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.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Prepared to Invite that Major Gift?

In this Blog--Dealing with Objections

from my book: Take the Fear Out of Asking for Major Gifts

We are almost half-way through 2009. Are you, your fund raising staff and volunteer committees prepared to maximize your major gift fund raising efforts for the remaining six months of the year?

Most financial experts are predicting an improved economy and stock market toward year-end. Regardless, it is still a tough environment for philanthropy. In my last Blog (scroll down) I noted several reports and studies that indicate that donors keep giving even in tough times.

However, this does not mean it will be easy to obtain major gifts. On the contrary, it will be more competitive than ever because those wealthy donors who still have the capacity to give will consider the times we are in, the increased number of requests for their gifts and how their giving can have the greatest impact on those most affected by these tough times. The challenge facing nonprofit boards and staff is to prepare staff and volunteers to do their best when making the ask.

My long time friend and colleague, Bill Carlton, ACFRE is Chair of the AFP Board for Advanced Certification and Chair of Carlton & Company in Boston. Bill makes volunteer solicitor preparation a priority for the campaigns he and his associates direct. He insists, as part of his client contract, that all campaign workers attend special training before they ask for a major gift. As noted below, he will tell you that convincing his client to do this hasn't always been easy.

Over the years it has been my good fortune to provide this training for Carlton & Company clients in Alabama, Massachusetts, Ohio and elsewhere in the U.S. What is interesting about this exercise is that prior to the training, I ask Bill's on-site campaign director to poll each participant as to what they fear the most about asking for money. The answer is always the same -- dealing with the objections.

Occasionally, even Bill's client raises an objection about bringing me in to conduct the training. "How is this guy from Central Florida going to come to Huntsville, Alabama and tell us how to ask for money for our church/school capital campaign?"

His response to this objection is always the same, "Jim has written a book on this, I've road tested and refined it with him over the years. He has a method - it works, trust me."

Indeed, the content of my solicitor training is based on my book, Take the Fear Out of Asking for Major Gifts. In this Blog, I will share with you the chapter on Dealing with Objections in the hope you, your staff and volunteer leaders can be better prepared in the remaining six months of 2009 when seeking major gifts.

Tip One: Acknowledge the objections as they arise.

Don't overlook them. If you do, it says you are more concerned about what you have to say than what the prospect/donor is saying to you. Listen, then repeat back the objection. For example, "I believe you said, now is not a good time, as your stocks are down. Is that right?"

Then give a response such as, "There are still a few months left in 2009 and hopefully your stocks will appreciate. If they do, you know the tax advantages of gifting stock. And, we know you want to make a gift, as you have always been a great supporter. Why don't we come back to see you in two months?"

Tip Two: Don't debate, educate.

Nothing overcomes an objection better than facts. The prospect/donor may be worried that the goal for your campaign is too ambitious given the current economy. Use this objection to provide the facts facing your organization.

"Yes, $5 million is a lot of money. The facts are the Food Bank is getting four times the number of requests for assistance, has access to tons of government food and no more space to properly store it. Furthermore, we now operate in two new counties in addition to the four we already serve. The growing demand isn't going to go away even when the recession is over as these counties are six of the fastest growing counties in our state with the elderly poor accounting for the largest percentage of that growth."

Tip Three: Maintain a common ground.

Always stress principles that you have in common with the prospect/donor, like keeping costs down. "I have a problem with the organization's 12% fund raising costs. They are too high."

You can say, "I agree these costs are too high. In this economy we had two choices. Spend less, raise less, do less. Or, spend more, raise more do more. Thankfully, the extra costs we have incurred resulted in dozens of new donors. Sure the acquisition cost is high right now; however, if we treat these new donors right they will be repeat donors year after year and that is what we need. The fact is, had we budgeted more for fund raising in the good years, we would not be in the position we are in now. It takes money to raise money and we are well within acceptable guidelines."

Tip Four: Do an inventory of objections and responses to them.

By the end of each solicitor training seminar we do for Carlton & Company clients and our own clients, we conduct the inventory exercise with participants. This forces them to collectively think and devise the best responses. The objections and responses are later printed on the back of a special Talking Points Card that is given to each campaign worker.

The front of the card contains bullet points for making the case to the donor/prospect. It has four questions with bullet point answers for each question. You can answer these same questions about your organization. The questions are:
  1. Where has your organization been, its past.
  2. Where is it today, the present situation/challenge facing it.
  3. Where does it need to go in the future? The solution to the situation/challenge.
  4. What philanthropic investment is needed to get there? The prospect/donor's gift.
I think Bill Carlton said it best for many of us consultants who have seen a trend of late:

Volunteers, especially in recent years, are less comfortable in asking for major gifts. Moreover, many who would like to get involved often do not because of their fear and dislike of fund raising. This is alarming for two reasons.

First, experience shows that campaign goals are better met or exceeded when the asking is done on a peer-to-peer basis, that is volunteer to volunteer.

Second, the shifting of asking to the professional staff sends the signal to major gift prospects/donors that their peers don't care enough to invite them to give and instead they are sending out the hired help.

One last tip from my book. If you really want your team to be successful in major gift fund raising, consider making a shift in your thinking. Asking for major gifts is not about solicitation, but invitation. I tell the story about how I came to this conclusion in the first few pages of the revised edition of my book. It took place in the Caribbean while working with the Puerto Rico Chapter of the American Red Cross in the late nineties.

All the best for continued $ucce$$.

Jim Donovan

P.S. For information on my book: Take the Fear Out of Asking for Major Gifts, go to:

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