Last week we shared fundraising secrets from the Non-Profit Fundraising and Development Master’s course at Canisius College. Our final task for the class brought students and partner organizations together to tackle one of the most daunting tasks of a fundraising professional: making personal invitations for large gifts. Our final exam required us to sit down for a brief conversation with fictional millionaire matron, Mrs. Gotbucks. During our meeting, we considered Mrs. Gotbucks’s interests and history and invited her to consider a major gift to our partner organizations.
Our asks varied – some of us were looking for $10,000 towards a new program and others requested $100,000 to complete a capital project. We all aimed to make a personal connection with her and offer a gift based on her interests, as we would in real-life prospect cultivation.
The most successful groups recognized that even though fundraisers have a specific amount in mind, they shouldn’t approach a personal gift request like a business meeting. And so I present to you 3 Major Gift Solicitation Tips: facilitate conversation, emphasize questions and leave knowing the next step.
It’s a conversation –
Not an interrogation. During our meeting with Mrs. Gotbucks, we had 20 minutes to get to know our potental donor and connect her interests with an opportunity to donate. We felt the pressure to give her a thorough introduction to our organization’s mission, goals, stories, successes and dreams – and to paint a vision for how she could be involved. And of course, we were nervous.
It’s easy to anxiously talk a prospect’s ears off without realizing what you’re doing, but the key is to STOP! The best conversations are comfortable, two-way streets where the prospect gets to share her thoughts and questions with you. Ultimately, she should leave feeling that you’ve heard her interests, understood her concerns, and offered her an opportunity to meet a community need.
Questions are key.
During the conversation with a prospect, some of the challenges include helping her understand the organization, helping her feel comfortable making a gift and keeping the conversation flowing. You can meet all of these challenges by asking questions to tease out the prospect’s passions, opinions, questions and hesitations.
Aim to ask and listen most, and let the prospect do the talking.
Leave the door open.
You certainly can’t go into the conversation with a script, and often you won’t leave the conversation check in hand. You’ll likely end the meeting having answered many questions and perhaps even negotiating the gift size or nature. The key is to leave with a next step. You might leave with a date to visit the organization together, a plan to meet again soon to discuss new ideas or an agreement to follow up with more information.
Without a next step in mind, your meeting may end up as a dead end. Promising to follow up also shows that your prospect that you see her not as one-stop shopping, but as an individual you’re helping make a difference.