rev up major gift fundraising

Today we continue with a 3-part series about the most cost-effective way to fundraise — major gifts from individuals. In Part 1 we covered the basics, including why major gifts are so important and how to identify your best prospects. In Part 2 we covered the important process to qualify folks for your major donor portfolio; then cultivate them to build a close and bonded relationship. Today we’ll talk about how to solicit folks when the time is right, and also how you steward folks to sustain and build major donor relationships.

Solicitation – Making the Ask!

After identifying and qualifying the right prospects, determining your total fundraising goal and the numbers of prospects and donors you’ll need to reach that goal, and developing a cultivation ‘moves management’ plan to get your prospects to the point of readiness, you’re now ready for the next crucial step.

But before you ask, you must prepare your solicitors.

Ask Pre-Conditions

Lay the groundwork for a successful ask. Above all else, you must overcome any niggling doubts you or your solicitors have. You must be fearless! Fear is overcome with preparation. So… first make sure:

1. You’re asking for the right amount

Going into the ask, you must be crystal clear what a successful outcome will look like — both from your perspective and from your donor’s perspective. You must ask for enough to get the job done (don’t lowball this or exclude essential overhead costs). You must ask for an amount the donor will believe is reasonable and impactful. It’s just as wrong to ask for too little as too much. I’ve seen donors’ ardor cool considerably when asked for what they considered a ‘token’ vs. a ‘leadership’ gift. So you really want to know your donor going in.

2. You’re asking for the right project and have all the information you need to feel well-prepared going in.

Make sure you’re matching your pitch to what you know about your donor’s passions. Each individual has different values and motivations. The more you understand them, the better able you are to shape an offer that will provide the donor with the value they seek. Know your specific case for support. What is the project you’re asking for? What is needed to get the job done? What does it cost? How, specifically, can the donor help?

3. You have the right solicitor(s) to make the ask.

There’s no one right person to make the ask. Generally, think in terms of: (1) the person the prospect will have the hardest time saying no to, and (2) the person with whom the donor has the best relationship. The former is someone the donor perceives as important, authoritative, credible, and friendly. Donors wants to talk to the “big cheese” they perceive as being responsible to assure their gift does what they intend it to do. The latter may be the executive director, board president, doctor who performed life-saving surgery or a former teacher. If the development director or major gift officer built the relationship, then you may want them to be in room. You always want someone there you know donor will like. Sometimes the “hard to say no to” and “best relationship” person are the same; sometimes not. If you need to bring two people, do so. I like having a board member in the room (if they’re afraid to ask they don’t have to) because they can play a powerful, almost magical, role testifying to their own passionate, stretch gift [Never bring someone who hasn’t given. This includes staff].

4. You’re asking the right decision-maker(s).

You’re preparing a bit of a ‘dog and pony’ show; you don’t want to waste it. If you know your prospect never makes a decision without consulting their spouse or financial advisor, it’s wise to include those folks in this meeting.

5. You have a disciplined approach that everyone involved is comfortable with.

Especially if you bring more than one person, know what roles you’re playing going in so you don’t risk no one asking. The three basic solicitor roles, which may be overlapping, are “educator,” “advocate” and “asker.” Successful major gifts are won through a combination of preparation, courage, inspiration and encouragement. They’re not won through fear or intimidation. So don’t let folks talk about “twisting arms” and “hitting people up.” That’s a very uncomfortable process – for almost everyone.

Schedule Your Ask Visits

Acknowledge to yourself that the hardest part of fundraising is getting the visit. Once you know this you’ll be less frustrated. There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having a hard time getting through to someone. Everyone does. Persevere. Try different channels until you find one that works (phone, email, text, snail mail, Facebook, etc.). Everyone has communication preferences. [Learn more about securing the visit here]

Remember, this visit is different from a cultivation visit. Your plan is to ask for money. So if your prospect asks you if that’s your intention, say YES.  You want to talk with them about their philanthropy. Be honest with them and they’ll be honest with you. Good relationships are built on trust.

Suggest a meeting place where you’ll all be comfortable, and where you’ll be able to have a quiet and confidential conversation. I find the donor’s home to be the best place, followed by the organization’s office. Meeting at the donor’s office can be a recipe for disaster as the donor may be distracted by interruptions. Meeting at a restaurant can also be distracting, not to mention noisy.

Make the Ask

I’m often asked what the “right language” is for a major gift solicitation. While I do have advice, the most important thing I can share with you is one word: PASSION. In fact, I always tell hesitant board members that “what you say is not as important as how you say it!”

  1. Inspire your solicitors to connect with their own passion for your cause. Ask them to tell you the story of how they became involved, and why they stay involved.
  2. Next, ask your solicitor to enact their passion by making their own passionate gift.
  3. Now they’re ready to ask others to join them in their passion. Reframed this way, all you have to do is share something you love with others you think will also love it. It’s not that different from sharing a recommendation for a great new restaurant or a wonderful movie. It’s an offer to do something the prospect will enjoy.

The ask can be as simple as:

Claire, thank you again for all your past support. As we’ve discussed, you know we’d love to get the senior lunch program off the ground so we can assure the growing numbers of seniors we’re serving get the nutrition they need. Will you consider a leadership gift of $10,000 to make this happen?

Notice I’ve been asked:

  • For a specific project (generally, the more specific you are the larger the gift)
  • For a specific amount (don’t make the donor figure out what they should give)
  • To ‘consider’ this (it’s a polite, gentle word, and also triggers real thought)
  • To become a ‘leader’ (this plays to the donor’s ego)

You’ll also want to be prepared to respond if the donor hesitates or says “no.” So plan ahead to handle common objections, and keep building the relationship. When you do that, no meeting is ever wasted.

Keeping Love Alive – Stewardship (aka Gratitude)

Once the donor has made a gift… the next step begins what fundraisers are wont to call “stewardship.” I prefer to call it “gratitude.” Because that’s really what it’s all about.

You’re grateful for the impact your donor made possible, right?

So it’s only natural to let them know how you feel. And to report back to them about this impact.

You don’t want to do this just once either. Because studies have shown that for gratitude to be effective it must be repeated.

Just as you developed a cultivation plan, you want to develop a stewardship plan.

It’s really not that different. You can use many of the same touches and moves.  Because the donors you’re stewarding are also the ones you’ll be cultivating for repeat and/or upgraded gifts.

It’s really a cycle. A cycle of love and gratitude, all aimed directly at your donor.

This gets to the real purpose of fundraising. It’s not an end in itself. It’s a means to enact transformative change. Preferably, on a large scale. A scale beyond which one human being could accomplish on their own.

The Good News:

People give to organizations because, by so doing, they can accomplish that which they could not accomplish on their own. Major gifts make this possible. Everyone involved is a winner.

Interested in learning more about winning major gifts?

Enroll in the Clairification Winning Major Gifts Strategies 8-week e-Course commencing January 23rd, 2018. No matter the size of your organization, you need to get serious about investing in major gifts development. They aren’t just for behemoths; they’re for everyone. It’s a commitment that will really be worth your time and effort.

Major gift fundraising

Claire Axelrad

Claire Axelrad

Fundraising Coach at Bloomerang
Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE is a fundraising visionary with 30+ years frontline development work helping organizations raise millions in support. Her award-winning blog showcases her practical approach, which earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award. Claire runs “Clairification School” online, teaches the CFRE course that certifies professional fundraisers, and is a regular contributor to Guidestar, NonProfit PRO and Maximize Social Business.