Are you new to major gifts fundraising? If you are, you’re probably concerned about establishing person-to-person relationships. How do you get to know people? How do you develop a rapport that will lead to successful solicitation?
It’s been said that God gave us one mouth and two ears, so we should use them in that proportion. Good advice. But even more important than a willingness to listen is curiosity. Channel your inner Diane Sawyer. While it’s a good tactic to ask open ended questions, it’s even more important to be genuinely interested in what the prospective donor has to say. “What did you gain from your education? Who at the college made a difference in your life?” Also ask about their personal life. You’ll make a friend and learn about the values that guide their giving.
It’s also been said that cultivation is like a courtship. If you’ve listened intently, you will have taken the first step in successful cultivation, demonstrating a genuine interest in the donor. Then do all of the things you’d do in trying to win over a mate. Take your donors on “dates” to college events. Visit them at their home or office. Send holiday greeting cards. Call from time to time just to see how they’re doing. And above all, thank them for their gifts.
There’s a lot of pressure to secure gifts from as many people as possible. Benchmarks to meet and dollar goals to hit. It seems that there’s never enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Because of this, stewardship is often forgotten. If you’re genuinely interested in your donors, you won’t let this happen. Offer tangible recognition and thank them frequently and publically. Keep them abreast of what their giving has accomplished. Remember, successful cultivation is like a courtship.
Finally, seek a convergence between the donor’s values and the college’s needs. You can get sizable gifts by making a compelling case for support, but you won’t get that transformational gift unless you tap into the donor’s values. If you’ve been an interested listener who treats the donor as you would a prospective mate, you’ll know those values. And you’ll be in a position to bring in what will probably be the most important gift—to the donor and the college—that the donor will ever make.