Major Gift Solicitation – Proper Preparation Leads to Gratification

All fundraising professionals, whether internal development officers or outside fundraising counsel, are concerned about getting the biggest gifts for our client organizations. We want a major gift from every potential donor. We want to hit a home run every time we come up to bat! The only way to accomplish this is by working daily to improve our listening and speaking skills and by practicing for each approached.

Every campaign that is going to reach its potential is going to involve solicitor training. We all require a bit of polish if we are truly going to shine. With the benefit of practice and role-playing exercises, professional development officers and volunteers alike can improve their presentation skills. Training is essential in all types of campaigns, including: annual campaigns, capital campaigns, debt-reduction campaigns and endowment campaigns.

No matter how wonderful the cause, nor how important the organization, nor how highly prominent the solicitor—there should still be proper preparation. In most instances, the best speakers will insist upon this preparedness. It is not human nature to give away large sums of money; therefore, prospective donors need to feel they can make a very dramatic difference by making the gift we are suggesting. They want to be certain that their support is truly needed and that lives will be changed because of their gift. It takes a confident and well-prepared spokesperson to create this image in the mind of a donor. This kind of confidence only comes from proper preparation and knowing that all relevant information has been gathered through a process of painstaking prospect research.

Many decisions need to be made before you can complete this training process. Who are you going to approach first? Who is going to make the call? Who will ask for the gift? How much money are you going to request, and is it a one-time gift or a gift pledged over time? Is there any donor recognition attached to it, such as commemorative giving opportunities? When do you plan to suggest that you meet again to discuss the prospect’s decision?

These and any other decisions will need to be made so you can complete preparations for the call. Some decisions relate to the prospect rather than the solicitation team. Among these variables are: the location of the solicitation, others invited, the date and time of the call, etc. Where possible, try to have the meeting at a place and time that will have your prospect comfortable and at-ease, but unavailable to distractions (the office in early morning, home in early evening, or a private room in private club at mealtime work well). Try to have any other people (spouse, financial or legal advisors) considered essential to the process with you during the call. This allows you to build rapport with these people while you work with the prospect.

Prior to the actual call, you want to convene a formal meeting of the solicitation team, including the two solicitors (there should always be at least two (2) solicitors), the related development officer and/or outside fundraising counsel. The training itself should make the solicitors feel comfortable in relating some brief background about the history of the organization you represent, outlining the case for support, explaining the differences this campaign can make, asking for the specific gift (very specific request), and handling the response.

During the preliminary briefing meeting, outside fundraising counsel should lead the discussion about how things should unfold. Counsel is the choreographer unless there is no outside counsel (in which case, the development officer should run this meeting).

In either case, they will encourage the following things to happen:

That the two (or more) most prominent people make the call, showing the prospect how very important this meeting is. That this is, in fact, a formal meeting and not something sandwiched or piggybacked upon some other scheduled event, again showing the prospect how very important this meeting is. That the prospect be asked for the largest gift possible—and asked by someone who has given at least as much as is being asked, demonstrating how important this is to everyone. That the request be related to the time of payments, to minimize the sound of the number “$100,000 per year for a 5-year period—for a total gift of $500,000.” And that the request be made in relationship to any commemorative giving opportunity, “I hope you and Jean will consider a gift of $100,000 this year, and in each of the next four years to commemorate the west wing of our new hospital with your gift of $500,000.”

At this point in your meeting, you will know to sit quietly and patiently for your prospect to respond. As long as you can see your prospective donor is breathing, remember, the next move is theirs. If the prospect asks a question, answer it and ensure that there are no further questions. Before leaving, arrange for a follow-up meeting within a week during which you can return to get their response. This again, underscores the urgency of the request.

After the meeting, take the time to conduct a formal debriefing meeting with the entire solicitation team. Learn how everyone felt it went and try to determine what you can do better the next time. Using this careful and conscientious approach, you will surely enjoy your share of successes. Good luck with your fundraising and remember, have a good time while you are at it.

David G. Phillips is president of Custom Development Solutions, Inc (CDS)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