Pre-Solicitation Strategies: How to Get to “Yes”

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Major Gifts: Pre-Solicitation Strategies

by Cynthia Woolbright

For some of us, making the actual ask can be daunting and challenging. So, how does a gift officer forge a relationship with donors and prospects such that when the time comes to “ask for a gift,” both parties are at ease with the process?

Fortunately, we can start with a set of strategic questions aimed at building the relationship with prospective donors by encouraging them to think about and discuss their philanthropic interests and goals. This is a process of discovery that we gift officers have dubbed the “Four Rights:” right program, right amount, right time and right solicitor.

In my opinion, one of the best questions to lead with is “What prompted you to make your first gift?” This is a wonderful way of getting donors to open up about their giving in relationship to their interests and priorities.

Next, a gift officer might ask, “What would prompt you to make additional gifts?” Along the way, I have also found the question, “What would you like your legacy to be?” very helpful in terms of getting donors to think in future terms and how their decisions today will set the stage for how they are remembered.

Each of these questions relates to an individual’s motivation, or the “why” of their giving behavior. When we can uncover a donor’s motivation, we can match their interests with our institutional priorities. If a college or school, might a donor chose to fund scholarships, faculty development or academic programs? If a non-profit, would the donor prefer to support a program priority, facility enhancement or support service? A successful match is a win-win and most importantly, a donor gives joyfully. This is the best opportunity to relate the impact of donors’ giving, in particular the impact that this individual’s past giving has had on our institution.

At this point, we can then share specific information on an optimal level of support for any of the areas of that have been discussed, leading to discussion of what level of support the donor has in mind.

If this donor has had a prior relationship with the institution, we need to find out who the key players were that were instrumental in forming that relationship? Who do they know, admire, or respect—meaning who might be the best person to ask for their support? If a particular faculty member, board member, friend or alumna that person should be part of the current conversation.

In addition, we definitely want to know if there is anyone else that should be a part of the decision-making, if that person(s) is not already present. We never want to get this far in the conversation only to have a third party (husband or wife, child or children, financial advisor, etc.) negatively influence the donor’s decision to give.

Continuing with our strategic questions, it’s now time to ask “when” might be the best time for such a commitment to be made. What other factors, including other financial commitments, need to be considered?

If you have been listening carefully and making notes, perhaps at this stage you feel you have a clear understanding of the donor’s interests and priorities, giving threshold, institutional relationships and timing preference. If not, or if there is any uncertainty, it is perfectly acceptable to seek clarification. “Do I understand correctly that scholarships are very important to you and your legacy?” for example. “Is it my understanding that endowing a scholarship is something that you wish to accomplish with your philanthropy?”

This then becomes the basis of the pre-solicitation stage, which is the most important stage to reaching a “yes” for the donor and for the organization. This helps us confirm their priority in giving and impact they wish to make in our organizational priorities.

Having clarified these 4Rs in determining “when” to ask, by “whom” to ask, “for what priority” to ask and “for what amount” to ask, it’s time for the visit.

Let’s assume then that the conversation goes exceptionally well. Yes, to the request. This is the time for celebration and expressions of gratitude. As the manager of the prospect, now donor, we can also thank and indicate that we will soon call to set a time to finalize the gift.

For now, it’s about savoring the moment for the donor and the impact of this gift for our college, school or other non-profit.

*Refer to “Strategic Questions,” developed by Karen Osborne, The Osborne Group. Highly recommended to all.

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