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Making Asking Easier for Your Board

Excerpted from the second edition of Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face: A 1-Hour Crash Course on Raising Major Gifts for Nonprofit Organizations

Anyone who's been in fundraising for at least a week knows that board members are reluctant to visit would-be donors in person.

And yet personal visits are the sine qua non of securing big gifts.

As James Reynolds, mastermind of a long-ago Harvard campaign, put it: "No cow will let down her milk in response to a letter or a telephone call. You have got to sit down beside her and go to work."

It'll always cause anxiety, but asking will be more palatable if board members understand the following dynamics.

Make a Match

CNN calls her the "Rolls Royce of matchmaking."

And compared to a Silver Phantom—$380,000 MSRP—she is a bargain. Still, for Orly the Matchmaker's world-renowned services you'll have to pony up $100,000 (for matches with "royalty, famous stars, or international celebrities," double that).

eHarmony this isn't.

Strangely enough Orly's tactics—making custom-made matches based on compatible interests, values, and goals—are exactly the ones you should use when matching your solicitors with your prospects.

As to the profile of the best solicitor, opinions vary. Some insist it's a peer of the prospect; others say the CEO's organizational grasp makes him the most effective; still others argue for program staff.

Regrettably, there's no right answer here. But there is one constant.

"To me it doesn't matter whether the person asking for the gift is a staff person, a volunteer, or a friend. It just needs to be someone I respect." That's what philanthropist Robert Saligman said, and his insistence on respect—call it integrity—is echoed by other big givers.

For Orly, a successful match means $100,000 (else your money is refunded, she claims). For you and your organization, the right solicitor asking the right prospect could mean 10 times that amount—maybe more.

So, yes, the time and effort are well worth it.

Teams Work

Imagine basketball star LeBron James going up against the Los Angeles Lakers—by himself.

There's no question "King James" would score some points. But boy would it be easier with a few teammates.

It's the same when matching up with your own Kobe Bryants. Go in pairs or threesomes. You'll fortify each other's resolve. And two heads are better than one for fielding any tricky questions.

Generally speaking, the following teams (listed in order of effectiveness) work best: volunteer and organization's CEO; volunteer and staff member; CEO and staff member. But if you feel more people are needed, bring them along. "Heck, bring a marching band if you need to," says Jerold Panas, who was once part of a team that asked for a hundred million dollar gift.

Not only will the team approach increase your effectiveness, it'll also serve your organization in other ways.

First, newer volunteers will become more familiar and comfortable with the asking process.

Second, more than one person will come to know important prospects—helpful if the solicitor you've relied upon is unavailable in the future.

Finally, your volunteers will simply have more fun when they share in the asking. And, as no less an authority than Dr. Seuss said, "Fun is good."

Overloaded Solicitors Underproduce

And now for some breaking news: The average weight of a woman's handbag has plummeted, reports Debenhams, the largest department store chain in Great Britain.

Just a few years ago, ladies were lugging eight pounds in their Miu Mius. Now, thanks to lighter, multi-functional gadgets like the iPhone, the weight has dropped 57 percent—to a petite three-and-a-half pounds.

Everyone is happy, except for physical therapists.

Your solicitors will be pleased, too—and a lot more effective—if you don't overload them with prospects.

Considering the time spent making the appointment, visiting the prospect, and following up with a letter or phone call, even a small number of solicitations is time-consuming.

So what's the magic number? Experience shows that five is reasonable. Any more and your campaigners may resort to phone calls rather than visits.

Expect some enthusiastic workers to request more ("I'm good at this—give me 15 people"). The Italians have some advice worth recalling here: "Big mouthfuls often choke." There will be plenty more for eager solicitors when they've completed their initial set of calls.

David Lansdowne
© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers. Excerpted from Fundraising Realities Every Board Member Must Face: A 1-Hour Crash Course on Raising Major Gifts for Nonprofit Organizations; excerpted with permission.

David Lansdowne has spent his professional life in the nonprofit sector, serving in a wide variety of development and administrative positions for educational, cultural, and health organizations throughout the United States.

Topics: Board Development