There is no doubt that fund-raising is an art. The art of making small talk and the art of cultivating a relationship. There are numerous books describing in great detail how to develop the art of relationship fund-raising. But, successful fund-raising is more; it is also a science. And, it can be summarized in three words: CONTACT, CULTIVATE, & CLOSE.
If you master these three “C’s,” you will be successful in securing major gifts. Let us look at each of the “C’s” individually to better understand how they fit into a fund-raising strategy.
The science of fund-raising starts here. Making contact with a prospect sounds simple; but, I am not talking about just any contact. You should contact only individuals, companies, and foundations that have been pre-qualified as prospects. This can be done a number of ways.
One way is to establish a Prospect Rating Committee to review and evaluate your list of prospects. A committee such as this can be a powerful ally IF the members rate individuals according to their capacity to give and don’t backslide into thinking in terms of what they think the individual will give. There is a critical distinction. Capacity is based on status, known income and investments; propensity to give is based on conjecture—an often inaccurate opinion of less dollars.
Another way to identify prospects to CONTACT is through a prospect rating service like WealthEngine.com, which will list an individual’s gift capabilities based on statistical financial information. Regardless of the method used to determine the best prospects to contact, qualifying them is a critical first step in selecting viable candidates for potential major gifts.
Once 25 to 150 qualified prospects have been identified (the number depends on the size of the goal), then a systematic approach of setting appointments should begin. Your first CONTACT with a prospective donor should be in person if possible. The objective of the first visit is to give the prospect information about your organization. Go from general information to more specific information. Don’t be afraid to mention that the organization you are representing is in a campaign—if, in fact, this is true.
It is important in this first CONTACT that you determine the prospect’s level of interest and inclination to make a future gift. Your ability to determine this will improve with experience.
After you have made your initial CONTACT and have determined that your prospect has an interest in your organization, then it is time to begin working on the second “C,” CULTIVATION.
CULTIVATION of a prospective donor begins with a sincere willingness on your part to build a friendship. Without your developing a friendship, you will not move the prospect along to the final “C,” CLOSE. Treat a prospect like you would any other friendship. Be willing to go the extra mile to show you care about the person, not just his or her gift potential. Be genuine. Be thoughtful. Remember significant events in the prospect’s life. It goes without saying you have to like people to be a successful fund-raiser. You should develop a sincere relationship with the prospect.
CULTIVATION takes time, because trust is not something that happens immediately. It often takes months, if not years to build trust, confidence and credibility. However, once you have created a lasting friendship, the rewards and gifts will come often and regularly to the organization.
Let me caution you that you cannot be a phony during this step. You will go nowhere fast. Mean what you say, do what you say you will do, and then let your actions speak for themselves.
Here is what it means to CULTIVATE:
- Drive five hours to spend 20 minutes at a prospective donor’s daughter’s wedding reception.
- Send your prospects a note or card while you are on vacation, to show you are thinking about them.
- Give the prospect the Sugar Bowl watch given to you by the Athletic Department.
- Exchange your good seats at a concert with a prospect’s bad seats.
- Call, and wish your prospects Merry Christmas on Christmas day.
- Call or e-mail prospects just to say “thinking about you and wanted to know how you are doing.” Show genuine interest.
- Fly to a prospect’s home to deliver an award, because he or she was ill and could not attend the ceremony in person.
Here is what it means to not to CULTIVATE:
- Ask the prospective donor for a favor, i.e., tickets, or use of his or her vacation condo.
- Forget to call the prospective donor on an important date, i.e. birthday, significant event, wedding or special business accomplishment.
- Only call when you want something.
To summarize, CULTIVATION means giving, not taking.
The final and most important “C” is CLOSE. If you have made CONTACT with a qualified prospect, evaluated the prospect’s potential to give, and CULTIVATED the prospect so they believe in YOU, then you are ready for the CLOSE. There are no short cuts to get to this final “C.” A proper CLOSE might not occur for months or years.
To CLOSE simply means to get a gift or pledge card signed by the prospect. There are no other results. But before you ask the question, “will you consider a gift or pledge of $ payable over the next three to five years,” you need to determine the following FOUR RIGHTS:
- RIGHT TIME to make the solicitation
- RIGHT “ASK” AMOUNT
- RIGHT PROJECT
- RIGHT PERSON to make the presentation
I like to remember the four RIGHTS using the letters TAPP (Time, Amount, Project, Person).
They’re vital to your success.
When all the RIGHTS are in place, then and only then are you ready to CLOSE. Ask the prospect if you can bring a proposal back to them for their consideration. Over the years I have been asking this question and I find that the response is in the affirmative about 90% of the time.
Now, let us go over the solicitation meeting where you intend to “CLOSE.”
Solicitation Presentation Check List:
- TAPP questions answered.
- Individual, customized proposal written, justifying the request.
- Date and time of the meeting confirmed.
- You studied the personal information on the prospect, i.e. family, occupation, title, relationship to the organization.
- You reviewed the Five Steps for solicitations with all individuals attending the meeting.
FIVE STEPS:1. Small talk
2. Tell why we are here
3. Tell the story
4. Ask for $
5. Follow-up dateNote: Each person going on the solicitation has been assigned a specific a role.
Now that you are well prepared, you can concentrate on the substance of your solicitation meeting. In my experience, I have learned some key phrases that contribute to a successful meeting. I suggest that you earn to use these phrases appropriately.
Key Phrases to Use During the Solicitation Meeting:
- To reach our goal, we are challenging everyone to do all they can do.
- We want you to invest in our future.
- You have an opportunity to make a real impact with your gift.
- People make things happen not buildings.
- We want to leave our proposal with you for your review and consideration.
- We are asking for equal payment amounts, but your pledge can be made that will work best for you and your family. For example a small amount can be paid in year one and year two and you can balloon your final payment in year three.
- We would like for you to consider the “ask” amount of our proposal, even if you need to extend your pledge payment beyond the three to five year pledge period.
- I understand you have other commitments, but the board is only looking for a signed pledge card today….your pledge can begin later.
- Our students today are benefiting from gifts made years ago.
- Not everyone is in a position to accept a request amount this large.
Do not try to force a decision out of a prospect, but if he or she gives you any indication they are willing to commit to your request, then ask the question, “Do you feel comfortable signing a pledge card now?” I find about half will say, “yes” and the other half will ask for time to think more about your request.
The point is to ask the question if you get any positive sign from the prospect. However, never apply pressure, as it rarely works. There is no way to trick people out of their money. You should not expect to get a signed pledge card every time you make a solicitation. But don’t get discouraged.
CLOSING is the last step in the solicitation but not the final step, because relationship building continues through out your professional career. We know the first gift or pledge a person makes is normally their smallest one if a positive connection between you, the organization and the prospect continues.
The most important step in the FIVE STEP solicitation process is that of following up with the prospect. ALWAYS ask for permission to follow-up in five to ten days at the end of the meeting.
The follow-up can be done over the phone. Call between five and ten days after the meeting and tell the prospective donor you are calling to follow up on the proposal presentation you made last week and you wanted to know if he or she has any questions, comments or concerns about the proposal.
This is an indirect way of asking if they have made a decision. If the prospect says “no,” then get permission to call back in another five to ten days. If the prospect says “yes, we have made a decision,” ask if you can record his or her decision on a pledge card. You should then go ahead and sign your own name on the signature line, indicating “per phone conversation with prospect” on the date line. Mailing the pledge card is too uncertain … the prospect can change his or her mind or the pledge card can get lost in the mail.
It’s important when you receive a phone pledge that you send a letter saying “thank you” for their recent pledge made over the phone for (the amount). Ask to be notified immediately if the amount is not correct. This is an important verification step.
Most people would rather do anything than ask others for money, but if you CONTACT and CULTIVATE qualified prospects, and CLOSE following my Five Steps in solicitations, you will find fund-raising using the three “C’s” fun, enjoyable and certainly rewarding for your organization!