Afraid to Ask???

Being a major gift solicitor takes courage.  It is not easy to look across a table at someone you barely know and ask them to give you tens of thousands (if not in some cases millions) of dollars in support of an intangible good.  These gifts, which have built libraries, cured cancer, reduced poverty and provided comfort to those in dire need, would never have achieved their desired effect if someone had not asked someone else to be generous.  So how do we prepare ourselves, or volunteer partners, for these critical while admittedly frightening conversations that lead to so much good?  The following are some tips to keep in mind as you plan your next major gift solicitation:

  1. What you don’t know CAN hurt you: When asking an individual or foundation to fund your project with a major gift it’s important to ensure that they are capable of making a gift of the size you are going to request before the meeting. Wealth screenings, reviewing 990s, Lexus/Nexus searches and Google searches of philanthropic giving can all contribute to understanding an appropriate ask.  If a donor has made a 6-figure gift to another organization then they might consider making one to your organization, even if their previous gifts have been significantly smaller.  If, however, you make a big ask with no evidence of previous philanthropic activity you risk at least a negative response and at worse offending the donor for being too presumptuous and unprepared.
  2. Questions Lead to Successful Answers: Before asking a donor to make a major gift, it is important to know who they are and why they give. Ask donors about how they became successful.  Ask donors what issues motivate their support of your organization. Ask donors about their family and what hobbies they enjoy.  The more you know about a donor’s interests and motivations the easier it is to tie those interests into a major gift solicitation.  For example, if you work for a university you may have a project that is your priority but not the donor’s priority.  If you ask the donor to fund scholarships for the art department when his primary interest is your football program, your likelihood of a successful solicitation is diminished.  Taking the time to get to know donors and their passions will increase the chances they will respond in the affirmative.
  3. Problem/Solution/Solicitation: At its core, all successful fundraising begins with the premise of problem and solution. There is a problem that the donor should be concerned about and your organization has the best solution to address it.  When preparing your solicitation make sure you have walked through the Why, How and What of addressing the problem and providing the solution.  For example, there are growing numbers of childhood malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa (Why) and your organization is providing mosquito netting directly to families in need that reduces cases by 50% annually (How).  With a gift of $25,000, your organization can double the number of families who receive these nets and reduce cases by an additional 25% (What).

Mustering up the courage to ask a donor to make a million dollar gift is never easy.  However, by following these simple tips you can better gird yourself for these necessary conversations and increase the likelihood of success in support of your important work.

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