I’ve known MGOs that are really good at moves management; they steward donors well, and they’re all over the details with the database… but they’re just plain stymied when it comes to soliciting a donor for their programs.
In fact, when Richard and I first started talking about what the 7 Keys to a Successful Major Gift Program should be, both of us agreed that one of them is to actually “ask” a donor for gifts.
Many times when we give the “7 Keys” presentation, people in the audience laugh when we come to the part about asking… but it’s no joke. You would not believe how many MGOs are out there in the field right now who have hardly ever asked for a gift. They are out there writing notes and e-mails, sending gifts, but they are not asking.
Why? Because they are afraid. It’s uncomfortable and it’s not easy. If you are a manager who needs to hire an MGO, it would be good for you to ask the candidate about several instances where they sat in front of a donor and they solicited a gift. At least 3 or 4 instances. Why? Because too many MGOs are fleeing one non-profit to another before they have to actually solicit a donor for a gift… and they keep getting hired!
Richard and I are blown away by how many “veteran MGOs” there are who have been with multiple organizations and have hardly ever solicited a donor for an actual gift. It’s outrageous.
So we want to help you overcome this fear of asking, if you are struggling with this. Here are some things to consider around the whole idea of “asking:”
- Get your head and heart right. One of the greatest barriers to asking is YOU. You haven’t settled this whole fundraising thing in your heart and soul yet. You haven’t figured out that donors want to be asked, that they need to give, and that you are actually bringing the donor joy and fulfillment when you ask them to part with their money. You haven’t realized that you are doing your donors a favor by asking them to help change the world through their giving to your programs. You have yet to understand that you are the bridge between your donor’s greatest desire to change the world and your organization’s mission to do just that. Once this sinks deep into your heart and bones, then you are ready to handle all nuances and details that are required to solicit a donor.
- Get educated. One reason I find that MGOs are reluctant to solicit donors about a certain project is that they feel they don’t know enough about it, and they are afraid of looking stupid in front of a donor. Great MGOs learn about the programs they are “selling” to donors. I’m not saying you will become an expert, but you will know how to talk about the programs with ease. Great MGOs are also smart enough to bring in the experts (program people, CEO, board member) to help them solicit a donor. The MGO is also adept at the numbers… understanding the budget and why the numbers are the way they are. Very important. The thing here is that when you know it, you feel confident in presenting. Donors love confidence.
- Know the donor. This almost goes without saying. But you have to know who the donor is, what their passions are and what they love, in order for you to make sure what you’re presenting matches those interests. Amazing things happen when you are aligned with your donor.
- Practice, practice, practice. Solicitations can go terribly wrong if you don’t practice what you are going to say and handle any potential objections or “curve balls” the donor may throw at you. You want to be ready for everything. Do you have the right amount of “nuts and bolts” vs. “heart and soul” as part of your solicitation? Do you have the right amount for the “ask?” These are all questions you should be asking yourself. Then you need to sit down with a colleague, your boss – anyone who will listen – and do a run-through several times. I remember one solicitation where it took eight people and one month to prepare for it. And they nailed the solicitation. So don’t take this lightly. If you are prepared, you will be less nervous and more confident.
- Plan for the unexpected. In your practicing, you should be preparing for objections and anything that might “throw you off.” This way you are prepared. And remember that if a donor says no, don’t take it personally – you should realize it’s a gateway for an eventual “yes” sometime down the road.
If you can follow these five steps, fear can be wiped away. I know because I’ve seen it happen over and over. Once you have that incredible experience where a donor says “YES!” you’ll want to be out there soliciting again and again.
You don’t want to be one of those MGOs who have never asked a donor for a gift. You want to be that “broker of love,” bringing people and needs together. That’s why being an MGO is one the greatest jobs in the world.