Soliciting the Donor Means Knowing What The “Ask” Is All About
I often receive questions about soliciting donors and what is the secret of a successful solicitation. Underneath the question is an assumption that there is one successful “formula” or “approach” and then the donations will just roll into the non-profit organization’s bank account. Well, I am sure it is no surprise that there is not one approach to successfully soliciting potential donors. Rather, there are multiple ways to raise funds from contributors. The fundamental principle is to focus on the essential elements to a successful solicitation and they are presented in this posting.
The first is having current and accurate information about the organization and its programs. It is the narrative about the purpose of the agency and the services it provides to the community. Statistical information tells the story about the numbers of people who have utilized the agency’s services. It is most effective to present the data in the form of charts or graphs so that there is a pictorial representation. Numbers in columns on a page next to the titles of the agency’s programs do not bring in the donations.
The aesthetics of a presentation can often have a stronger impact on the potential donor and be as important, if not more important than the facts and figures on a page. Considerable thought and planning should be invested in the preparation of all material. The quality and content represent the agency and it is difficult to know who will read the printed information. This is especially true in the age of cyber communication when “PDF” files are used to send brochures and “print ready” copies are sent via e-mail so people who are able to read about the organization immediately. It the material is not presented well or it has not been proof read to eliminate errors it can be embarrassing to both staff and volunteer leaders.
Although the discussion of “proof ready” material seems to superfluous it is very important. The blatant errors that appear on brochures, reports, and other printed materials are sometimes shocking and embarrassing for everyone connected to the non-profit organization. This is especially true when it comes to agencies that are based outside of the United States, Canada, England and other countries were English is the “mother tongue”.
The second aspect of the “ask” is the solicitor’s use of her genuine feelings and “personality”. This is important when the solicitor is establishing a relationship with the donor. Enough cannot be said about how you spend time with people who have the potential to assist the non-profit organization.
The common term for developing a relationship with a donor is “cultivating the relationship” and this refers to how the solicitor, whether a volunteer or an organization’s staff person, nurtures the connection between herself and the donor. The relationship does not happen overnight. There is a need to recognize of the process and lean how to use it when the solicitor is speaking with a donor. An excellent source of information and experience is the sophisticated donors, who are familiar with the process of ‘developing a new donor’s interest”, can teach new solicitors a great deal. There is nothing wrong with the young professionals or recently engaged volunteers taking advantage of learning from veteran professional volunteer solicitors.
In “cultivating the relationship” the solicitor spends time with the donor discussing the specific concerns of the organization as well as general issues that are related to the agency’s purpose and mission. Sometimes a phone call is used to reach out to the donor to inquire about how they are doing. If the donor had asked a specific question then the telephone can be a more efficient and effective way to communicate rather than waiting for visit to the agency.
One of the most compelling components in soliciting support for the organization is the personal stories describing how the agency assisted people. Identifying information about the recipients can be disguised by changing some of the details while keeping the essence of the service rendered true to the case example. The case examples used should provide information: 1) What brought the client to the organization; 2) What service did the organization provide to the client; and 3) How was the client’s life improved or the problem solved? The answers to these questions bring the agency’s programs alive and allow the donor to have a better sense as to the organizations purposes and offers a ‘live” example of its importance.
When the solicitor combines the three components of information, relationship with the donor and the personal stories of clients then there is a “winning combination” that will encourage the donor to make a pledge or write a check to the agency. The results of the successful use of these elements may not produce an immediate result and solicitor’s engagement of the donor does take time. However, without the use of these components it is unlikely that there will be a sustained commitment by the donor to financially support the organization.
Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.