There are four essential elements to every successful capital campaign: the Case; Leadership; Prospects; and, the Plan. This article is third in a series addressing each element and will focus on the process for identifying and soliciting individual major gift prospects in a capital campaign.
The success of a major gift request is directly related to the process that made the request possible. Asking for the gift is merely the last step in the process—and, if the process has been properly applied, the least difficult. The more difficult (and time-consuming) effort is establishing the major gift selection process itself.
In a capital campaign, it is important who is asked to give what amounts and in what order. The principle to bear in mind is: largest gifts first. Why? Because major gifts give the campaign immediate credibility, build critically needed momentum, and significantly raise the sights of leaders and prospects alike.
Therefore, one of the first tasks is to clearly define the prospect identification process and gather the necessary leadership to implement it. Methodically, the process may include the following five steps:
- Identification – who are our best prospects?
- Research – what can we learn about them?
- Evaluation – what does research tell us?
- Cultivation – how do we educate them to our needs?
- Solicitation – who is going to ask them?
In the second article in this series, we discussed setting up a “Campaign Cabinet” to oversee initial campaign activities. One of the first tasks of the Cabinet should be to begin to identify potential major gift prospects. Where do they look?
- Feasibility Study Report (if one has been conducted)
- Development Office Records (Who has been involved in major campaigns before? Who are regular donors at the highest levels? Who has been cultivated to this point? Etc.)
- Board of Trustees
- Previous major gift donors
- Names suggested by volunteers, the organization’s leaders and staff
As the list forms, begin to research the names suggested. Some information that may be helpful includes:
- Family and business information
- Past giving to the organization (if any)
- Known interests and/or activities including involvement with other organizations and giving to similar efforts
- Any information that would help determine their approximate financial status
- Any known relationship to leaders in the organization or donors
The next step is to begin to evaluate the information gathered. The purpose is to form a prioritized list of the prospects. The list should be prioritized beginning with your best prospects at the highest levels in descending – not alphabetical – order. Try to come up with a “Top 10” list, then a “Top 25”, and so on. The constant test is prioritization. Some things to keep in mind:
- Carefully review the research and group prospects
- Relate the information gathered with the project and to what is needed (level of possible interest)
- Determine what the appropriate gift request is or each prospect
- Determine who the best contact is and the best team to make the request
- Determine the next steps in the approach
Now we know who might have a propensity to give to our project/organization, that they are probably financially capable of giving at the top levels, and who should ask them. The next step is to cultivate a relationship with the prospect which will educate them regarding your needs and the opportunities they present. The overall key to effective cultivation is personal contact by the right person(s). Remember that people give to people, not causes. That is why an important part of the research and evaluation of the prospect was to determine the best point of contact – who could have the most influence on the prospect. That contact must now be made as personal as possible.
There are many ways to educate and cultivate a prospective donor including special tours, private and/or exclusive receptions, special events, etc. The point is to establish a personal link, begin to educate about the importance of the needs, increase their awareness and knowledge, and prepare for a gift request.
Finally, there is the actual solicitation. The one key element in a successful solicitation is preparation. The first four steps of the process have provided the bulk of the preparation. The focus now should be on the actual meeting itself.
Remember, to be a good solicitor, you must first be a good contributor–that is, the best solicitors are those that have made a gift at or above the level being requested. They are then vested in the venture and have a unique interest in the success of the visit. Other keys:
- Set a firm appointment
- Know the facts about the project
- Have a personal request
- Practice before the meeting – role play and know which solicitor has what role
- Make a specific request
- Debrief immediately after the meeting
- Be diligent in following-up
In summary, major gifts form the basis of all fund-raising in a capital campaign. One of the first in-depth responsibilities of the leadership of the campaign is to develop a system that will identify its best prospects. From that beginning, there must be a process that will systematize the identification, research, evaluation, cultivation, and solicitation of those prospects. After that, begin planning the victory celebration!
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.