Major Gifts

Soliciting Donors 101

Donor solicitation is all about the:

Right potential donor asked by the…
Right person in the…
Right way at the…
Right time for the…
Right request in the…
Right amount.

A face-to-face solicitation is an effective way to meet one-on-one with a potential donor. It can occur as a follow up to a reception or as an initial meeting with a potential donor. This meeting should include a board and staff member who can present the mission and needs of the organization. The face-to-face can include a tour of the organization, lunch at a restaurant or a meeting in the potential donor’s office. I prefer to not meet at a potential donor’s office as it can be very distracting for the potential donor.

At this meeting, ask the Board member to share why he/she is involved with the organization and highlight certain programs and/or exhibits they are most passionate about. Let the potential donor know of the others who are involved in the organization. Be Upfront, Be Specific, Be Clear. Let the potential donor know the needs of the organization and how they can help. Explain the vision (long-term plan) of the organization and how filling this need will build a foundation for the future growth of the organization.

Now comes the hard part: the actual solicitation. A donation amount should be asked for in a direct manner. Ask the potential donor to give a specific donation amount to the organization. The specific amount is important and should be a well-researched number that you think your potential donor is capable of and will be a “stretch” for them to give. You always want to ask for “too much” rather than “too little”. Many years ago, I met with the VP of Community Affairs at Sony and made a small ask – too small of an ask, in fact. He immediately agreed to the amount (a sign that your ask is too small) and added: I would’ve given you twice as much. Ugh. Lesson learned. Never leave money on the table.

Do not, under any circumstances say: “whatever you can give is great.” The potential donor will think that they are “off the hook” to give to your organization or will write a $100 check instead of the $10,000 check you were hoping for.

Once you have asked, don’t say anything else. The first person to speak “loses”. Give the prospect time to respond and then handle any comments, questions. Your potential donor will respond in one of the following ways:

• If the potential donor can make his/her decision at this meeting, confirm the amount, have them complete a pledge form on the spot and thank them for their commitment.

• If the prospect needs time to make a decision (more common response), agree on when you can check back with him/her. Set a time at the meeting to follow up (bring your calendar).

• No, I cannot make a commitment. Do not be upset by a “no” answer. It means “No, not right now.”

Couples often make giving decisions together. “I need to talk to my spouse” is also a common response. If a question comes up and you don’t know the answer, that is okay. Let him/her know that you’ll find that out and get back to them. Remember to thank the potential donor for her/his time.

After the meeting, you must follow up, follow up and follow up until you have confirmed a gift. The real work comes in the follow up and you must be persistent to finalize a donation.

Four things you should know after a meeting with a potential member
1. What the potential donor thinks about your organization
2. What the potential donor thinks about your organization’s need
3. What the potential donor thinks about the donation amount
4. When follow up will happen (because you set the date and time for follow up)

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