Learning new information about your prospective major donors is an important part of the cultivation process. You want to learn all that you can to assess how close a fit their interests might be with the mission of your organization. At the same time you should be teaching them about all the good things that are going on with those whom you serve. It’s known as transitive communication: at the end of the day, you and your prospect are in a different place because of your interaction - it’s the result of a “morph” that will be described later.
Development officers and executive directors may take the lead in conducting transitive conversations, but they shouldn't be the only ones. Everyone involved in the organization can do this. In fact, you will want your volunteers taking part, as well as selected staff.
The acronym, FORM, has been around for decades. It’s been used as part of corporate sales efforts and in multi-level network marketing. As the not-for-profit world has adapted techniques and great ideas from the for-profit world, so FORM can serve as a basis for learning more about your prospects. The acronym reminds you that people can talk with anyone in any place about four things (well, at least four): family, occupation, recreation, and money. When seeking to have transitive conversations with people, recognize that this is not idle chatter; you want to move from a position of ignorance to a position of knowledge for both parties.
Let’s get started in using FORM, beginning with the first word expanded from the acronym:
Family: We ask about family to learn those connections and secrets that might give us an edge. We want to be sensitive to indicators that this family has financial capacity. We also are trying to ascertain whether this family is spending a lot of income on current lifestyle choices. Some questions include:
- Married (after checking the ring finger)? How long have you been married?
- Children? Ages? Schools (where I’m from, many prospects are using private education)?
- What part of town do you live in? Have you grown up here? Parents?
- What charities are you involved with?
Occupation: Family history may indicate occupation, but drilling down closely into a prospect’s job can give us a good indication of earnings or earning potential. This also can help in assessing current income and asset value.
- Family business or start-up. Been around long?
- Type of business or industry—is it in a growth phase?
- Position—part owner or employee?
- Civic memberships and networking?
Recreation: When asking about recreational activities, one of the things we are trying to ascertain is the level of disposable income. We also can learn whether the prospect is someone who is a spender or a saver.
- Where do you take vacations—beach, Disney World, Europe, etc.?
- What do you like to do on weekends—boating, flying, mini-vacations?
- If you had a dream vacation to take, what would you do?
- Play tennis, golf, etc., hold club memberships, season tickets?
Money: Who can avoid talking about money in a variable economy? We want to ascertain comfort levels, degree of involvement in investments, and sophistication in financial transactions. Some things to talk about:
- Stock markets
- Economic climate in community
- Strength of company’s financials
- Growth/shrinkage of prospect’s asset base
What have you learned from your prospects? Life issues that help you understand how the mission of your organization would resonate with the prospect and some direction as to the prospect’s ability to make a significant contribution to your fundraising effort. At the same time, you want to assure that the prospect has a good understanding of your organization. You can do that by “morphing” FORM into MORF, that is, the mission of your organization, opportunities for support, resources that are available, and friends with whom you can network.
(Please understand that the process, the conversation, is not linear. It is the development officer’s or board member’s job to introduce these eight constructs into intelligent conversation. It means that you have to be prepared to take advantage of openings in the conversation, perhaps even to have foreknowledge of the prospect’s responses so you can tailor and fit the process to your educational outcomes.)
Mission: It is imperative that we communicate what we are accomplishing in the community as we fulfill our missions. Many times, prospects don’t have a keen understanding of the mission and how we serve our populations. Each interchange offers an occasion to explain more details about how we conduct our business. Try statements and questions like:
- We’re doing such and such…What have you heard about it?
- We've started a new initiative…What do you think?
- What needs do you see that we might explore?
Opportunities: We want to suggest that there are opportunities to invest in innovative and effective programs or expansive buildings. This also may be the time to talk about the prospect’s involvement in activities or governance of the organization.
- We’ve wondered about expanding into your part of town…What do you think?
- This is what our building plan looks like…What advice do you have?
- I’d like to come back and give you more specific information…What is your level of interest in the project?
- Have you had a tour of our facility? I’d like to show you ….
Resources: We want to assure prospects by pointing out that they would not be the only ones supporting the project, that we have the infrastructure in place to succeed, that we have done due diligence on need and necessity.
- I’ve spoken to the community foundation…Do you know people there?
- Our board members are making personal commitments…Do you know them?
- We’ve contracted with CDS for the campaign…Have you ever been part of one?
Friends: We ask, finally, who else should we be talking to about our mission and opportunities? This is where we seek to network to others in our prospect’s spheres of influence who might be interested in hearing your message.
- Who else should I talk with about this?
- What corporate support do you think might be available?
The eight areas covered by FORM-MORF are a starting place. You will want to adapt the basic questions to your situation and conversations. With a little practice you will expand the list of questions and have meaningful, informative, and educational conversations. This process can help major gift prospects move through stages of becoming more aware of, interested in, and involved with your organization. You also can determine facets of their linkage to the organization, their ability to make a gift of impact, and determine the level of interest they may have. Now you have a tool to help you get that big gift!
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.