’ll be glad you did. You will avoid token gifts and dismissive responses in this way.
11. Do not accept “no” as a final response. Gift requests are not for “all or nothing.” Treat each call as if it is your most important. Find the level of volunteer and financial support at which the donor prospect is willing to say “yes.” You’ll find 99% of your prospects will support your organization on some financial level if you approach them appropriately.
This is far from an exhaustive list of recommendations, but the steps presented are the fundamental components of a successful solicitation. Review each and practice each on your solicitation visits and you and your volunteers will rarely return disappointed. Good luck!
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.