The fundamental element of capital campaign fundraising is major gift solicitation. Yet many people, particularly volunteers, cringe at the very thought of asking for very large gifts. The key to effective major gift solicitation is preparation, preparation, and preparation.
The first step in preparing for a major gift solicitation is research. The more you know about your prospect, the better prepared you are to develop a personalized request. Learn as much as you can about his/her involvement with the organization, or ones like it; what are his giving patterns – is she generally philanthropic; what things have you learned that point to a stronger inclination to give to this project or organization
Let’s use this example: you are raising money to build a new performing arts center and you have located a prospect you think is capable of a six-figure gift but she has no prior donor history with your organization. Did she ever study a performance art? Did she insist that her children study music, dance or drama? What about the spouse, parents, or siblings? Does he give to other arts organizations? Finding a connection between the prospect and your project brings your request to an emotional level and that is where giving decisions are made.
After you’ve learned as much as you can about your prospect, craft a proposal that relates specifically to that person/couple/corporation or foundation. Focus on that prospect’s reasons for involvement. Spell out those facts that you’ve learned such as, “According to your childhood violin teacher, it was your dream to perform in ‘Your Town’ with the philharmonic. With this new hall, we can bring the symphony and opportunities for hundreds of students.
Identity the most appropriate solicitors (volunteers), noting that the best solicitor is a close personal friend who has made a gift that is larger than the prospect is being asked to give. Make plans for at least two volunteers to make each call giving the opportunity for one to think and listen, while the other carries the discussion. Working together, each solicitor assumes part of the responsibility and strengthens the case for support. The prospect, in turn, gains a more profound level of understanding for his/her role as a potential donor.
Setting up the appointment offers another critical juncture in the major gift call. The solicitor who will be making the “ask” should also set up the appointment. Always arrange a formal appointment. The prospect’s participation is too important to discuss over the phone. Ask for a specific date, time and place, with the best place being the prospect’s home or office. Be sure to include the prospect’s spouse in the request whenever possible. Prepare your phone conversation script before placing the call. Let them know this is personally important to you. Be determined to get an appointment - which is the purpose of this call. You are not trying to get a gift over the phone. If they know you, and they know it is important to you, they will see you.
Every detail is planned and scripted, then rehearsed during a role play session with the volunteer solicitors prior to the meeting. Details include time for a brief warm-up at the beginning, followed by a “call to business”. Each volunteer should have specific points to make from the proposal during the presentation. The “ask” is made by the person who knows the prospect the best and is respected by the prospect. This preparation before the presentation is necessary to insure smooth delivery.
So you’ve identified and thoroughly researched your prospect, identified the most appropriate solicitors, prepared a specific proposal, set up the appointment, and rehearsed your scripted presentation and you’ve arrived at the appointed hour. What now?
At the very beginning, take a few minutes to warm up the room by talking about very familiar things you share in common such as family and friends, or a special honor or recognition recently received by the prospect. Whatever you do, relax and be your charming self. Spend no more that three minutes with this small talk.
Bring the conversation around to business by stating the reason for the meeting. “John and Mary, the reason we’re here today is to discuss the capital campaign that is underway to fund the exciting new performing arts center.”
Spend the next 5 – 10 minutes discussing the organizational history and project background, the pressing needs, and the unique opportunities offered by the capital campaign for the prospect to make a decision to support the campaign. Be sure to focus on the items in the proposal that relate to your prospect’s specific interest in the project. Share the vision – tell them things that impress you. Explain why you believe it is important to the prospect. Help them fulfill their own hopes for the project.
Within 15 – 20 minutes of arriving, ask for the specific gift you have in mind and offer a commemorative naming opportunity where appropriate. Your job is to suggest an amount in a tasteful and unapologetic way. Never ask the prospect to “help us in a meaningful way” or say “we know you’ll do all you can.” You might say: “John and Mary, because of your long-standing commitment to the arts, we want to give you an opportunity to participate in the Performing Arts Project at the highest possible level. Will you consider a gift of $$$$ this year and $$$$ in each of the next four years?” At this point, always stop and listen. Allow the prospect to respond.
Of course, you must handle the prospect’s responses appropriately. There are generally four prospect responses so it is not necessary to anticipate every possible response. Although it is possible, the answer “Yes” is rarely given (an indication you asked for too little). More often the prospect will want to think it over and discuss it with others, including tax advisors. The prospect may offer a lesser amount right then and there. Only you, and your team, know the task you have to accomplish and why you asked for the original request. Only you can determine if you can take less. In less that five percent of all properly prepared, and presented, solicitations is the answer “No”. If this should happen to you, thank your prospect for their time and leave them a copy of the proposal.
Follow up properly. If a decision is made that day, each solicitor should send notes of appreciation immediately and insure that the campaign office sends official documentation immediately, as well. For the prospect who is thinking it over, make an appointment to follow up on decisions in a week or so. This is the crucial end and can often help the prospect to make the most favorable decision. Ask campaign leaders to send notes of support. Invite the prospect to look over the project site, or to a social function. During this period try to maintain a higher level of involvement with the prospect. And always, promptly acknowledge every visit and every gift.
In summary, the key points of the major gift call are:
1.Conduct through research on the prospect.
2.Craft a proposal specifically relating to the prospect.
3.Identify the most appropriate solicitors (at least 2).
4.Set up a formal appointment.
5.Plan, script and rehearse the presentation.
6.Conduct the solicitation. Ask for a precise gift.
7.Follow up appropriately. Set a specific follow-up meeting for those who are thinking it over.
During a capital campaign, major gift solicitations are often conducted with little or no prospect cultivation. The pace can become fast and furious at times. But no matter how hectic the schedule becomes, each and every major gift solicitation should be based upon the most effective fundraising techniques of the profession. Never forget:
•The use of personal solicitation by the most effective solicitor
•A formal appointment, and
•The suggestion of a challenging gift amount
And don’t forget the 5-P’s of Success: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. When the prospective donor is given the opportunity to hear a well-prepared presentation in a formal meeting, he/she is far more likely to give serious, and often more favorable, consideration to the proposal.
Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is one of 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.