There are a couple of “givens” in major gift fundraising. One of the primary givens is that a prospect is truly qualified when he or she feels the time is right to invest, both from an emotional and mental standpoint. In other words, neither you nor I can qualify a prospect. The prospect must qualify himself!
Certainly, not-for-profit organizations spend lots of time, money, and energy trying to guess at a prospect’s capacity, attempting to target the ask amount, the right choice of projects, and narrow the field of prospects. And, volunteer solicitors sit around committee meeting tables often guessing at strategies. Additionally, more and more organizations pay to have their donor databases electronically screened in order to qualify prospects by virtue of their tax returns and their demographic profiles. These are all OK ways to begin the qualification process, but none of these is effective as simply allowing the prospect, through the relationship process below, self-qualify. The true essence of the qualification process lies in three areas:
- Start out with the right relationship, or the best one you have at the time, get an audience with the prospect, and simply ask questions. Probe. Active listening is the essential tool for successful major gifts fund raising and it leads, ultimately, to finding out what it will eventually take for the prospect to become a qualified prospect. Most of us truly do not know what floats the boat of a prospect. So, why not ask? Sure, he or she has a wing on the local hospital, but how do you know what drove that decision? You need to ask. You need to talk a little and listen a lot. The answers lie in the listening!
- Tell the story and weave a web of opportunities that the prospect might find appealing or motivating to his or her philanthropic interests. After you have actively asked questions and listened to the answers, you should have a much firmer grasp on what motivates the prospect. If there is some possible match with your project, then you should begin to create an opportunity. If not, then you will find it challenging to squeeze a square peg into a round hole. You don’t need to do this right away. There is no magic formula about having all the right answers or solutions immediately. Take your time. Your primary goal in this second step is to offer choices, solutions, and an opportunity to make a positive impact on the community. Tell your story. Allow the prospect to get engaged in the plot line of your organization’s mission.
- Allow the prospect to self-qualify. This does not mean that you do not shepherd the process or facilitate the connections or tell the story. It simply means that you have taken your initial relationship and cultivated and nurtured it to the point that you gain a good understanding of what would qualify the prospect in terms of charitable interest. Then you put forth a menu of solutions, remembering that your organization has no needs, but only has solutions! Then, you bring them together and let the ah ha moment work its magic. This is the final step in the qualification process. The rest of the process is simply nuts and bolts. Mechanics. Yes, the “ask” is important, but often it never occurs.
The other stuff is important, to be sure, but has little to do with qualifying a prospect. The techniques, communication pieces, fancy brochures, facts and figures, how you run your campaign, etc. are all necessary and vital elements of a major gift operation. But they are the techniques used to assist with major gifts fundraising, not the reasons why people give or are motivated to invest in a community organization.