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Respected and influential solicitors must do more than simply ask for donations, as hard as that may sometimes be; they must present a compelling case for support.

Prospective donors should be asked to give by someone likely to have a high degree of influence over them.

Major Donor & Prospect Profile:

The essence of a good solicitation is knowing as much as possible about the individual or family from whom you will be requesting a contribution. Find out everything you can about a major individual donor's interests, past philanthropic activities, and philosophy of life.

Those responsible for their organizations' fundraising should be able to answer the following questions about every prospective donor they plan to contact:

  • In what aspect(s) of our organization is the prospect known to be interested
  • How strong is that interest, and how has it been demonstrated?
  • Has the prospect established a relationship with someone in our organization? Who?
  • Does the prospect have a business or social relationship with one or more of our organization's major contributors? Who?
  • What are the prospect's personal interests and avocations?
  • Does the prospect have control or influence over philanthropic funds? Which ones?
  • Has the prospect taken any public stand on issues of concern to our organization? What are they?
  • What other organizations has the prospect supported and for how much?

When seeking money from prospective donors we must be able to see our organization from the prospect's point of view. We must anticipate how a prospect is likely to react to a request that he/she support a particular cause, program, or project.

Prospective major donors will give when they have been convinced of the value and need for their gift, when they are personally asked, and when the solicitation comes from the "right" person-- someone they respect and who can make a strong, credible case for support.

Volunteer or Staff Solicitors?

And just who does the primary asking for money for your organization? Is it done by volunteers or staff?

While thinking about this particular question, I found myself reflecting on a change I have witnessed in how we development professionals describe and perhaps even think about ourselves. There is a tendency these days to describe our work as fundraising and to call ourselves fundraisers. I have always thought of the volunteers as being the true fundraisers and we development professionals as the people who develop the atmosphere for that fundraising. To some extent, this may seem like an exercise in semantics, but I think it is a great deal more.

Many development professionals today enter into consulting agreements or are hired as staff to "raise funds." Sometimes they even seek to be the fundraiser for the organization they serve. The result is that these development professionals and their organizations have blurred the once clear difference between the fundraising role of development officers and that of trustees and other volunteer leaders.

The Major Risks: When Staff Asks For The Money:

If a staff member does the asking instead of a volunteer who is a peer of the prospective donor, then:

  • The board often becomes less likely to contribute its time to the fundraising effort. That can leave the development professional out on a limb and the organization with a wasted board.
  • When the development professional leaves the organization, relationships established by him/her will leave also, (or at the very least, the history of those relationships will disappear.)

Besides, how many "doors" can a single staff person open in the first place relative to time constraints and the volume of prospective major donors who must be solicited? And many of those "doors" will not open at all to admit staff for gifts of this sort. With the right solicitor, a peer of the donor, preferably of higher station, those doors will be opened with a smile.

I have distilled all of the most important solicitor characteristics into 5 key qualities. The following is an overview of how I would see the solicitation effectiveness when made by staff vs. volunteers. Oversimplified, to be sure, but wouldn't you want the best possible five out of five positive characteristics working for you when seeking major gifts?

(1) Volunteer Solicitor Can Give More Than Prospect: When the volunteer solicitor’s ability to give to a cause is the same or more than that of the prospect, then the following qualities are all shared:

  • Career Status
  • Economic Status
  • Social Position
  • Interest In The Organization
  • Mutual Respect

(2) Volunteer Solicitor Can Give Less Than Prospect: When the volunteer solicitor's ability to give is less than that of the prospect, the following qualities are shared or not shared:

  • Career Status
  • Economic Status
  • Social Position
  • Interest In The Organization
  • Mutual Respect

(3) Staff Member Is Solicitor: When the solicitor is a staff member, the peer relationship between the solicitor and the donor prospect is removed, resulting in the following qualities being shared or not shared:

  • Career Status
  • Economic Status
  • Social Position
  • Interest In The Organization
  • Mutual Respect

What do you say? Wouldn't you rather have five out of five of the best chances for major gifts working for your organization?

Remember the Basics

I heard a workshop presenter once say that successful fundraising can be summed up in just three words: "Relationships, Relationships, Relationships." (You get the idea.)

That's what Major Gifts are all about -relationships. Donor solicitors are key to establishing those relationships and ultimately obtaining the major gift. Choose them wisely, prepare them well, and watch the relationships grow.

Tony Poderis writes about fund development based on his more than 30 years experience. His career includes 20 years as Director of Development for The Cleveland Orchestra, and more than 10 years  as a consuitant to both large and small organizations.  For more of his clear and well grounded articles, visit his website at


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Major gifts, part 1: What makes a gift major by Tony Poderis