I’ve been asking for gifts for more than 40 years. Some as modest as $50, others for $100 million. You could say I’m acquainted with the do’s and don’ts of motivating donors.
In my book Asking you’ll find a detailed approach to soliciting major gifts. In this article, I’ll simply highlight eight suggestions to keep in mind as you prepare yourself and your board for the big push.
Asking isn’t the hard part
You’ll find that one of the most difficult steps in getting the gift isn’t the face-to-face presentation. And it’s not that special moment when you actually ask for the gift. What’s most difficult is getting the visit. It takes steely determination and persistence and unyielding resolve. But here’s the good news. When you get the visit you’re 85 percent on your way to getting the gift. All of our studies indicate this.
Don’t fret the words
No presentation will be the same as the next. And I can almost promise you none will follow the exact scenario you planned. But that’s not important. Because what I’ve discovered in all my years of fundraising is that it almost doesn’t matter how you ask. What’s important is that you ask. And that you do it with enthusiasm and commitment.
Your mission is the motivator
The most important factor in motivating a person to give is not that your organization has needs, it’s that your group has the answer, the solution to problems and challenges. To phrase it another way, your mission is the driving force for your prospective donors. As a result, don’t attempt to sell needs. Instead, communicate your proposed solutions. Incidentally, in the studies I’ve done, two factors are tied for second in importance with a belief in the mission. One is the financial stability of your organization, the other is a high regard for the staff person, usually the CEO.
Perk up your ears
Effective fundraisers don’t sell the gift, they “listen” the gift. In order to do so, you talk during the presentation for roughly 25 percent of the time, and the would-be donor talks for the balance. If you listen carefully enough, empathetically, you’ll know precisely the prospect’s needs and greatest passions. You’ll learn what size of gift to ask for and what will motivate the person to make that gift. Put the spotlight on the would-be donor and give her center stage.
Materials are secondary
You may be surprised to learn that campaign material is often incidental. Oh sure, you need a case statement, but don’t be waving it around or pulling it out immediately, or you’ll break the spell of your oral presentation, to which your prospect will be much more attentive. Typically, I don’t bring out the campaign material until the very end. And there are times when I don’t even do that.
Make it personal
Shy away from talking about big, abstract numbers. The fact that you have an all-time high of 11,000 students isn’t very dramatic. Or that you served 50,000 patients in the emergency room—that’s not very compelling. Nor that there are 3,000 homeless in the streets of our small city. I like to think of what I call the Anne Frank concept. It’s hard to comprehend and identify with the untold numbers of children who died in the Holocaust. But it’s easy to get overwhelmed with the Anne Frank story. When making a presentation, think Anne Frank.
Make your own gift
This is a good time to remind you of an immutable rule—never call upon a would-be donor unless you’ve made your own gift first. This seems obvious but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important. Why should anyone else give if you don’t care enough to make your own gift? Giving “testimony” is important because it provides credence to your own commitment and faith in the program. It does something else too. It takes all you’ve said about the organization and its vision and positions it in terms of its personal impact on you. It’s what Teddy Roosevelt called “Giving unambiguous demonstration of where I firmly stand.
Objections are your friends
I must admit when I started in fundraising I hated objections. I felt like the Tin Man cowering before the Wizard of Oz. What I eventually came to realize is that objections are some of your best friends. They’re often the way prospects mask their concerns for help and more information. The objections may feel like a personal assault, but they’re not. Your first impulse is to be defensive, to strike back. But don’t. Remember, your job isn’t to prevail, knock down, and win. Your job is to resolve the objection and win over the prospect.
I have a fantasy. I’m at those beautiful pearly gates. St. Peter is looking down on me. There’s a long questionnaire in his hands. “And what did you do that we should let you in?” he says in a deep baritone. I tell St. Peter I’ve been raising money for vital causes. I’m a crusader for important organizations. A smile crosses his face. “Come in,” he says, “we’ve been expecting you.”
Like me, you are a fundraiser. Some shy away, some are afraid, some say they don’t like it. You know better. You are in your own special way helping change a corner of the world. Lucky u.
Jerold Panas is author of Asking: A 59-Minute Guide to Everything Board Members, Volunteers, and Staff Must Know to Secure the Gift. His other books include The Fundraising Habits of Supremely Successful Boards, How to Write a Case Your Donors Will Love, and The Fundraiser’s Measuring Stick.