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How to Prepare for a Major Gift Solicitation (Even If You’re Anxious About It)

12 min read
July 28, 2021
Rachel Clepper headshot
Rachel Clepper
Senior Content Marketing Specialist, Neon One

Feeling a little intimidated by an upcoming major gift solicitation? That’s understandable—it’s a big deal! “Major” is even in the title of the term. 

This article will help.

The key to a successful ask (and the key to reducing your anxiety) is preparation. You shouldn’t be winging this kind of conversation! Major gifts fundraising takes time, effort, and practice.

In this blog, you will learn what steps you can take to prepare (and practice) for a major gift solicitation.

1. Overcoming Major Gift Solicitation Anxiety

If you’re anxious about asking a donor for a large gift, it’s important for you to understand that it’s okay to feel that way. Getting that gift can be a major (heh) step toward your goals. Before you dive into putting together your solicitation plan, take a moment to think about what you’re actually preparing to do.

Yes, you’re about to ask a donor to give a large sum of money to your nonprofit organization. That feels scary.

You’re also about to invite your donor to invest in a cause they care about. That’s less scary, isn’t it?

By the time someone is ready to make a large donation to your nonprofit, they’re familiar with your work. They understand what you do and the impact you have in your community. Your donor has probably made multiple smaller gifts to your organization over the course of their relationship with you, and they’ve likely gotten involved in other ways.

They’ve proven their commitment to supporting your work. You’re simply inviting them to continue doing something they love.

2. Learn About Your Donor

If you’re feeling anxious about asking for a large gift, remind yourself that you’re not asking a stranger for money. You’re asking someone who’s already invested in your mission to increase their level of support. That’s a much easier conversation!

Here are some questions to ask yourself as you prepare for your solicitation meeting.

What Is My Donor’s History With Our Organization?

The most successful major gift solicitations will involve people who are already deeply involved with your organization.

Taking the time to understand their relationship with your nonprofit and your work is an indispensable part of this process. Look at their past interactions with your organization. What can you learn about them?

Are they a board member? Have they attended fundraising events in the past? Which ones? How frequently have they donated to your organization? For how long? Which programs and campaigns have they supported?

Say your potential donor has been a regular donor to your children’s education program over the last four years. They’ve attended your annual fundraising gala every year and have made substantial gifts each time, and they even bought a table (and invited friends!) at the most recent event. You may deduce that they’re especially interested in children’s education—they wouldn’t donate and spread the word about your work if they weren’t.

Your research can reveal a lot about your donors’ interests and giving capacity. That’s valuable information!

What Are My Donor’s Motivations?

During your research, you may also find information that gives you a glimpse into why your donor supports your nonprofit. 

If you’re an animal shelter, they might be an animal lover. Donors to nonprofits focused on supporting people with rare diseases may have a loved one who’s experienced that condition. Conservation organizations probably have donors who are passionate outdoorsmen.

Aside from those identity-based motivations, your donor may have other motivations, too. They may have financial reasons for making a gift. They may give a gift in memory of someone they care about. Your donor may be thinking about the legacy they’ll leave for their descendents. They may even be invested in achieving a certain goal, like serving a number of families or building something for the community.

Understanding your donor’s motivations—especially when you look at them alongside their history with your organization—will give you valuable information you can use when you ask for greater support.

What Else Do I Know About My Donor?

The more you know about your donor, the more you’ll be able to tailor your upcoming major gift solicitation to their needs and preferences. Some questions to ask yourself include things like:

  • What’s their preferred title?
  • Do they have relationships with other staff or board members?
  • Are they more traditional and businesslike, or does your donor prefer to talk in a more casual setting?
  • Would they prefer a short, fast meeting, or would they prefer to settle in for a long conversation about their potential impact?
  • What type of meeting venue would suit their preferences? 

Anything you know about your donor will help you craft a conversation and appeal that suits their needs, preferences, and motivations. Spend some time doing research in your nonprofit CRM, talking to others at your organization, and other donor prospecting tools. Every insight you glean will help you build the kind of emotional connection that can influence their decision to give.

One Bunch Character, Genesis, Reporting in Neon Fundraise
One Bunch Character, Genesis, Reporting in Neon Fundraise

3. Plan Your Major Gift Solicitation Meeting

All major gift solicitations are different. That’s because all donors are different! The questions you asked during the previous phase will help you plan a meeting that makes you and your donor comfortable.

Ask yourself:

Who Will Be There?

If you don’t know your donor well, you may not be comfortable holding this meeting one-on-one. That’s okay! Bringing another person into the room might be a good way to put your donor (and yourself) at ease. 

In the best situation, one of your staff members or volunteers that knows the donor or potential donor well will join the conversation. If someone does join you, get together beforehand to make sure you each understand the point of the meeting and who is responsible for what.

When and Where Will We Meet?

The location you choose for the meeting is important—a good venue can help set the stage for a productive conversation. Where will your donor feel most at ease?

They may choose to meet at their home or office. Maybe they’d prefer to go to lunch. If they’re deeply involved with your organization, they may even want to meet at your facility.

Your donor will need to confirm the date and time of your meeting. It may be helpful for you to have a few options ready to suggest if they ask for input!

How Much Will We Ask Them to Give?

Determining an ask amount can seem overwhelming. Try using the donor’s history and data in your database to determine the amount you should ask for. You can also use donor prospecting tools to get a feel for their capacity—you may even be able to get insight into how much they’ve given to organizations like yours in the past.

As you build your major gifts strategy, it will be important to keep track of different major gift metrics that will help you determine who in your database may be a potential major donor. It can even help you decide how much to ask for!

You can learn more about measuring outcomes and expected outcomes for major gifts here.

4. Create an Outline for Your Meeting

Major gift solicitations are both an art and a science. Part of the artistry is knowing how to guide the conversation toward your ask without it seeming forced or unnatural. 

Put together a rough outline of how you’d like the conversation to go. Remember: These conversations should feel natural, but they shouldn’t drag on and on (unless your donor is a talker, in which case let ‘em talk). If possible, you should never take more than 30 minutes.

Creating a general outline of your meeting—even if it’s just in your head—will help keep your conversation on track. Here are some elements to include.

Connect and Check In

Take the time to catch up with your donor and connect with them before you get to the heart of the meeting. This is easiest if you or someone else knows your donor! 

This is also a great time to get your donor a cup of coffee, snacks, drink, or anything else you think they would like. 

Set the Stage

Connecting with your donor and settling into the conversation is important, but don’t drag it out! Your donor knows why they’re meeting with you—they understand you’re going to ask them for support. Before you ask them to donate, make sure they understand that you’ll use their gift wisely.

You can do this by setting the stage for your ask. Share details about what your organization has accomplished to date and stories from the people who have benefited from those accomplishments.

This will be most effective when you share details you know are of interest to your donor. Remember the research you conducted about your donor’s history with your organization? When you can, share details specifically about what their past contributions have made possible. How did their last gift make a difference?

Your Shared Story and Vision

Once you’ve shared your donor’s past impact, you can move into a conversation about what they’d like their future impact to be. This is an incredible opportunity to get your donor excited about how you can work together to make an impact in your community.

Ask questions like:

  • What do they think about your ongoing work?
  • What are they passionate about?
  • Given what you’ve shared about how their past support made a difference, what else would they like to achieve by working with your organization?
  • What are their motivations for giving? How can you help them reach their goals?

This part of the conversation will be easiest if you know why, exactly, you’re asking for their support.

Let’s go back to our example of a donor who’s supported your children’s education programming in the past. You’ve shared some details about how that financial support impacted local students, and you’re going to ask them for a large gift that will fund a summer camp for students who need help preparing for the upcoming school year. This is the opportunity to dream together about how their donation will make a difference in the lives of your students.

The Ask

You’ve established a personal connection with your donor, and you’ve shared details about how their past involvement has made a difference in your community. You’ve talked with them about their motivations and how they’d like to continue impacting the people you serve. Now, it’s time to ask them for the support that will make that dream possible.

This is where you ask your donor to give the specific dollar amount you want. After you make the ask, don’t say anything. Be patient and wait for the donor to respond.

Your donor may have follow-up questions. They probably will have follow-up questions. That’s okay! Be prepared to answer questions about what, specifically, that gift will pay for. You may also need to address your donor’s concerns, share additional information about the program you’re asking them to support, or just sit with them while they think.

The Follow-Up Plan

If your donor says “yes” to your ask, figure out how they want to give the gift. They may need time to get their gift to you, especially if the gift is coming from their family foundation or if they’re making a large enough donation that they need to work with their bank to get it to you. 

If they say no—or if they ask for time to consider your request—don’t panic. The conversation isn’t over yet! Ask them if they would be open to continuing the conversation in the future, or if there is another dollar amount that they are more comfortable with. You will also want to make sure they know who to contact with additional questions, and let them know you’ll be in touch with them in the future.

5. Practice Your Major Gift Ask

Before the major gift solicitation, get your major gift ‘ask’ team assembled! Agree on who will say what and practice the conversation as a group.

This is the time to determine who the “asker” is and to run through the outline you’ve put together for your meeting. When you get to the part of the outline where you ask your donor for a gift, practice asking for that donation out loud. Ask for feedback, too! Practice makes perfect.

You may also want to come up with answers to questions your donor may ask, plan your follow-up, and go over any details that can make your conversation more successful.

This Major Gifts Solicitation Process Will Set You Up for Success 

When you thoughtfully plan each of your major gift solicitations, you’ll be more successful. You’ll understand your donor’s history with your organization, have a grasp on their interests and motivations, and have an idea about how you can tie those elements into your appeal. This will also help you be less intimidated by the meeting!

As you work with more and more major donors, you’ll hone your approach even further. Every meeting—even if you get a “no”—is a step toward being an even more effective fundraiser.

Turn One-Time Supporters Into Major Donors With a Moves Management Strategy

A major gift solicitation should be part of your greater donor stewardship plan. If you’re looking for ways to build deeper relationships with donors and inspire them to deepen their support for your organization, check out our Moves Management Guide!

Get the Moves Management Guide

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