During my years at JGA I have had the opportunity to work with several score development officers. When it comes to effectively soliciting gifts, there is one who I would put at the head of the class. This individual wishes to remain anonymous, so I’ll refer to him as “Joe.”
A donor once said of Joe, “He’s not flashy or pushy, but he is persistent and he gets the job done.” Joe, by the way, successfully solicited three seven-figure gifts from this donor . . . for one campaign!
Recently I sat down with Joe for a conversation about how he approaches inviting gifts for his organization and why he feels he has done so well at it.
The first thing Joe said to me was, “You can’t have an ego. You can’t be in it for yourself. The mission of your organization must be primary.” I heard the words of Hank Rosso, the founder of The Fund Raising School, echo in Joe’s response: “When you are knocking at the door of the prospective donor, you have to kick your ego aside and let your cause – its mission, vision, and values – walk into that home.”
Joe’s next comment demonstrated his reputation for “persistence” among donors. He told me that he enters conversations about potential gifts knowing that there are only three possible answers – yes, no, or maybe – and he treats them all as “yes’s.” “No” simply means “not at this time.” “Maybe” means “the door is open.” Joe certainly is not one to be easily deterred!
What else contributes to Joe’s success? He engages with prospective donors. As he explained to me, “When I am with a donor I spend 90% of my time listening. Most of our conversation is about them, their interests, their aspirations and I look for ways to make the connections to my organization and its goals.”
Joe’s interaction with donors and potential donors is not limited to those times when he is face-to-face with them. He is attentive to his donors and prospects. He stays in touch through notes and phone calls and engages in unexpected acts of kindness toward them (accompanying them to a funeral of a mutual friend, sending them postcards from family vacation spots, etc.). Joe builds relationships and is able to do so effectively because he has stayed with his organization for many years.
But Joe is also pragmatic. He knows he cannot devote the same level of attention to every donor or potential donor he encounters. “In fairness to my organization, I have to focus on those who have the most potential to contribute difference-making gifts.”
And you have to ask them to do so. It cannot just be about building relationships. At some point you have to ask for the gift. Joe had this to say about the actual solicitation, “You have to be able to close the deal . . . ask for the order. I actually enjoy that part of the conversation because even if the response is ’No’ (which I interpret as ’not at this time’), I don’t let it deflate me. I know there will be another day, another time, another opportunity.”
So what can we learn about gift solicitation from Joe – a highly effective gift officer?
- Keep the mission of your organization at the forefront and speak about it with conviction, knowledge and enthusiasm.
- Know your donors and prospective donors. Listen to them. Attend to them. Be nice to them!
- Don’t be easily deterred in asking for investment in your organization but be gentle, gracious, and sensitive in your persistence.
- Don’t be looking for credit. Push others – the CEO, board, and volunteers – in front of the camera.