3 Necessities to Consider When Soliciting a Gift

Two people at a board meeting Soliciting a Gift and shaking hands Custom Development Solutions In everyday life, asking for financial support is something many of us struggle with. When confronting someone with such delicate requests, we ask ourselves questions like:

  • Am I being clear about what I’m asking for?
  • Am I successfully conveying my genuine intentions?
  • Am I asking for too much or too little?
  • What’s the best way to explain what I want and need?
  • How do I balance communicating self-confidence with humble appreciation?
  • What can I do to touch a chord in their hearts to amplify our chances of receiving their support at this, or some other very significant, level?

The truth is, asking for financial support is challenging in any context, and in many cases, the answers to these questions vary greatly. Here at Custom Development Solutions, our three decades of expertise make us experts on this topic in a fundraising and nonprofit context.

Courtesy of CDS President and CEO David G. Phillips, these are the top three necessities to consider in your approach to soliciting a gift:

1. Get Financially Specific

This means ensuring the two following questions are answered:

  • “How much money?”
  • “What exactly is the money for?”

It is essential to directly communicate the size of the gift you need as well as what tangible benefit the gift will enable. Oftentimes, attaching the gift to a specific project, such as commemorating a building in the donor’s name, is a relevant and motivating factor to solidify the contribution. 

2. Create a Sense of Urgency

As you’re expressing the exact dollar amount needed, you should also clarify the exact time the funds are needed. Set a date and time up front, and stick to it. This creates a sense of urgency, which is vital for effective fundraising. If you don’t establish deadlines, the waiting game can stretch out and obscure your planned timeline, goals, and fundraising success.

Let’s say you talk to a potential donor who says they are going on vacation soon and can talk to you about it when they return from their trip. You should ask them to set up a date and time shortly after their anticipated return. If you wait to set up the follow-up meeting until after they return, there’s a possibility that once they’re back from vacation, they will be so bogged down with make-up work that there’s no time to talk. Soon enough, your meeting that got pushed back weeks is now pushed back months, and the state of your fundraising success is riding on how that meeting turns out, if it ever happens at all. For this reason, setting specific deadlines is absolutely crucial.

And it isn’t just setting the deadlines that matters—it’s also implementing them. If potential donors call to postpone an appointment, don’t let them hang up without confirming a rescheduled date and time.

When you meet with a donor in an organized major gifts initiative or a capital campaign, you work in several strategic ways:

a. First, you work from the inside out, asking board members, staff, volunteers, and the institutional family to make a significant gift that you may even combine when you speak of it publicly as the “Family Gift.” This gift will be enormous, enhancing your average gift.

b. Second, you ask for the largest gifts first, then the next largest, and so on. If you are to harness the effects of this tactic, you must create a sense of urgency by letting the potential leader/donor know that you cannot make the next request before you receive their answer. You need that excitement to catch the eye of the next potential donor, and to raise the average gift, all of which creates more momentum, more quickly. If you create a real sense of urgency during the request and then do not follow up very quickly, your appeal loses its value and doesn’t seem real.

3. Ensure your Potential Donors Feel Heard

Establishing and building relationships is one of the more important factors impacting your success with gift solicitation. The best way to strengthen a relationship is to be present and listen carefully and actively. Does your potential donor want to see a budget? What about a timeline? If they ask a question and you do not know, simply say so and get right back to them. Never just tell them something to push them towards a decision unless you are sure it is accurate. They will respect you for this.

Do what they ask in a timely manner. Nurture the relationship with your potential donor, listen to them, and adjust accordingly. This is especially important when they are undecided about a gift. Instead of pushing them, show that you genuinely value and care for them. If a potential donor shows any hesitation, the best thing to do is ask that they consider it carefully, and then follow up with a scheduled meeting in the near future to discuss it further. There are so many small but powerful gestures, such as writing handwritten notes, that won’t be of significant cost to you, but will make the potential donor feel valued. When you show people that you are listening and looking out for them, they’ll feel much more open to your ideas and requests.

There are many important steps and factors to consider when reaching out to someone for financial support, and they all vary by situation. The most important things to consider when soliciting a gift can be broken down into three main parts: getting financially specific, creating a sense of urgency, and making sure your potential donors feel valued and heard. 

CDS has been a leader in nonprofit fundraising for the past three decades. Contact us if you need more intensive help with your major gift fundraising, strategic planning, or in preparing for a capital campaign.


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