Managing the Ask: 4 Rules for Successful Donor Cultivation
If you're new to development, scheduling that first meeting with a prospective donor can be frightening. You want to build a meaningful and lasting relationship with the donor and hopefully lock in a high-level gift.
Each donor has a unique reasoning for why they choose to give or not to give, which means there is no “one size fits all” way to communicate with donor prospects. Perfecting your communication tactics can take years of experience, but Diane Carlson, chairman of Catapult Fundraising, Inc., says that starting with the "4-Right Rule" can get you off to a great start.
Enlist the Right Development Officer
Determining who should solicit the donor prospect is a much simpler than determining who the prospect actually is. If your shop has the capacity, try to find someone who would match well with the donor’s interests. Whoever makes the appointment with the prospective donor should be the person to attend the meeting.
If possible, another gift officer or volunteer for your organization should join the main solicitor. One person can watch for body language and take notes on the content of the meeting while the other speaks, switching roles as needed over the course of the encounter. Both representatives from the organization must be able to speak about the campaign or goal they want the donor prospect to participate in.
If there is a campaign committee or chair, encourage them to join meetings with donor prospects. The “right person” to lead the meeting doesn’t always have to be someone from the development office, but it's necessary that someone with closing skills is present to guide the conversation.
Talk to the Right Prospect
When looking for the right prospect to approach, it's important to consider both capacity and interest. If someone has a high level of wealth and high interest, they are a great option for solicitation. On the other hand, someone with low wealth and high interest may be better engaged in volunteer work or in some other avenue. High-wealth, low-interest donors are hard to obtain but could be worth the challenge if you are able to make a meaningful connection with them.
Identifying the right donor prospect starts in your database. Wealth capacity rating systems, conducted in house or via outside contracts, give a good indication of wealth.
Assess the donor’s level of interest by checking to see if they’ve given to your organization before, if they ever made a large gift, or if anyone had attempted to ask for a larger donation.
Ask for the Right Amount
Using the information from the wealth capacity screenings, you can begin to brainstorm exactly how much you want to ask your donor for. Review their gift history to the foundation, and then invite the donor prospect to cultivation events and schedule visits with them to discuss the mission of the organization. This will help you assess if the wealth capacity estimate was correct, or if you need to adjust it to fit the interests or financial needs of the donor.
When you have your amount set, prepare recognition and naming opportunities to go along with the donation. Anonymous donations or donations without recognition are few, but the opportunities for donors to be recognized for their important and significant contributions are endless. It is essential that the recognition opportunities are produced ahead of the first meeting. Naming opportunities should not be based on the cost of the item being named, but rather the impact value it has on the donor.
Choose the Right Time
Finding the right time for a visit is up to the donor prospect. As the development officer, propose a time and length of meeting. If your prior engagements were successful, the donor is likely to accept.
Most gifts can be obtained within three visits. The first visit should focus on providing information about your campaign or goal and educating the donor prospect about the mission and values of your organization. You should know what your ask amount will be when you go to this meeting, but you shouldn't present it unless the prospect asks directly. Do not overstay your meeting: if it was scheduled to last 45 minutes, do not go beyond that mark.
The second visit might be the time you make the ask, unless the donor prospect brings unexpected guests to the meeting. These guests could be adult children, lawyers, or financial advisors. Make sure the guest or guests have a grasp on what you are trying to accomplish. Often they are there to provide comfort or support to the prospect, and you want to give them as many tools to do that as possible.
The goal of the third visit is to make the ask. Present the prospect with the amount and recognition opportunities. It's normal for them to want to adjust the amount. Encourage a pledge period of three to five years to help ease the financial stress of a large gift.
It can be a challenge to stay in control of the ask; sometimes a donor may say no from the start. While this can be disheartening, remember that most “no’s” can actually mean “not right now.” Try to find out the cause of the “no:" is it the timing, their interest in your cause, the ask amount, or something entirely different?
For more information on managing the ask, watch the full webinar.