Going for the Gold: Asking for What You Want

The old adage “going for the gold” is particularly appropriate now, as the world gears up for the next Summer Olympics. Athletes in most of the world’s countries are training for their opportunity to show that, for at least one day, they are the best. For many of them, it will be their only Olympiad; their only chance to prove their mettle. That fact creates a tremendous amount of pressure, as they must execute their best performance at just the right moment in order to stand on top of the dais and receive the gold medal.

That Olympic scenario is an accurate metaphor for every major gift solicitation we conduct as fundraisers. We have one chance to make sure our mission, training and preparation converge, and we get the best possible result for our request. In those instances, there is no option to aim low and try for a “reasonable” result. It behooves us to treat every major solicitation as our one moment in the spotlight, and “go for the gold” each time.

I recently saw a good example of this on the campaign I am directing. We are in the Leadership Gifts phase of a major capital campaign. There are a fair number of prospects for the major gifts, but certainly not so many that we can take a lax approach on any of the big solicitations. The person we were meeting essentially represented two prospects: the corporation he leads and his own personal commitment. In addition, the campaign would benefit greatly from his acceptance of a leadership position on the executive committee.

The challenge was that his company, while successful and prominent, seemed content at their annual level of support of a few thousand dollars. The company president had never made a personal gift at any level. Furthermore, he had never served in any formal leadership role within the organization, though he was always responsive. Our plan to solicit a six-figure pledge from his company, an equal gift from him and his membership on the Campaign Executive Committee seemed like a real stretch.

But stretching is good; all the fitness experts say so. Nonetheless, there seemed to be a consensus among our campaign leaders that we were exceedingly optimistic about this prospect’s response. The combined personal and corporate request would be eight times as large as the company’s current giving. That is a long way to go, but the mission warranted it and the campaign plan demanded it.

Our chosen team for the visit was the organization’s director of development, the immediate past board president (who is a friend of the prospect) and myself as the campaign director. There was a great deal of rehearsal among that team, and we were able to reach unanimity within our small group that our request was logical and appropriate.

At the appointed hour we arrived at the prospect’s office. We presented our case, with each team member hitting all the necessary points and the prospect giving us the courtesy of listening carefully to our presentation. The moment of truth arrived and our volunteer put the number on the table: $100,000 from the company, another $100,000 from him personally, membership on the Campaign Executive Committee.

The response was immediate, and superlative: “I don’t see any reason why the company can’t increase it annual commitment to $20,000. We’ve been talking about increasing what we do for your organization. I will certainly make a personal pledge but I need some time to think about how much I can give. And I would love to join the campaign committee. Where do you guys think I can do the most good?” I could see my horses cross the finish line in perfect order; the trifecta!

Not surprisingly, after the meeting everyone was in agreement that we had done the right thing. Nothing builds consensus like success. Furthermore, the three members of our team were held up as all-stars in the eyes of the organization. Though we never doubted ourselves, we had done what others said was unlikely. We had accomplished this by setting our sights high, thoroughly preparing and believing in our ability to succeed.

Never forget that, at the appointed hour, you will have just one chance to win the gold. You have to do everything you can to train yourself in body, mind and spirit to be ready for that chance. You have to transmit your positive attitude to your teammates, because rarely can we succeed on our own. Finally, you have to believe that it is possible not just to do well, but to achieve the highest level of success at the greatest level of competition.

Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) is among the most sought after fundraising consulting firms specializing in the strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits throughout the United States and Canada.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to info@cdsfunds.com.