March 19, 2012
Asking Can Be Fun!

Asking can be fun!  It should be fun.  Asking a person to make an investment (that is what the gift should be) is fun because it is the culmination of much work.  It assumes that the prospective donor has been properly cultivated by your organization.  It is fun for the Executive, the Director of Development and especially for the volunteer who has the assignment to do the asking.

Consider the following truisms, they should set the tone for your assignment:


  • People give to people. People do not give to causes. People give to people with causes.
  • People will not give to an institution to pay off debts, pay salaries or even give because you need it.  They give because they need what you have to offer them.  They will give beyond the institution, to the good you do.
  • As solicitors, we do not have the right to deprive anyone of the privilege of saying “No”.
  • If your knees are shaking, stomach uneasy, tongue dry just before you are ready to start on a solicitation visit, “Kick yourself aside and let your cause walk in.”
  • The principal reason people do not give:  They’re not asked.
  • Only when they say no the third time should you believe them.  What does this mean?  It means you will hear them say, “NO! I can’t give.” and you’ll have to muster up the strength and say, “I understand, but we need your support, will you consider……

What follows are step by step instructions.  If you follow them you’ll see how fun it really is.

Set The Pace  

The first preparation step in seeking an investment from the public is to make your own commitment to the organization.  That way, you will be inviting investment by example instead of by advice.

Recognize Your Influence

If you are a volunteer you must recognize that because you are taking this voluntary initiative on behalf of the organization, what you say to your prospect and how you say it will be the greatest influence on his/her giving.  Ultimately, the best tool of persuasion will be your own sincerity, interest and enthusiasm.

If you are a staff member you should recognize that the simple effort you are making in a personal call will have great influence on the prospective donor and will be appreciated.

Prepare For The Visit                       

Make the case for the organization by anticipating questions and studying the organization’s materials.

Know Your Prospect                        

The better you know the person you are calling on - his interest and his business - the more effectively you can make the case for the organization in terms that will win maximum attention and investment.

Make The Appointment      

A really meaningful gift cannot be obtained by mail or telephone.  Be sure your prospect can give his undivided attention to your story.  More than one visit may be necessary for his careful consideration of your presentation.  Even though information may have been disseminated to all prospects, do not assume that they will know about the present program.

Telephone for an appointment but strongly resist discussing the gift over the telephone.  There is not a substitute for face-to-face visits.

If they resist, tell them that you respect their opinion and that important developments at the organization require you to share this information in person.  You may want to explain that it will only take 15 to 20 minutes.  You may want to mention that you have some materials you would like to show them as well as an exciting video presentation (if you have one) that they really need to see.  Set a specific time either in their home or office - wherever they are most comfortable.

Pledge Card  

Be sure to take the prospect’s pledge card (or commitment card) and pen with you.

Calling On The Prospect  

  1. Express your appreciation.
  2. Reminisce about the organization.
  3. Quickly outline what the campaign or present fund raising program  will accomplish.
  4. Emphasize the multiplying effect of her gift.
  5. Don’t apologize - this is an important program, and you are part of a tremendous opportunity to help the organization’s future.  Instead of asking people to give because the organization critically needs the money, you are seeking investments on behalf of the organization - a successful enterprise - for the good it will do in the community and in society.  You are not “begging” for a handout.
  6. Mention the total campaign or program goal and the specific goal for your particular group.

Ask For The Gift        

"I could not be here today talking with you about your gift without having already made my own.  My husband and I feel so strongly about the importance of this organization that we have made this our number one priority beyond our regular giving.  I know the amount that each person gives is an individual thing, but we believe the organization deserves our best.  This may require some rearranging of priorities, but we need to sacrifice for those things we truly believe in.  We think this sacrifice is worth it.  The organization needs us.”

"I would like for you and (spouse’s name) to make the organization your priority also, and pledge (or give) $____________ over the next 12 months (over a 3-year period.)"

Ask For the Specific Dollar Amount                          

People like to know what they are expected to do.

Prospect’s Response                         

Your prospect needs a chance to respond.  He may go ahead and make his pledge at this time, or hesitate, or say no, or may ask for additional time to consider it.

If yes, mention we are asking people to complete a pledge card (or commitment card) so we will be sure to know exactly what they have pledged for our records.  If he hesitates to complete the card, remind him it is not a contract and draw his attention to the information on the back of the card which should explain how the gift or pledge can be fulfilled.

Allow him time to respond.  If he still doesn’t respond favorably, be creative by suggesting he pledge that amount but make it over 4 years instead of 3 years, or some other type of program to get this needed pledge.  Only after going through such a exercise do you talk about reducing the size of the pledge.

NOTE:  It is best not to even show the prospect the pledge card until after he/she has made his/her final decision concerning his/her pledge.

Many people you will talk to have never been asked to pledge the amount you will be asking them to give.  It is not that they don’t have the money or can’t give the amount.  They simply have never even considered giving such an amount to the organization.  Your personal giving and involvement will go a long way toward getting others to give more generously than they have previously considered.

 "We simply have to have gifts of this size," 

 "You need to get involved like you never have before,"

 "We are dealing with the lives of our future," 

 "Leadership is so important, and you are perceived as a leader in this community.  Others are watching you and will respond accordingly.”

Suggest a Commemorative Opportunity

As a way of introducing the amount you’d like your prospect to consider pledging, you may choose to recommend a naming of a particular building or entity or a listing on a plaque.

Suggest Ways To Give          

Besides a pledge of cash, there are a number of other forms a commitment can take such as real property, securities, bonds, etc.  Prospects may also want to consider making a bequest through their will to the organization at this time.

Never Leave a Pledge Card              

This is fatal!  Since most prospects want time to consider their investments, plan to make 2 visits - but don’t leave the pledge card with your prospect.  You will find that larger pledges will be forthcoming if you follow this rule.

Make a Date

Unless the prospect is ready to make this investment at the suggested level on your first visit, you will not even want to take the pledge card out.  Instead, this first visit will be devoted to informing the prospect about the campaign and suggesting a level of investment.  Ask, “Can you tell me the kind of time table on which you think you’ll be making your decision?”  Try to schedule your second visit within a week, if possible. 

Make sure you have an appointment for your second visit before leaving.

Consider a Team Approach             

You may wish to enlist the help of another volunteer on selected calls. Two volunteers visiting a prospect - when both have made their own pledges - can be very convincing.

Say Thank You                      

When the pledge is made, regardless of the amount, be sure to thank the prospect, get the card signed and thank them again.

If someone absolutely will not pledge anything, thank them for their time and encourage them to stay involved with the organization. Tell them to call you should they consider a gift at another time.

See the Best First

See first the prospects you consider the most apt to commit at the suggested figure. Remember that early pledges, especially those that are substantial, set the pace for other subsequent pledges.

Call Your First Prospect Now

Make an appointment.  The campaign is on a very tight time schedule and it will not be possible to move ahead unless all assignments are completed within the subscribed time period. If you need more information about the campaign or your prospects, if you are unable to secure an investment that satisfies you, or if you have any questions about how to handle the details of a specific investment, don’t guess - call the organization’s office.



March 15, 2012
Excuses & Trustees

As you begin the task of increasing the trustee’s involvement in fund raising it is important to consider some of the obstacles you are likely to face. If yours is a typical 25-person board, likely no more than three or four are already involved and excited about the fund raising program. The fact that this number is so small should definitely concern you.

And yet, how often do you stop to analyze your trustees’ hesitation? Surrounding the reluctant fundraiser is a mix of negative but unspoken hesitations. Often we fail to acknowledge this mix; even more rarely do we address it. 

Excuse No. 1:

I don’t want to solicit John personally, but you give him a call and use my name.”

This excuse typically comes from trustees who are embarrassed to solicit their friends. What I recommend you say is that if John is worth calling on, then he’s worth calling on the right way.

While fund raising is built on names and contacts it is much more than that. If John is a personal or professional friend of this trustee and yet a staff person contacts him, John will quickly note the absence of peer involvement. He’ll then wonder if his friend views the project (or him!) as second-rate. These questions will lead John to resent his friends and your institution. Then, if John gives only out of courtesy, the second-rate solicitation will have done more harm than good.

A red flag should go up whenever you hear this excuse. By avoiding a peer solicitation, what trustees are really saying is that they haven’t bought into your fund raising projects. So the second half of tackling this excuse is to cultivate ownership. I suggest the following steps:

1.         Be sure that when trustees vote for projects, they also vote their enthusiasm, ownership, and responsibility. You should discuss these three attitudes explicitly whenever the board considers a particular motion. Even though the board will approve fewer projects as a result, the ones it does OK will be more likely to succeed.

 2.         Make certain the projects your board does approve are part of a strategic plan. The plan should include a rationale for the project and a distinctive mission that excites the board. Viewed in the context of a good plan, raising funds for the project is more like sharing an investment opportunity.

 3.         Encourage polite fund raising. If the reluctant trustee says, “It’s rude to hit up friends,” point out that it’s ruder for staff to hit up strangers.

Help trustees ease into fund raising by showing them how to cultivate and listen to prospects. For instance, trustees at one institution adopted an out-reach-cultivation-listening program for all board members. Such a program helps trustees see that, far from pressuring uninterested colleagues, a well-planned solicitation helps askers match donor interests with opportunities to give. This is a program we might want to consider.

 4.         Cultivate trustee pride in an enthusiasm for the institution. Honor trustees as your most important volunteers. Then find ways for your most loyal and active board members to encourage fellow trustees to “belong” to the institution. The “use my name” excuse will disappear as trustees start to want to speak for their institution.

Excuse No. 2:              

 I don’t give enough myself to be an effective high-level solicitor.”

Trustees who say this are right: Peers are often the most effective solicitors. But help these trustees be realistic. We can’t exhaust wealthy board members by asking them to do all the soliciting. And we can’t bankrupt the rest of the trustees just so they can qualify to peer-solicit major gifts.

Since peer solicitation isn’t always possible, help your trustees recognize that it’s only one part, and not a prerequisite, of successful solicitation. People respond to people more than dollar amounts. It’s most effective for the trustee to simply say, “I have given the best gift I could. I hope you will do the same.” After all, just as impressive to potential donors are such traits as enthusiasm, sensitivity, and credibility.

Other ideas for helping trustees ask for more than they can give:

1.  Have successful trustee fund raisers talk with the full board about the ingredients of a successful solicitation. This puts peer solicitation in perspective and uncovers willing and able solicitors with enthusiasm, contacts, and so on. Build imaginatively on trustee contacts. We often see $1,000 trustee donors whom - because of business connections, community standing, or personal friendships - obtain $10,000 gifts.

2. Help trustees recognize that stretch commitments are proportional to means. To match ratios rather than dollars, advise your trustees to ask, “Will you join me in doubling annual giving” or “Like me, could you give a capital gift 20 times your annual gift?”

3.  Always encourage board members to stretch. The $5,000 donor may well solicit the $10,000 or $15,000 prospects, and so on.

 Excuse No. 3:

"I don’t see the urgency of the project these potential donations would support

 This often occurs right after the effort is underway and you get this “by the way” excuse. This excuse is hard to counter because it reflects the trustee’s personal feeling. Yet the reluctance stems from controllable problems in board/staff relations, strategic planning, communication, or all three.

Look again at the board’s strategic plan. Ironically, a plan can motivate trustee fundraisers more than a fund raising case. That’s because of all people, trustees know that a fund raising case is meant to justify a project. So a plan has more credibility for them. It looks objectively at your changing environment and all your options and needs.

So look carefully at the plan and then ask yourself: Does the plan’s mission truly motivate trustees? Does it cover the “why” rather than just the “what” of their endeavor?

Are the projects for which you want the board to raise funds in the plan? Does the plan offer a rationale for them?

1.      Did the board initiate, participate in, and approve of the plan? Did members of the board specify before hand the uses and benefits of the plan? To help drive your fund raising, the plan’s purpose and impact need to go beyond fund raising.

2.      Review how you communicate the importance of fund raising projects. What you say, or not say, in development reports, gift acknowledgements, and publications?

3.      Do the messages repeatedly bring home the project’s importance? And do trustees actually read these messages?

Excuse No. 4:              

"Fund raising is what we hired the Development Officer or CEO to do."     

 1.  Have trustees ask themselves whether fund raising is an important board priority.

 2.   If fund raising isn’t now a board priority, decide whether it’s temporarily OK for you and the board to work to understand and reshape board/staff relations and plan for the future. A workshop can help.

 3.    Ask trustees to help plan fund raising and prospect strategies. This involvement makes board members feel they own the development effort.

 4.  Clarify the board’s expectations of the staff. By targeting and researching appropriate prospects and reminding solicitors of their assignments, you and other members of the staff can encourage and strengthen your trustee fund raisers.

 An example of how staff can help: A trustee leader told me that a prospective donor he’d solicited once returned to campus and pulled from her purse a check for 10 percent of the capital campaign. The trustee wouldn’t have known to ask her for that much if the staff hadn’t coached him.

Excuse No. 5:              

"I’m just too busy."

This excuse suggests that the trustee’s enthusiasm for and belief in your institution is weak. The chief development officer, your CEO, or a fellow board member should talk with the reluctant trustee to explain and strengthen:

 a.      The relationship among the four institutional cornerstones - board issues, planning, marketing, and fund raising. When it comes to exploring how these cornerstones support your institution, a board workshop is once again a good way to give trustees the perspective and enthusiasm to get off the dime. In addition, an outside consultant may be able to help trustees see the link between the cornerstones in strengthening your long-term fund raising potential.

b.      Your institution’s investment in board management. By doing a better job of managing the board, your organization can improve trustee membership, involvement, and enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the most important prerequisite for fund raising.

c.       You should try to:

 i.      Strengthen the nominating committee to attract the most committed new trustees possible. As part of this profile your current board, identify the kinds of new expertise you need, and build a large and well researched candidate pool. Then help the board select, cultivate, recruit, and orient new members with these unfilled needs in mind.

 ii.      Use workshops to uncover trustee aspirations and match them to selected board responsibilities.

 iii.      Initiate trustee self-evaluations. These will help your board members come to their own conclusions about areas in which commitment and skill are lacking.

Excuse No. 6:              

"I’m afraid of fund raising. It’s distasteful. And I’m no good at it."

 This excuse reflects fear of the unknown as well as fear of rejection and loss of prestige and friends. It could also mean that trustees who say this are themselves afraid of being expected to give more than they want to or are able to.

When trustees solicit, one of two things will happen: The donor prospects will say yes or no. Remind trustees that a no is not a personal rejection, and rarely is it a rejection of the institution. Instead of concentrating on the no, trustees should consider the potential joy of a yes, especially since a trustee-solicited major gift is often many times greater than what other askers could bring in.

Trustees should also remember this: The alternative to thinking positively is often saddling themselves with two negative emotions: fear of soliciting and guilt about failing to help solicit.

Trustees can also take these steps to reduce their fears:

1.         Give a gift of their own. Conventional wisdom holds that the solicitor who has given is better at asking others to give. Making a donation also helps the solicitor get beyond any fear and uncertainty about his or her own commitment.

2.         Regularly talk with other members of the board about successful solicitations. This reinforces positive lessons, makes solicitations more familiar, and can lessen fear of the unknown.

3.          Make calls as part of a board/staff team. Again, this can give the reluctant asker a record of success to build on later.

The importance of sensitivity

 Any time your trustees express any of these six excuses, respond by listening closely and questioning carefully. Although you can counter some excuses directly, others reflect problems with your institution or board. Exploring the problems in a sensitive, non-threatening manner can provide a catalyst for better management.

So as vexing as excuses may seem, they can be a great help. They can open up productive discussions with your board about fund raising, what makes it work and what is says about your institution.

March 15, 2012
The Seven Faces of Philanthropy

When preparing a message for a donor or donors it always helpful to look at The Seven Faces of Philanthropy. Is the message the same for #2 as it is for #4? Can a single message meet the needs or requirements of all the “faces”?  Probably not but, at least, consider them when crafting a case for support.

When writing a thank you letter or a proposal for a single donor then you have the opportunity to personalize and really focus on that donor’s “face”.

1. The Communitarian: Doing Good Makes Sense

2. The Devout: Doing Good Is God’s Will

3. The Investor: Doing Good Is Good Business

4. The Socialite: Doing Good Is Fun

5. The Altruist: Doing Good Feels Good

6. The Repayer: Doing Good in Return

7. The Dynast: Doing Good Is a Family Tradition

The Seven Faces of Philanthropy

Russ Alan Prince & Karen Maru File

1994 Jossey-Bass Inc.

March 15, 2012
"What’s In The Name?"

My great-grandfather, John Calvin (JC) Van Dyke, was one of the earliest settlers in Wyoming Territory.  As a young man he drove oxen trains along the Bozeman Trail, and in 1889 he opened Van Dyke Men’s Wear on Main Street in Buffalo, Wyoming. 

Nearby was the Occidental Hotel, which became the setting for Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian: Horseman of the Plains.  Outside the hotel, the Virginian shoots and kills his arch enemy, Trampas.  That was fictional, but real guests at the hotel included Buffalo Bill Cody, Teddy Roosevelt, General Phil Sheridan, and Calamity Jane.  Jane, who drove freight wagons on the Bozeman Trail, wore men’s clothing. Since my great-grandfather operated the only store in town, Jane may have purchased her clothes there.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid certainly would have visited his store from their nearby Hole-in-the-Wall hideout.

In 1892, when my grandfather, Duke, was one year old, the Johnson County Cattle War (also known as the War on Powder River) broke out between small settlers and large established cattle ranchers.  My great-grandfather was there when the sheriff gathered a posse of nearly 200 Buffalo residents to battle the cattle barons’ hired killers.

In the 1960’s, Van Dyke Men’s Wear was still in business and was being run by my great-uncle, when I watched my father buy an authentic cowboy hat.

The men’s store was located on Clear Creek, a beautiful stream that flows from the Big Horn Mountains, just west of Buffalo.  It holds a special place in my memories.

And so, now you know “what’s in the name.” 

Clear Creek Consulting, strategic communications and increased income for organizations.

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