The stark reality is that when soliciting major gifts, we typically don’t hear an immediate favorable response. Sometimes, we are categorically turned down, but on numerous occasions there are questions, comments and other concerns that prospecive donors convey. The bottom line: They need more time to reach a decision. This is perfectly natural.
The challenge for nonprofit leaders is to place realistic boundaries on this request. Precisely how much more time is needed? A month? Until later in the year? Or cynically, until “the 13th of never?”
And what precisely does the donor prospect need to accomplish and discover during that extra time to give them confidence in their gift?
Over my career as an advancement executive for three institutions of higher education, and now as a fundraising trainer/consultant for a wide range of nonprofits of all different sizes, missions, and locations, here are my collective thoughts on dealing with this common and tricky challenge.
1. Typically, reluctance to a solicitation falls in these four major categories:
- Credibility of nonprofit and/or project
- Credibility of leadership
2. Open and candid discussion is essential to get to the heart of the matter and learn what is really on the donor’s mind.
Laura Fredricks, J.D., The Expert on the ASK, reminds us that, during a productive meeting, the donor speaks 75% of the time, while the nonprofit representative speaks only 25% of the time. This calls for heightened skills of active listening. The fundraiser must make every available minute count as they tactfully guide the discussion to obtain meaningful information and insights.
3. Concerns over the credibility of the nonprofit and its leadership are likely the most difficult to overcome.
Has the nonprofit experienced difficulties in the past? If so, how are they reassuring both current and prospective donors that changes have been made to address these shortcomings? You don’t want to allow outdated or misinformation to get in the way of a gift.
4. Always remain positive.
In all instances, express sincere appreciation for the most valuable gift of all — the donor’s time. If they are requesting research, facts, and other information that you don’t have readily available, assert your commitment to get back to them in a timely fashion with the answers. View this as a strategic advantage that keeps the door open and invites you to reconnect with the donor.
5. Always be specific as possible on time frames.
When the donor prospect asks for more time, ask for a concrete date/time. You want to frame your question as, “Would it be convenient for us to get back together on such and such day, such and such time, and at such and such place?” The donor prospect will let you know what works best for them. Be sensitive to their preferences.
6. It is always best to meet face-to-face, if possible.
But during the pandemic we learned that major gifts could be obtained via video-conferencing. If video-conferencing expedites the next meeting, it might be well worth going for it.
7. Cash flow and liquidity is a concern for everyone, even the wealthiest among us.
Individual philanthropists like corporations and foundations have budgets and timelines to respect. Make sure you know concretely from them when that better time is to ask and expect decisions.
8. Closely related to the timeline is the amount.
Your strategy might tie these two together and explore a pledge period in which the donor pays a major gift over a mutually agreed period. Typically, the larger the gift, the more time is needed to pay it.
9. Never forget that people can make gifts several times larger from their estates than from their income and current wealth.
Explore the possibilities of blended gifts that combine cash and deferred components.
10. Your trump card is typically the urgency of the problem you’re trying to solve.
Giving now, not later, will touch, improve, and save more lives. More than just sharing the numbers, put faces on the figures and provide personal stories of who will benefit now, not later, from the immediacy of the gift.
This is a challenge that has perplexed nonprofits for decades. But know there is a growing array of new funding vehicles and solutions such as Donor Advised Funds (DAFs) that are playing an increasingly significant role in American philanthropy. In the end, the nonprofit and donor prospect must find common ground that allows a shared philanthropic vision to move forward meeting everyone’s criteria.