Season 2, Episode 48

Campaign experts Amy Eisenstein and Andrea Kihlstedt discuss how to get ready to solicit a lead gift donor. They share with you three important and often overlooked things to do that will increase your chances of success.

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This podcast is the fourth of a special Summer Series of conversations on important fundraising topics. Our live webinars will return on September 12, 2022; learn more at  ToolkitTalks.com.

Amy Eisenstein:
Hello, there. I’m Amy Eisenstein and I’m here with my partner and co-founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, Andrea Kihlstedt. In today’s episode, we are going to tell you three nitty-gritty secrets of how to get ready to solicit the biggest donors for your campaign. So let’s dive right in.

Andrea, why don’t you get started and share one secret of what you do with your biggest and best campaign clients of how they should prepare to solicit their largest campaign donors?

Learn the Patterns and Habits of Your Donor

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yes. Thank you, Amy. I love this topic and I love this part of campaigning actually. And the secret is this:

When you’re getting ready to solicit a large gift for your campaign, you should sit down with someone — presumably someone who’s going to be involved in the solicitation — and brainstorm and think about everything you know about that donor.

Now, I mean everything you know about that donor. The nitty-gritty. You should think and discuss:

  • How do they communicate?
  • Do they respond immediately to emails or do they take their sweet time in responding?
  • Do they make decisions slowly?
  • And do they have to turn things over?
  • And do they need more information and more information, or do they make quick decisions?
  • Do they give from their heart?
  • When you tell them a great story, do they come back with a check because they’re moved or do they want to see all of the finances?

Now, if you’ve dealt with your large donors over time and you begin to think about these things, you will see that you know much more about your donors than you ever thought you knew. You just hadn’t taken it seriously. So one of the key ways to get ready to solicit a gift is to sit down and talk in as great detail as possible everything you know about who that donor is and how they function. Because that’s going to give you a key, I mean, important keys to knowing how you should be soliciting them.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. So I think to summarize, you’re looking at their patterns and their habits. How did they give, when do they give, why do they give, what motivates them, how do they make decisions? Do they need to consult a spouse or a financial planner? Do they make, you already said this, make donations or decisions quickly, or do they mull it over for months? Because that will help instruct how you ask them and how you follow up with them.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And Amy, you know that I believe that for the most part, people, all of us, are quite consistent. So if you start to see a pattern, and it just takes one or two interactions with a major donor, you start to see a pattern, you can pretty well count on that pattern and you can plan around it. So you can actually be planning your solicitation not according to how you like to solicit a gift, but according to what you know about your donor and how they will want to be solicited. It’s really incredibly powerful if you really take the time and energy to think through every donor carefully from that perspective.

Consider Your Donor’s Communication Style Too

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. One at a time, of course. Not all at the same time, just as you’re preparing to go solicit them. And I think, one thing we haven’t mentioned, but you think about their communication style:

  • Do they prefer email?
  • Do they prefer phone?
  • Do they respond quickly when you text them?

Some donors probably don’t text back. Others email quickly. So how do your donors like to communicate? And whether that’s your first choice communication style or not, you need to adapt and adjust so that you get the quickest and most positive and effective response from your donors.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
I give you a good example of how this is super helpful. One of our organizations had a donor, a woman that they hoped would be a large donor to their campaign. And we had one of these conversations about that donor. And what we realized is that every time the organization had been working with that donor in the past, it had taken them two or three or even four times to communicate with her before she responded. Now that’s a powerful piece of information because if they didn’t… And then of course, when she finally did respond, she had given a big gift.

Amy Eisenstein:

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Now if you didn’t know that about her and you reached out to her and she didn’t respond, you would assume that she didn’t want you bugging her.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. That’s right.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
This woman just didn’t always read her emails, or she would fall behind on her emails, or they would fall to the bottom of the stack and she wasn’t good about being organized. And she appreciated it when the person was kind of nudging her to get in touch. She didn’t not like it. She actually liked it and appreciated it. And it ended up a gift.

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. And most fundraisers would give up after the second or third reminder. And they would miss out on this big, important gift.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
And this woman was just consistent about that. So every time you set out getting in touch with Betty, you knew it was going to take a while before Betty responded. It didn’t mean she didn’t like you.

Leverage Your Networks

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. I think that’s important. So we’re going to look at our donors’ habits and patterns and consistencies. And I think it’s okay to go out and ask, or important to go out and ask other people, not just the person you’re soliciting with, but ask friends, neighbors, colleagues at other organizations where they might give, what are their giving patterns? Leverage your networks. Talk quietly with people on your committee and in the community about how what’s the best way to approach this person. How do they respond? So do your research, do your homework. These are your biggest donors to your campaign. All right, what’s our second secret of how to get ready to solicit your top donors after you look at their patterns?

Be Prepared to Solicit a Large Gift

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So the second secret is this. You should always be prepared when you go in to solicit a large gift to answer this question. If a donor stops you in the middle of what you’re saying and says, “Susan, how can I help?” you need to know the answer to that. You need to be able to say, “Gee, I was hoping that you would consider a gift of a hundred thousand dollars to our campaign for the such and such.” You don’t want to go, blah, blah, blah, blah because you were caught off guard. You want to go in with a number and a request in mind just in case your donor turns to you and says, “I don’t have very much time. I’d love to know how can I help? What can I do for this?” Don’t go in to talk to a donor without having that in the back of your mind very clearly.

Amy Eisenstein:
In the front of your mind.

Andrea Kihlstedt:
In the front of your mind. Yes, exactly.

Amy Eisenstein:
And I think that’s true every time you speak with a donor. Even if you think it’s a cultivation visit before you’re ready to solicit them, you should be able to the answer that question, how can I help, or what do you need, or what do you want from me, very specifically. If you say, “You know what? I’m so happy you asked, but I have to get back to you. We’re not sure,” it’s not a good thing. No, it’s terrible. So be very specific.

And this isn’t an example maybe for the biggest campaign gifts, but I always joke around that organizations tell their donors, “We need diapers, or we need cans of soup.” No, you don’t. You need money. So be prepared. You don’t need diapers. You need money to buy diapers in bulk maybe, but you don’t need people running to the grocery store to buy you one pack of diapers that turn out to be in the wrong size that you need to store for months. You need money so that you can run your programs and services effectively and efficiently. But having a specific number in mind, dollar amount, say:

Listen, we’re looking for leadership level gifts at a hundred thousand or more. We’re hoping that you would consider being one of those leadership level donors for our campaign. Is that something you could consider?

And then stop.

3 Ways Donors Can Help Your Campaign

Andrea Kihlstedt:
The other thing that you might have three things that you want to ask a donor.

  1. You might want to ask them to serve on a committee.
  2. You might want to ask them for a gift.
  3. And you might want to ask them if they would review a list of prospective donors with you and help you open those doors.

So there may be more than one thing you go in with. But boy, be sure it is really clear in your mind so you’re not blubbering around if someone turns to you and says, “How can I help?”

Amy Eisenstein:
And even if they don’t say that, if that’s what the meeting is for, you better be prepared to ask them for a gift. So, I mean, it’s great when a donor cuts you off at the pass and says, “Listen, I’m excited about the campaign. What can I do? Or what do you need?” But if not, you need to turn the conversation to, “Listen, Susan, we know you’re excited about this campaign, and we’re hoping that you would be one of our first donors in, and here’s what we’re here to ask you for, to be a leadership level donor at a million dollars or more,” type of question. So be specific, know what you want to ask them. So that one’s not a secret, but it’s a must for when you’re getting ready to solicit your top donors. All right. Let’s talk about-

Andrea Kihlstedt:
But the secret of it is this. There actually is a secret of it. So everybody knows you should go in with a number. But I think it’s really helpful to imagine a donor saying to you, “How can I help?” It’s a really helpful idea, right? That you no longer then have to wrestle with getting that question out. In fact, you may be meeting with a donor and you may by the end of it say, “You know, Susan, I know this organization’s dear to you. I know you’d like to help. Here are three things I have in mind,” as though the donor had said, “How can I help?”

Amy Eisenstein:
Right. Right. We’re hoping you want to help. So here’s —

Andrea Kihlstedt:
We’re hoping you want to, I’m sure you want to help. Here are three ways you might do it.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. Great. All right. Let’s talk about our number three. Number three. How to get ready to solicit your top donors. What’s the third thing people need to do?

Determine the Best Person to Do the Solicitation

Andrea Kihlstedt:
So the third thing is to figure out who the best person is to solicit or best people are to solicit that gift. And that takes some serious thinking. And you may have figured it out as you sort of thought carefully about the donor in the first secret that we talked about today. But think about, all right, who does that person respond to? Maybe it’s the executive director of the organization. Maybe it’s the board chair. Maybe it’s a close friend who’s given a large gift.

It is really worth spending a fair amount of time in your own mind, or talking to people on your team, saying, “Who is the donor likely to respond best to? And how should we go about actually conducting the solicitation?” Particularly if we’re going to have more than one person soliciting a gift. Then who’s going to do it. And how do we determine the roles so we are not tripping over one another when we go and talk about the gift to the donor.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I think there is something to preparing, practicing, role play. I mean, you don’t want to be so scripted that you sound robotic. You have to be able to flow with the conversation. But everybody should know what roles they’re playing in that solicitation meeting. Who’s opening the meeting. Who’s asking for the gift. Who’s moving the conversation along. Who’s asking the donor questions and what those questions are. So you don’t need an exact script, but you need an outline, a template that everybody agrees upon in advance and feels comfortable with.

And I think, you talked about who does the donor respond to in terms of the best person to solicit the gift. And I think just to hammer that home, I’ll say who do they respect at your organization? Who do they respond to? Who do they like? Who do they enjoy? Who do they trust? Who do they respect? And it’s not going to be the same solicitor for every donor. Some donors may really enjoy the executive director. Others may respond to the board chair better. Some people may have a relationship with one of the program directors because they’re an active volunteer. That person maybe should go along on the solicitation. So, all right. Any final thoughts on this?

Andrea Kihlstedt:
Yeah. So Amy, I think we should tell people that in the Capital Campaign Toolkit, we use something called the Art of the Ask, which is a template for how to run the actual conversation with your donors when you get into solicit a gift. And it breaks the conversation down into six slices and gives you a way to actually think about what the shape of that conversation is and how to have it, whether you are having the entire conversation or you have other people with you having that conversation. I think that’s a very useful tool for a great many people.

Amy Eisenstein:
Yeah. I love watching you present the art of the ask. We have a little couple minute video inside the Capital Campaign Toolkit. And when I see you present that to people, I literally see light bulbs go off over their head. Like they say, “Oh, now I understand how the ask conversation is supposed to work. Now I know what I’m supposed to do. I have a system, I have a roadmap.” And it really is brilliant. I’m glad you brought that up.

So thank you, Andrea, always, for outlining that. I think it’s so mysterious if you haven’t solicited a major gift before, but there really is a tried and true method of how to get ready, how to make that solicitation. And if you are going to be soliciting big gifts, you should be really preparing and thoughtful and doing all of those three secrets we just talked about. Looking at people’s patterns, thinking about how they function, getting ready with a specific ask and figuring out who should be doing that ask.

So if you want to learn more about this topic and all things related to capital campaigns, visit us at capitalcampaigntoolkit.com. We’ve got tons of free resources. And if you’re ready for a campaign or getting ready for a campaign, you just may want to join and work with one of our expert advisors and access all of our tools and resources inside the Toolkit. So thanks for joining us and we’ll see you next time.


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