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Veteran Fundraiser Jerold Panas on the Subject of Asking

Jerold Panas has helped a diverse range of organizations raise an estimated $11 billion. He recently spoke with his publisher about asking for major gifts. GuideStar has published excerpts from Mr. Panas's books (see the links on the right), and we're pleased to be able to share his additional thoughts with you.

You've been at this for 40 years. What motivates a person to make a major gift?

I've done studies on this and the results are almost always the same. The primary reason someone gives a major gift is that he or she believes in the mission of the organization.

A second important factor is the organization's financial stability. Would-be donors have to be convinced the agency is prudently managed.

As you can imagine, people don't want to give money away. They want to contribute to bold and heroic programs. They want to make things happen. And mostly they want to change and save lives.

To be successful in asking, what factors have to be present?

As I discuss in my book, Asking, three pieces are important. The first is that the organization and the project must be relevant. The donor has to feel this is something that's significant.

Next, what you're raising money for has to have emotional appeal. I like it best when the hair on the back on the neck stands up! I want it to be exciting and have snap, crackle, and pop.

But most important, there has to be a sense of urgency. The donor must feel this can't be postponed. The project has to move forward and the decision to give must be made as soon as possible. Time is working against us. Lives are being lost. Kids aren't being served.

The single most important quality of an effective asker is what, in your opinion?

That the solicitor has passion for the cause.

You can't always achieve it, but the ideal is someone who's "burning in his bones" for the organization.

I'll also include persistence. That's because it often takes at least two visits to secure a gift. So you've got to stick with it.

And, finally, the ability to listen. I tell clients that they should talk 25 percent of the time and listen the other 75 percent.

Who's the best person to call on the would-be donor?

This will seem simplistic, but it's key: you send the person who the would-be donor will have the hardest time saying no to.

In some cases, it may be the CEO. It could be a member of the development staff. Or a faculty member who's had a great impact on the person. Or the doctor who performed open-heart surgery on the individual.

I like taking two people on the first call, if it can be arranged. For a potential major donor, I like having the chief executive officer accompany a volunteer. I call that a magic partnership.

I also believe the volunteer should testify to the gift he has made. If it's sacrificial or a stretch gift, that's powerful and compelling ammunition. Of course, you never take anyone with you who hasn't already made his own gift.

When the solicitor makes the call, what's usually going through the donor's mind?

The would-be donor wants to know, why should I give to this organization? What's so important about this cause that I should give it priority?

Next, why is this particular program important enough that I should give? Does the project have my full interest and will it make a difference?

Third, the donor wants to know why she should give now. Is it really urgent? Is it more important to give to your organization than some others I've been considering?

And finally, why me! She wants to know, why are you calling on me for this gift? Why have you singled me out?

My colleague Harvey McKinnon has a terrific book on the subject: The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks and the Answers All Donors Crave.

Many people fret about the words they intend to use when asking. They even rehearse them beforehand. Is phrasing really that important?

When I coach solicitors, I give them language I know is successful. I've learned this over the years. But I'm quick to point out they should use their own words—sing their own song. I want them to feel totally comfortable and as relaxed as possible.

I also coach our solicitors to say out loud the amount they're going to ask for. Go ahead, say it out loud—fifty thousand dollars. Say it! The more it's repeated, the easier it gets.

You say that printed materials and computer presentations aren't that important. Really? Even in this age of smartphones and tablet computers?

I put campaign brochures very low on the list of what motivates a donor. Every study I've done supports this. Those fancy line-embossed, die-cut, four-color brochures just aren't read, though the photos will be glanced at. Worse still, publications are often a turnoff, due to the perceived cost of producing them.

And as far as a computer presentation is concerned—ugh!

In my experience, there's nothing that takes the place of a one-on-one presentation, the solicitor probing and asking questions—and listening most of the time.

I do bring a few pieces to leave behind. One is usually a three-ring binder. That's because no one has ever thrown away a three-ring binder! Another is a simple question and answer folder—one that can fit in a breast pocket or purse. Think of seven or eight questions that are likely to be asked, or questions that simply must be answered. This Q & A piece will be one of the most-read pieces in your arsenal.

Reveal the secret once and for all: What makes a great fundraiser?

In every study I've done, the most important quality is integrity. If it isn't there, your donors feel it, and they're turned off.

Closely behind is the skill of listening. Prospective donors want to be heard. I call it, "listening loudly." Listen carefully enough and you'll learn everything you need to know about the donor, what they're most interested in, and how much they're willing to give.

And when I ask donors what qualities they like to see in the solicitor, they mention the three Es. It starts with energy. They want someone who is a spring ready to be sprung. They want someone who is enthusiastic about the organization. Head over heels committed. And finally, donors talk about the caller being empathetic. And you gain that by listening and caring.


© 2013, Emerson & Church, Publishers

Veteran Fundraiser Jerold Panas on the Subject of Asking_jerold-panas.jpgJerold Panas is the executive director of one of the premier firms in America and co-founder of the Institute for Charitable Giving. His popular books include Asking (newly revised), The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, and Mega Gifts.


Topics: Fundraising