Preparing Your Team to Solicit Major Gifts? 5 Tips

This post was contributed by Capital Campaign Toolkit.

Soliciting major gifts is never easy, even for seasoned professionals. Whether it’s part of a bigger undertaking like a capital campaign or part of your normal development pipeline, preparing for solicitations is key.

Let’s consider the context of capital campaigns since they require all hands on deck. For a more experienced team, your fundraising staff will likely already be brushed up on their solicitation know-how, but what about your board members? 

Most nonprofits ask their board members and volunteer leaders to contribute and/or play direct fundraising roles in capital campaigns. Many of them can be inexperienced and anxious about asking for gifts, so training them to ask and building their confidence will be an important aspect of your campaign preparation. How do you prepare inexperienced fundraisers to ask donors for large gifts?

Let’s review 5 foundational tips for preparing team members with little direct fundraising experience to solicit major gifts.

1. Do your research beforehand

Successful major gift fundraising is built on research and data. After all, it’s inadvisable to solicit a large gift completely cold, not knowing who you’re asking, for what, or why. 

Before unleashing your team to make solicitations during a campaign, you’ll need to ensure that your prospect research and donor qualification processes are ready to support them. For each prospect you intend to solicit, you should prepare information on the donor’s capacity, affinity, and readiness. 

  • Capacity: Can this prospect give at the intended level? Have they ever given a gift of this size to any organization? 
  • Affinity: Has this prospect demonstrated interest in our cause and work? Why are they interested in our organization and this project? How have they been involved in our organization before? 
  • Readiness: Is this prospect ready to be asked for a major gift? Do they know about the project? Have they been involved or had conversations about the project?

Even if your solicitors aren’t directly involved in prospect research, it’s especially important that they understand readiness and how to gauge it. Usually, a prospect is ready to be asked when your solicitor knows these things:

  • Their giving motivations
  • Their relationship with your organization
  • Their areas of interest and recognition preferences
  • Whether the timing is right for that prospect
  • How much to ask for
  • How best to approach them and who should ask

Through a mix of external research and one-on-one conversations (ideally with the person who’ll be soliciting the gift), you can collect all the information you need to lay the groundwork for a new major gift. Encourage your team to study up on prospect research, donor qualification, and data-driven fundraising as you head into the campaign.

2. Actively support them with resources and guidance

Along with data, guidance on how to put all your nonprofit’s insights to use will be critical. Before your campaign’s quiet phase begins, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Gather books and other resources on major gift solicitation. But go beyond simply asking your team to skim through them – assign specific chapters, regroup to discuss them together, and consider how they relate to your campaign. Stay on the lookout for nonprofit webinars and other digital resources that also contain helpful insights.
  • Ensure everyone’s on the same page about how your technology should be used during the campaign, even if someone’s role never involves touching the CRM system. Effective major gift fundraising requires standard data management and entry protocols.
  • Schedule a workshop or training with fundraising professionals who can translate best practices into actionable takeaways and steps tailored to your unique context. 
  • Create new resources for your team, such as prospect worksheets and templated donor discussion guides.

Compile these resources into easily-accessible locations for future reference. Also encourage your team to keep asking questions and seeking guidance throughout the campaign.

3. Hold a few fundraising practice sessions

Once you’ve covered the importance of research and provided training materials, put your fundraisers to work with a few practice sessions or role plays. Here’s what we recommend:

  • Review the steps of a solicitation – Build rapport, state your goals, discuss the prospect’s philanthropic interests, make your case, ask for the specific gift, discuss the possibilities, and determine next steps.  
  • Sample solicitation – Have someone experienced demonstrate a sample solicitation with a volunteer. Review and discuss the process with the group. 
  • Break up into groups – In groups of three, practice soliciting gifts. Have one person making the ask, another receiving it, and the third observing to provide feedback. Go through a few rounds, changing roles each time to allow everyone to view the process from each perspective.
  • Debrief as a group – Ask some final questions – What do we understand more clearly now? Where can we keep improving?

Senior fundraisers can easily conduct these exercises, but bringing in a fundraising coach can be especially helpful since they’ll be able to provide a more diverse range of in-the-field experiences. They can also tailor and design new exercises for your unique fundraising context.

4. Have personalized follow-up plans

Once solicitations are made, everyone can play a role in the critical follow-up tasks. This is especially important if your board members or leaders had a hand in making initial introductions or building relationships prior to the asks. 

Common follow-up responsibilities that your broader team can handle include:

  • Sending personal thank-you messages to important donors
  • Planning and hosting virtual celebrations and donor discussion sessions
  • Drafting and sending regular campaign and project updates
  • Hosting site visits and attending groundbreakings
  • Extending personal invites for upcoming events
  • Keeping follow-up records up-to-date with new conversations and touchpoints

During the quiet phase, ask all board members to brainstorm ways they can support post-donation tasks. Those who are directly involved in making asks will have unique insights into what will be most meaningful for individual donors. Even those who aren’t making solicitations may have helpful ideas based on their conversations with community members and what they’ve experienced from other organizations.

5. Foster a positive mindset from the beginning

Finally, remember that as the leader of a capital campaign, part of your job is to rally your team and inspire them to maintain a positive mindset of abundance. 

When faced with a monumental undertaking like a capital campaign, it can be easy to slip into a scarcity mindset and focus solely on what’s holding you back. Instead, get excited about what will be possible during and after your successful campaign. 

Lead with this clear vision for your organization’s future and make sure you can clearly communicate this vision to the team. How much more of an impact will your organization have thanks to the expanded capacity enabled by the campaign?

Of course, you’ll need to strike a responsible balance between your big-picture vision and remaining within the realm of feasibility. It’s never a bad idea to manage your finances from a scarcity mindset, but don’t approach fundraising that way. After all, exciting visions will always inspire more donors than timid or under-ambitious plans.

When your team members (regardless of their experience levels) feel confident in their skills, have the resources they need to make informed decisions, and are enthusiastic about the campaign, positive results will follow.

Board Member’s Guide to Capital Campaign Fundraising

If you’re on the board of an organization that’s considering a capital campaign, there are things you need to know. This guide will help you understand your own role and that of the entire board during a campaign. Download this free guide today!

About the Authors

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, and Andrea Kihlstedt are co-founders of the Capital Campaign Toolkit, a virtual support system for nonprofit leaders running successful campaigns. The Toolkit provides all the tools, templates, and guidance you need — without breaking the bank.

Written by Gabrielle Perham, MBA