Soliciting major gifts is a difficult process, fraught with potential landmines. It requires a great deal of experience, knowledge, and wisdom to chart a path through this course. If a non-profit organization hopes to execute a successful fundraising effort, they must first identify some of the missteps that can lead prospective donors to say “no.”
It is a cliché, but the most common reason people give for not making a gift is “because I was not asked.” Successful fundraising is, in part, a function of activity. Development officers have to get out there and meet with prospective donors; not just to network, which is a critical function in its own right, but to ask for money. A non-profit organization should never say “no” on behalf of a potential supporter. If a prospect declines to give that is their prerogative, and hearing negative responses is an unavoidable downside to the business. However, anyone who might conceivably support an organization needs to be given the opportunity.
Deciding to ask someone for money is just the first step in a long process, and there are many more pitfalls lying between that decision and a closed gift. Failing to prepare for the ask can lead a prospect to say no. Thorough preparation is necessary to assess the person’s feeling toward the organization, as well as what aspects of the mission or project appeal to them. This background information is best gathered through direct conversations with the prospect’s peers, perhaps even with the person themselves. Ignoring anecdotal subjective information, even with the best on line search engines to give you objective data, is a mistake.
While the actual solicitation is only part of the puzzle, there is certainly a right way and a wrong way for it to unfold. The most common mistake when soliciting a prospect is to make the meeting too informal. Tacking a solicitation onto the last five minutes of a meeting about other things, or making it part of a social gathering, can lead to disaster. Fundraising is a formal process, requiring serious deliberations, and the mission of an organization should not be marginalized as an add-on to other discussions.
A solicitation needs to be a formal process, but it should not be so impersonal as to be conducted via the mail or the telephone. Failure to make a compelling, personalized, face-to-face presentation can lead to a negative response. Results can also be diminished by the absence of a peer, who has already made a commitment at or above what the prospect is being asked to consider. The best formula for success is for someone to ask their close friend to participate in a mission that serves their shared interests and values.
People often decline to contribute, or give less than they could, because they were not given options as to how they can give. Fundraisers often forget that not everyone understands the benefits of contributing appreciated securities, or property. Planned giving vehicles, such as trusts and annuities, are not well known in the general public. Major gifts can be more easily achieved if the prospect is given a number of years to complete them. Explaining all of these options to a prospect can give them added opportunities to commit a gift or stretch themselves to the next level.
One very simple mistake that is often overlooked, but can be disastrous, is excluding the spouse from a solicitation. While causes and affiliations are not always shared between a husband and wife, financial decisions often are. Indeed, the fact that a spouse is not involved with an organization is just all the more reason for including them in the meeting. Educating them about the mission and project will be critical to getting a strong commitment.
We like to think that people only give out of altruism, but that is not always the case. Many people are influenced by what they get in return, and failure to outline a specific recognition opportunity can diminish the results of a solicitation. There is a wide variety of options available, from naming a building for a particularly generous donor, to sending a nice lapel pin so that a supporter can display their loyalty. Leaving this out of the initial solicitation takes one important tool away from the development officer.
Last, but certainly not least, is the amount of follow-up that occurs after a solicitation. Many non-profit organizations simply solicit their prospects and then sit back and wait for an answer. Those intervening days, when the person is considering their response and their degree of support, are just the time for them to receive several notes of encouragement or phone calls from other supporters. People need a certain comfort level that the cause they are joining is worthy of their investment. If an organization does not provide that encouragement it risks an unnecessary number of negative responses.
Once that gift is successfully closed, there are some common mistakes that prevent an organization from achieving success on the next ask, or that cause a donor to not fulfill their entire multi-year pledge. Many organizations do not do enough to invest their donors in the mission or project, by inviting their participation and input. Some organizations do less than they can in terms of thanking donors, over and over again. A non-profit organization cannot say thank you often enough. After all, these donors are the lifeblood of the organization, and should be treated as such.
Soliciting major gifts is a highly technical process. There are many potential errors that can upset the most well-intentioned fundraising effort. If an organization can avoid these critical missteps, and present a compelling case for support, the chances of success will increase dramatically.
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.