Get What You Came For

Posted by David G Phillips on Aug 10, 2018 8:30:38 AM

What should you do when someone gives you $250,000? Well, that depends upon who it is, how much was asked of them and why they gave it to you! The answer to this question varies with the circumstances surrounding this gift. Obviously, no matter what the circumstances, you want to thank this person profusely and to let them feel your genuine gratitude. There are many instances, however, where the best, most sophisticated solicitor—the one who always gets the larger gifts—is going to do much more. They are going to ask them to double that amount.

Proper preparation for any major gift call is essential. For your largest gifts in any campaign, those upon which you build your foundation, it becomes even more important. Thorough preparation serves many purposes including: making the solicitors feel more comfortable and effective, helping the solicitation team divide their responsibilities carefully so that everyone knows their role and the role of the other members of the team. Perhaps the most important benefit is that planning and preparation allows you time to anticipate the prospect’s response and to plan your timely and effective reaction to that response. (This is what separates the very best fundraisers from the order takers.)

Assuming you have identified a qualified prospect, cultivated the best relationship that you could in the circumstances and done the best prospect research you can, you are in a position to make an educated request at the very highest level you think the prospect is capable of giving. You have identified the best possible solicitors, both of whom share good relationships with the prospect as a fellow board member and the CEO of the charity. Now, the “team” is going to meet to discuss the roles and responsibilities of each solicitor and to review the range of responses and the most effective responses.

You determine who will open the discussion, who will outline the case and who will articulate the request. Now, you have turned your attention to what do we say if he says “this or that?” Don’t spend time worrying about what they might say. All answers can be funneled into one of only four categorical responses, three of which are very easy to deal with. Spend all of your time focusing on the fourth possibility and how to handle that effectively and you will become the genius of personal solicitation in your organization and in your life!

What are the four choices? “Yes”; “No”; “Maybe, but that is an awful lot of money and I need some time to think about it”; and, “I doubt I can do that, but I could probably do this, would that be enough?” Which one should you learn how to handle. Well, that is easy. Yes and no are handled with a thank you and a goodbye. “Maybe” is also handled easily by thanking and encouraging them and setting up a time to follow-up. It is the fourth response, “not this, but that,” which separates the fundraising pro from the collector.

You should always be prepared to handle a prospect’s offering you a portion of what you came for graciously, and as a part of the call. What do you do when offered $250,000 by an anxious prospect when you have come, proposal in hand, to ask for $500,000? This happens often, as the more sophisticated donor knows they can take unsophisticated solicitors off-guard and save lots of money this way.

If you know that they could give the larger gift, $500,000 in this example, you should have a joyful celebration with hugs, kisses and flattering, exciting words. But, after the excitement dies down a bit, the leader of the solicitation team should say, “Wow,” isn’t this great! We are just thrilled to have you two involved and we are ecstatic to know you want to play such a prominent role. If I can catch my breath, Bob and Joan, I would like to ask you if you might withhold your decision at this time, and take some further time to evaluate it and see if you can find a way to give the entire $500,000, even if you need a few extra years to pay this pledge? We have so few potential givers at this level and we really need your help. Do you think you could think about it a few more days and we can talk about it further next Friday?

Believe me, when articulate, gracious and genteel people employ effective fundraising techniques, there are not many mountains they cannot move.

David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS).  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, donor acknowledgement, donor stewardship, Fundraising Principles, major gift thank you, Major Gifts

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