Virtual Solicitation Done Right: How to Ask for Donations via Zoom

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Click here to read on Amy Eisenstein

For the first few months of the Covid-19 crisis, I felt like my primary responsibility was getting on the phone with hesitant CEO’s and Board Members and trying to convince them that asking during Covid wasn’t a bad idea.

In other words, I was shouting for anyone who would listen that this was actually a good, and appropriate, time to be asking. In fact, asking for donations and communicating with donors was exactly what every nonprofit professional and volunteer should be doing in the heat of the crisis.

Ten months later, it seems some people are still hesitant to ask virtually and remotely. Just yesterday I was speaking with a prospective campaign client who had put off their campaign for over a year, simply because they are “waiting for Covid to end” so they could visit their donors.

It was a healthcare organization. I wanted to cry for the missed opportunities.

But instead of crying, I’m going to teach you how to do virtual solicitation right. You’ll also learn why you should be soliciting your donors virtually today, tomorrow, and well into the future. Why…? Because virtual solicitation isn’t going anywhere.

Virtual Solicitation Done Right

If you are not soliciting your donors virtually, you’re missing a huge opportunity. We’re nearly a year into the pandemic. Practically all of your donors are familiar and comfortable with Zoom. You should be too. Of course, that was not necessarily the case before the pandemic. This means Covid has actually provided a unique opportunity to allow us to be able to solicit virtually.

Just yesterday, I had a (video) call with a capital campaign committee over Zoom. Every participant was over 70 years old and they were all perfectly competent at using video conferencing.

First and Foremost — Do Not Wait

Your nonprofit needs funding now, so why would you wait for the pandemic to end to solicit your donors?

Through my work at the Capital Campaign Toolkit and through Mastering Major Gifts, I’ve witnessed hundreds of organizations successfully solicit gifts over video and on the phone throughout the past 10 months. A year ago, this would’ve been unheard of.

Although we will get back to in-person solicitations to some extent down the road, virtual solicitations are here to stay. No more waiting for donors to return from their summer or winter homes. No more mandatory traveling to out of town donors. No more waiting for someone to come back to campus.

We have now seen that virtual solicitation works. Whether donors prefer a good, old fashioned (cell) phone call or are willing to meet over Zoom, there are no more excuses about distance and timing to ask for a gift.

3 Major Pros of Virtual Solicitation

So why is virtual solicitation so advantageous, both now and in the future?

  1. Save time on travel to and from donor meetings.
  2. The vast majority of donors are now familiar with and comfortable on Zoom.
  3. Save money on lunches, transportation costs, and more.

5 Tips When Asking for Donations via Zoom

Here are five key tips to ensure that your virtual solicitations go off without a hitch.

1. Plan ahead

Test your internet and technology. Have a plan B in case your internet connection is unstable. Make sure you have an alternate device charged and on-hand, in addition to the ability of a hotspot if your internet fails. When all else fails, resort to a good old-fashioned phone call.

2. Find a quiet spot

If there are other people in your workspace, arrange for a private, quiet area (if possible) during your donor call. That said, everyone now is more understanding of the perils of working from home. An occasional dog barking or child interruption is often seen as endearing.

3. Test your mic and camera

In advance of your call, test your microphone, camera, and lighting. Check your background to make sure there’s nothing unprofessional in sight. Use a neutral background whenever possible to minimize distractions.

4. Share screens, minimally

If you have a photo or slide to share, put it up for a moment or two and then stop sharing so you are once again “face-to-face” with your donor. This should not be a “presentation” with a slide deck, but a conversation between individuals.

5. Ask thoughtful questions

As with all in-person conversations, this is a dialogue — not a monologue. To engage your donor, ask thoughtful questions and really listen to their responses. Be sure to listen at least twice as much as you talk.

If you don’t already know, find out why they care about your organization and why they would consider making a gift. Tactfully probe for the answers to these questions.

Always Ask for a Specific Amount

As with all solicitations, you always want to ask for a specific amount. Although you may be uncomfortable, you’ll never get the gift you need if you do not request exactly what you need. So when asking for a gift, be specific.

It’s okay to say you’re not sure how much to ask for. And it even helps build trust if you admit that you’re uncomfortable asking for money. Be honest with your donors. They will respect your authenticity and forthrightness. But don’t let that stop you for asking for a specific amount.

Say something like:

As you know, we’re here because our organization has a big vision for the future. But it’s expensive to [educate children, clean the environment, shelter animals, provide for the needy, care for the sick, etc.].

And I’ll admit, I didn’t get into this line of work because I love asking for money. What I really love is [helping children, etc.] and I believe you do too. That’s why I’m here today — to ask you to consider a gift of $10,000 to support our work. Is that something you would consider?

Then, be quiet.

Allow time for the donor respond — whether you are on video, on the phone, or in-person. Ask a specific question and then wait patiently for the response. (Check out my post here on responding to Yes, No, or Maybe.)

Virtual Solicitation — The Bottom Line

Don’t wait! Virtual solicitation is now just one more tool for fundraisers, and it may even become the predominant way we ask from here on out.

So there’s no time like the present to take advantage of virtual solicitation for your organization. Practice it. Get comfortable with it. It’s here to stay.

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