Donovan's Donor Diary

If you are trying to raise money for your favorite charity/cause, Donovan's Donor Diary provides you with facts, tips and best practices on how to raise millions of dollars for people, pets and the planet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Major Gifts -- The Old Fashioned Way

The older I get, the more old fashioned ways appeal to me -- especially when it comes to fund raising for major gifts. In June I conducted a major gifts training session in Ohio for the Salvation Army of Licking County, outside of Columbus. The firm providing capital campaign fund raising counsel was Carlton & Company of Boston, headed by my long time friend and colleague, Bill Carlton, formerly with Ketchum in Pittsburgh.

The project was a $4.3 million capital campaign for a new homeless shelter for lodging, feeding programs and other family activities. The demand for a larger shelter was there even before the present slow down in the economy which has made things worse for many families.

Phil Warner, Carlton & Company's Campaign Manager for this account, is a terrific guy. And, when it comes to running capital campaigns, he's done dozens of them. Phil is as old fashioned as grandma's apple pie. A tall and unassuming gentleman, Phil does everything by the old text book.

Phil managed to assemble two dozen high-powered campaign workers in a conference/training room of the local hospital, complete with all the A/V bells and whistles. He had things organized to the nth degree, starting with the invocation then a complete breakfast with eggs not just danish. Then a warm welcome from the major gifts chair followed by an excellent Powerpoint by the Army's local Co-Commander about the need for the new shelter. It was the perfect set-up for what I had to do next.

After being introduced, I said to the campaign workers, "We are here today to talk about raising $2.5 million more toward your $4.3 million goal and I want you to know major gift fund raising is not about the money." At that point the major gifts chairman looked at Phil as if to say, "What planet did this guy come from?" Then, I went on to say, "Carlton & Company retained me to train you on the solicitation of major gifts, based on my newly revised book, 'Take The Fear Out of Asking for Major Gifts,' but I am not here to train you on how to solicit major gifts." Now the group was sure I was nuts.

So I told them, since the original publication of my book in 1993, how I came to understand from my own capital campaign client work, hundreds of training sessions like this and being on major gift calls with clients, that I had a paradigm shift from solicitation to invitation. Why? Because that's what major gift fund raisers and volunteers do -- invite others to become a part of a noble enterprise, in this case helping the homeless. Call me old fashioned but I believe people would rather be invited to give to a capital campaign like this rather than be viewed as a target and being solicited to give.

Then, I proceeded to cover the APOC Method noted in my book: Amenities; Presentation of the Case; Objections and Closings. Briefly, here is a capsule summary of what I said. (1.) When you walk in to meet with the prospect thank him/her for taking the time to see you and promise to be brief. Then, engage in amenities -- social/small talk to warm things up like, "That is a great photo. I have a golden retriever too, aren't they the best dogs?" (2.) Get to the point. Begin making your case for the prospect's major gift. (3.) Anticipate his/her objections and be able to answer them. (4.) Finally, bring it all to a close by inviting the prospect to give to your noble cause. Close the invitation to give with one of three closing suggestions from the book, such as: "Can you think of any reason why you can't join us in this campaign at this time and make a gift in the range of $25,000?

Now, for the best part. Phil takes over when I am done and says, "Ladies and gentlemen, on that long window shelf over there (some thirty feet long) are two dozen stacks of prospect cards laid out alphabetically, all of them have been researched, each has the capacity to give $10,000 or more. Also, in your packet is an Assignment Form. Please fill in the form with the names of the prospects you take today and give it to me before you leave."

The campaign committee spent a lot of time reviewing the names, discussing them with others, trading names before completing their selections. What a refreshing exercise to watch. As they filed out the door, Phil collected the forms. On average each worker took five names, over 100 invitations to give.

Keep in mind as trainer I had to address the anxiety of these workers as many felt that due to the economy and such, perhaps they should "hold off inviting" people to make a major gift. My response to that question was -- Does the Salvation Army need the money or not? If so, the best time to raise money is when you need it. Besides, won't postponing your invitation to these prospects to give also postpone the services the homeless need?

Phil also gave each campaign worker a Talking Points Card that contained the main points for making the case based on my book, but customized to the client's campaign. It is a laminated card and it can be put in a coat pocket, writing pad or a purse. He also gave everyone a brochure he developed: A Word About Successful Campaigning. Finally, each worker was offered, courtesy of Carlton & Company, a free copy of my book and my contact info so they could contact me for telephone or online coaching if they felt the need.

In 1972 right out of college, my first fund raising job was with the United Way of Utica, New York. In reflecting on how I was trained back then to run community based campaigns, I am reminded that the old fashioned methods that Phil Warner used in Ohio, are time tested and proven. You can't beat being prepared, organized, attending to details, getting those workers (with packets in-hand) out the door, meeting with prospects and inviting them to give to a noble cause.

To paraphrase the Lowes Home Improvement ad:

"Let's do something together, the old fashioned way."

Jim Donovan, President/CEO Donovan Management, Inc.

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