Using Cultivation to Achieve Solicitation Success

By: Jenna Archuleta, Major Gifts Officer  

You’ve accepted the position, taken the training, and are ready to call your first major gift prospect. You review your research on the individual and begin dialing the phone. And then, you decide you need to think about it a little before you make the call. Hours turn to days, which turn to weeks and months that go by without you calling. “ What am I waiting for?” you ask yourself.

All fundraisers have been in this situation. But, with proper preparation, soliciting a major gift can be a simple, enjoyable experience.

Solicitation is the third of the four-step fund-raising process of Identification, Cultivation, Solicitation and Stewardship. All steps are important, but many new major gift fund-raisers make the mistake of starting with solicitation. Measuring success in major gifts is very different than annual giving. With annual giving, success is measured when donors give money.

With major gifts, success can be learning about the donor’s family, educational background, or favorite Rotary project. Cultivation is the key to any successful major gift solicitation. Cultivation involves gathering information via insightful questions and thoughtful consideration of donors’ goals. Cultivation often starts with a request to have coffee.

Rather than requesting a significant gift right away, get to know your potential donor. What is special about Rotary for them? Why have they made charitable gifts in the past? What is their personal, professional, and Rotary history? What causes do they care about?

In these first meetings, do more listening than talking. Connect around shared Rotary passions if possible. As you get to know more about your potential donor, work with your major gifts officer to develop a customized cultivation strategy for each potential donor in your portfolio. Keep in mind that the major gift fund-raiser’s role is to use your meetings, phone calls and other communications with this potential donor to develop a Rotary relationship.

The success of your cultivation depends on asking for the right gift amount, for the right program, at the right time. The time is right for solicitation when your conversations and research have provided enough background to know that now is a good time for the donor to give, you have a mutual understanding of which programs or projects the donor is passionate about, and you have enough information to know an appropriate gift range for which to ask. When the time approaches for you to make a solicitation, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Acknowledge the donor’s past Rotary service and leadership.
  • Show Rotary Pride – for example, show your shared, personal interest in Rotary’s outstanding service projects around the world
  • Be considerate by asking for consideration – don’t begin the conversation with the question, “Will you give a gift”, start instead with “Will you consider making a gift?”
  • State the specific amount you are asking for them to donate.
  • State the specific designation such as a particular area of focus or a fund.
  • BE QUIET (let the potential donor speak first)

Prepare for your solicitation meeting by writing out what you plan to say and rehearsing it aloud. Common errors of major gift solicitation include:

  • Talking too much
  • Sounding cold or inconsiderate
  • Using words like “should” and “ought”
  • Asking apologetically or with embarrassment
  • Breaking eye contact
  • Rushing the ask
  • Breaking silence too soon after the ask

If you have done your homework and followed all the steps above, your solicitation is successful. Carefully cultivating your donor and learning more about their background and charitable goal will help you align his or her goals with the available giving options to create an enticing solicitation the donor will gladly fund. If you focus on cultivation, successful and simple solicitation comes naturally.

If you’re still a bit nervous about cultivating your first potential donor, watch these solicitation role-playing videos to learn some tips:

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