How to Engage a Gift Prospect

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How to Engage a Gift Prospect

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Duke Haddad, Ed.D.

As a nonprofit professional, you learn the importance of generating time, talent and treasure for the institution you represent. This means as an institutional representative, you have thoroughly studied the history of your organization, present day structure and mission, plus priorities for fundraising and friend-raising. You should understand your organization’s strategic and organizational plan for internal reference.

Your organization should have undertaken a recent external needs assessment to better understand the external community and their perception of your organization. If you are prepared with critical internal and external organizational knowledge, you will be in a better position to engage a prospect when that opportunity presents itself. An engaged prospect wants to know you and your organization so they can determine if your organization is worthy of their investment. You want to exceed expectations with accuracy, fairness and transparency.

Identify Your Prospect

As you position yourself for the ultimate face-to-face meeting with a prospect, preparation is the first key to success. You need to carefully review the individual giving history and determine their areas of potential organizational interest. The key to victory in a visit with a prospect is to seek their interests and passion for your organization.

As you develop your initial journey with a prospect, remember that the fundraising cycle starts with identification of this prospect through basic prospect research to see if the prospect has a deep-seated value system. Before you get in front of a prospect, attempt to determine what shared information, interest and priorities you should share with the prospect.

Study wealth and philanthropic indicators to discover their capacity to give, where and when do they make gifts, and how they make gifts. Are they involved in political giving, and do they own real estate?

As you gather intelligence, seek to determine your face-to-face visit strategy. You want to build a sound relationship by providing answers to their questions and concerns, and determine if they have a hot button for your organization. Through you, you want the prospect to establish a long-term institutional relationship. It may begin with you, but hopefully years from now, continues to grow with others (Yes, you will have to hand off your relationship with your prospect to other staff members in the future).

Develop a Relationship With the Prospect

Plan the prospect visit keeping the prospect’s needs at comfort in mind. Seek a place that is relaxing and stress free, a date and time that best suits the prospect — not your schedule, and aim for at least one hour, knowing that you may have to settle for half of that time.

Strive to get the prospect’s spouse or partner, if applicable, to attend the first visit to determine who is the ultimate gift decision-maker. Also consider inviting an organizational leader, board member, key volunteer, fellow donor or operational staff leader, who can describe the operational aspects of potential gift intention.

This initial visit should be used to qualify the prospect for a potential ask visit at a later time. Develop a strategy for potential outcomes. For example, if, based on your research, you are hoping for an eventual gift of $100,000, make sure the prospect has the gift capacity and interest area that matches your needs and wants. During the meeting, complete the steps of linkage, ability and inclination to make a significant gift for the prospect.

But most importantly, make sure your first visit is a listening and information gathering session. You must be a good listener and have a strong dose of empathy. These skills will be showcased when in front of a prospect.

Make the Ask

Using a moves management strategy, it may take several visits to ask and secure a gift. I typically try to get in front of a prospect with a three-way visit strategy in mind. The first visit is an identification and cultivation session on the prospect’s turf, if possible. The next visit is educational, on the organizational turf and facility in question, so the prospect can visually see why funds are needed (facility, programs and recipient of funding in action).

The third prospect visit may focus on the ask, which could take place at the organizational main facility, prospect’s home or place of their choosing. When you get in front of the prospect and you feel it is time to ask, decide who will be going with you and rehearse the ask. Each person in the ask process needs to know their role instinctively.

The goal of any fundraising professional is to get in front of a prospect. This is not easy and can be a complicated process. Make sure you are completely prepared for every visit and react accordingly to the prospect. You will want to build a long-term relationship with the prospect. You may only have one opportunity for a first face-to-face visit. The stakes are exceedingly high.

At first, you will be nervous, but over time you will gain experience and welcome the challenge. Build a relationship with your prospect one block at a time until your prospect is primed to give. Remember that no two people are the same. You want the prospect to have a win while you enjoy a win. Trust me, you will remember getting in front of prospects. Each visit is a story. When you properly engage prospects, over time, contributions should follow.

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