Choosing prospects is critically important. Of course, it’s a no-brainer that if you don’t have the right prospects, you’re not going to raise the funds you need to fulfill your organization’s mission. Yet sometimes, if you’re like most of us, you head out to ask without thinking it through enough.
Perhaps you look at someone in isolation and not in the context of your other prospects. Perhaps you assign a prospect to a board member without considering the characteristics that make some prospects a better fit.
If a prospect does not have the ability to make a major gift to your organization, no amount of cultivation can make that happen. You can’t get blood from a stone. So, the question becomes, what is a major gift for your organization?
My definition of a major gift is a gift worth cultivating and soliciting. The threshold will vary from organization to organization depending on how many prospects you have, how many people you have soliciting, how large your budget is, etc.
Keep in mind—it’s no more difficult to solicit a million-dollar gift than a thousand-dollar gift. I have closed seven-figure gifts with one or two meetings and I have struggled for months and years to close smaller gifts. Make sure to focus on those top prospects with the ability to give a major gift and you’ll be more likely to maximize revenue for your organization. And when you do make the ask, ensure it’s for an exact amount.
For someone to be a prospect, you have to have contact. We’ve all had the experience where some well-intentioned person recommends soliciting the wealthiest and best-known people in our community. But if you don’t have contact with them they’re not prospects. They’re what I call suspects! And I spend very little time on suspects.
Many of our best prospects are already known to us. Of course, we start with current donors. I find many organizations don’t maximize what their current donors give. Your donors give regularly because they care. Recent but lapsed donors are also good prospects but you only have two to three years to reclaim them before they are lost to you forever.
Selecting the Best Prospects for You
Once you’ve figured out who your organization’s best prospects are, you need to figure out who is best for each asker. We all have an Asking Style and our own personality. This means just because someone is a good prospect for your organization does not mean this person is the best match for you or a fellow staff member or board member.
If you’re an experienced major gifts officer and have a broad portfolio, chances are you have to solicit a broad range of people. And over time you’ll develop a large tool kit to use with this range of donors. However, if you’re just starting out, or only making a few asks (i.e., board members), picking the best matches can make a big difference.
As for the different Asking Styles, Rainmakers will do well with the biggest prospects given their drive and goal-orientated nature. Not so for Kindred Spirits, especially those starting out, for whom avoiding rejection and closing a gift at any level is much more important than closing the largest gifts possible. Go-Getters do well with their friends and acquaintances. Mission Controllers are great with family foundations—the more formal nature of a foundation (guidelines, perhaps a proposal) plays to their systematic approach.
Brian Saber is president of Asking Matters. He promises that, as the least expensive and best-quality resource in the field, Asking Matters will help countless organizations continue to do incredible work for their causes.