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A big part of any campaign’s overall success is whether — and how — you engage volunteers in soliciting gifts.

In other words, if you can get a handful of volunteers to solicit even a small number of gifts, you will have a big accomplishment on your hands.

Volunteers who successfully solicit gifts feel more confident about their fundraising abilities and feel great about their contribution to the campaign. And, by including volunteers among your team of solicitors, you’ll have significantly increased the fundraising capacity of your organization.

4 Solicitation Training Exercises for Volunteers

Here are four training exercises to do with your volunteers before setting them free to solicit gifts.

1. Research a Prospect (20 minutes)

In advance of your meeting, pick one person to research. Start with a well-known philanthropist in the community (not Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey). For example, you might pick the chair of the local hospital foundation.

Ask committee members to do some research prior to meeting and come ready to share what they’ve learned. Encourage them to research online, as well as “asking around” about the person.

Debrief:

  • What did you learn about the prospect which might help inform a gift solicitation from your organization?
  • What are the prospect’s top philanthropic priorities?
  • How much do they typically give and what’s the biggest gift they’ve given?
  • Who are they connected with at your organization?
  • What else did you learn that might help inform the solicitation?

2. Ask Thoughtful Questions (20 minutes)

Asking for a gift isn’t about making a pitch, but about having a conversation about the project and the impact donors will have. While volunteer solicitors should be well versed about the project, they do not need to make a “pitch”.

Instead, your volunteers should lead a discussion based around asking questions and engaging the prospective donor in conversation. (Improvisation can be helpful here.)

Invite participants to come up with a list of questions they might ask prospects during cultivation and during a solicitation meeting. Put questions on sticky notes or flip charts around the room.

Debrief:

  • Ask participants to pick their favorite two questions and explain why they believe asking them will lead to a gift.
  • Discuss how those questions might be integrated into solicitation meeting.

3. Listen Your Way to a Gift (25 minutes)

Get into groups of two or three. Ask one member of the group to tell a family story in about 5 minutes with as many details as possible. It could be about a family wedding or birthday party. Include details such as what people wore, what food was served, etc.

Next, have their partner tell the story back with as many details as possible. Have the storyteller fill in details they missed or got wrong.

Debrief:

  • How well did the listener listen?
  • What could they have done to retain more of the information? (asked questions mid-story)
  • It’s okay to jot down one or two notes during a meeting to remember key points, if necessary

4. Practice Makes Perfect (45 minutes)

Instead of role play, call it practice. Divide into groups of three. In each group, there should be a solicitor, a donor, and an observer. If you have an odd number of people, feel free to have two observers in one or two groups.

Ask each group to think of a real donor in the community. Identify a specific ask amount and follow the ask meeting agenda below. Be sure to incorporate good questions from exercise 2 (above).

Ask Meeting Agenda:

  1. Small Talk
  2. Confirm why you’re there
  3. Ask questions (from exercise 2)
  4. Ask for a specific gift (specific dollar amount)
  5. Listen carefully and respond appropriately
  6. Make a follow up plan

Debrief:

  • Observers should provide feedback using the “compliment kabob” approach. Surround recommendations with compliments.
  • In other words, start with something they did well, then share something they could improve, followed up something else they did well.

Ensuring the Smoothest Training Process

The four exercises described above will take at least two hours. Make sure each person in the room is encouraged to participate and provide feedback for each exercise.

Some participants will be shy. So rather than asking, “Does anyone have anything to share?” you should call on people individually. Let them know in advance you’ll be calling on them. For example, you might say:

I’d like to hear from everybody. Let’s go around the room and share one thought.

Or, ask for volunteers to begin the discussion. After they have a chance to speak, go around the room to hear from those who haven’t spoken yet.

Real World Practice that Counts

Solicit one another for real. Have committee members solicit one another, as well as members of the board. Let members know that the solicitations are real, and that solicitors will be asking for feedback about how they did after the solicitation.

Encourage donors to provide feedback in “compliment kabobs,” starting and ending with compliments, sandwiched around constructive feedback or recommendations. This will help build up the confidence of your team of solicitors.

For more great information on the importance of training volunteers and the best ways to go about doing that, check out our recent podcast episode, Why It’s Critical for You to Improve Your Training Skills, featuring Andy Robinson.


If you’re looking for additional help and support with your capital campaign solicitations, we do offer interactive solicitation training sessions. In three hours, your team will learn skill that help them feel comfortable and confident when asking for gifts.

1 Comment

  1. Sharon Papo

    These are all wonderful exercises! I will try some out this week. Thank you for the wisdom and expertise.

    Reply

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