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Launch Your Program - Solicitation Techniques

There are many examples of volunteered gifts — contributions from people who were never asked to give. But in most cases, the prospect must be asked to make a gift. The heart of major gift solicitation is the "personal" ask, the direct meeting between station representative and prospective donor, and this page provides tools to help you do that. It also provides templates to help you improve your "impersonal asks" — the fundraising letter, on-air appeal, or telephone call — which play less important, but still undeniable roles in major gift fundraising.

Topics of Interest
Topics of Interest

The Importance of Asking

The late Joan Kroc's $230 million bequest to NPR was offered, not asked. The $1,000,000 gift KCET received for its capital campaign was volunteered, as was Oregon Public Broadcasting's $250,000 gift for entrepreneurial activity. These gifts came because the donors were well cultivated or self-motivated. In most instances, however, gifts are made because someone asked for them. However, when Jerold Panas, author of the groundbreaking study Mega Gifts (See Major Giving Bibliography, PDF, 28KB), asked twenty donors of $1 million and more why they gave, one of the most frequent responses was, "Because I was asked."

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Solicitation in Person

By far the most effective means of solicitation — ten times as effective as mail and five times as effective as a personal phone call by most estimates — is the personal solicitation. How does one ask? "The key to asking for major gifts," writes consultant James A. Donovan, "is asking for them."

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Asking the Question

After all the cultivation meetings, there is simply no substitute for calling the question, for saying to the prospect, "Now that you know our story and given how our service addresses your concerns for the future, I hope you will join me in supporting it. Would you consider a gift in the range of $xx,xxx?" And then saying nothing.

Donovan (See Major Giving Bibliography, PDF, 28KB) offers a ten-step approach to reaching this important question:

  1. Be a good listener, as well as a presenter.
  2. Be your own charming self.
  3. Ask for a gift in a particular range and ask for enough.
  4. Remain positive throughout the entire meeting with the prospect.
  5. Make sure that you and other solicitors have made your own gifts before soliciting someone else.
  6. Know your prospect and do your homework before asking.
  7. Tailor your presentation to the donor's interests.
  8. Anticipate the prospect's objects and be prepared with answers.
  9. Leave a written proposal as a record of your request.
  10. Use knowledge to reduce the fear of asking for major gifts. (In other words, know your subject.)

A successful gift request at WGBY shows the importance of listening carefully and negotiating a gift that works for the donor:

The prospect was asked to provide a gift that would bring the campaign to a successful conclusion. Because part of the campaign involved retirement of a bond issue, the prospect asked if this would retire the debt. The solicitation team answered honestly that it would not — that the station had a plan to retire the remainder of the bonds over the next few years. "I want this station to be debt free," the prospect said, "so that you can devote your operating budget to programs and services." After discussion, the prospect made a larger gift than had been requested, part as an outright gift, and part as a challenge grant to retire the remaining debt on the bonds. This extended the campaign, but when the donor's challenge had been met, WGBY emerged debt free, and the donor accomplished his goals.

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Solicitation Strategies

On truly major calls, it is usually best for two solicitors to make the gift solicitation: a volunteer and a key member of the management team. This allows one to listen while the other is speaking and makes the conversation flow more easily. On some occasions, a third person takes part in the solicitation request, but more than three can seem overwhelming to the individual or couple being asked.

It is important to have a strategy for the conversation. Use the Strategy Worksheet (MS Word, 47KB) to help you outline who is going to say what, what the possible questions or objections might be, and who is going to ask for the gift. This is another reason to send a team. On many occasions, the individual assigned to make the ask for the gift simply can't bring himself or herself to do it, in which case the second individual can and should. Only on rare occasions should an ask not be made.

When in doubt, remember that if the prospect was not prepared to be asked, he or she would not have given you the appointment in the first place.

The techniques for gift solicitation in public broadcasting are specifically addressed in a special Gift Solicitation Techniques article (PDF, 131KB) prepared for the Major Giving Initiative by veteran fund raising consultant Kent E. Dove.

The NET Foundation in Lincoln, Nebraska has compiled NET FAQ (PDF, 115KB), which is a series of responses to common questions they receive from prospects. It is good practice to prepare all solicitors for these types of questions and concerns.

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Solicitation by Mail

While success in major gift fundraising requires personal meetings with major donor prospects, gifts of smaller sizes will continue to be solicited by mail. And mail will continue to play a vital role in the stewardship of the relationship.

Your correspondence with those in this prospect pool should reflect how you will treat them once they become major donors to your station. If sent by mail, your invitation to join should be personalized and presented on stationery that is of higher quality than what is used at the mid- and regular-membership levels. Generally, the invitation to join should come from your general manager, board chair, or a volunteer leader whom they know.

You may choose to mail your invitations to join your group annually, bi-annually, quarterly or even monthly as part of your renewal effort. (For more information, see the Renewal and Upgrading page in the Expand Your Program section.

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Solicitation by Phone

A more personal means of asking for a gift is to ask by phone. In many major gift efforts, peers calling peers to ask them to contribute plays an important role. The technique is simple:

  • Make the prospect comfortable with ice-breaking small talk.
  • Move to the purpose of the call, explaining what the station does and how gifts will help.
  • Have the caller state in his or her own words "why I've made my gift."
  • Say, "I'm calling to ask you to join me. Would you consider a gift in the range of $x?"
  • Say nothing until the prospect responds.
  • Follow-up as needed, with a personal letter thanking them for their support or asking them to consider again at some later time.

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Strategy Worksheet (MS Word file, 47KB)
Solicitation and Stewardship Letter Templates (MS Word file, 126KB)

John Hampton,
Volunteer Leader