If you’ve never heard of volunteer led major gift solicitations, you might think to yourself, “There’s no way that could ever happen!” The fact of the matter is that it is one of most powerful form of fundraising that exists. Two important questions: 1. What is it? 2. How do you do it?
What is it?
The fundamental fact is that people give to people. And when you are talking about major gifts, a close friend or near acquaintance is far more likely to ‘get the gift’ that a development officer who is a total stranger. Why? The donor has a relationship with the person who is asking, which makes the request much more compelling.
It is also crucial that the people chosen to be fundraising volunteers are donor’s first. That way they can say, “I’ve made an $X,000 major gift to support this, do you think you’d be able to give at that same level?” This is a strong ask because the solicitor has already committed to leadership level giving. This knocks out a lot of stumbling blocks for a potential donor, because in their mind they’re saying, “Bob, who I like, has already given, maybe I should give too.”
How do you do it?
The first and foremost concern of any volunteer led solicitation is getting the right people.
This is not for every person connected to your organization. In fact, a majority of your supporters would rather do absolutely anything else besides ask for money. There will only be a select few who are will and able to do this successfully.
The first qualification is their character and standing in the community or among the supporters. You will be sending them out as representatives, alone and with your staff, and so you want to be sure that they are the kind of person that you want acting on behalf of your parish or ministry.
They also need to have both the capacity and the commitment to give at a major gift level. Part of the reason that this works is that the volunteer is able to say, “I believe in this organization so much that I’ve committed to giving $25,000 over the next three years. Will you join me?” You can imagine how the ask would go if you said, “I’m personally giving $500 even though I could give $50,000, but I want you to give $35,000.” If the solicitor is unwilling to make a large commitment, then they will have a very hard time convincing anyone else to do it.
Once you have your volunteers, you need a pool of potential major donors.
These are people who are already giving to your organization but not at a major gift level. Or they might be people who have given a major gift in the past but have not been solicited recently.
Your volunteers should then be brought together for a ‘donor rating’ meeting. It is extremely important that this process be conducted with the strictest confidentiality in mind. At this meeting, your donors will be given a list of donors that they will ‘rate’ according to their likely giving capacity, and the closeness of their personal relationship with the donor. The idea behind the donor rating meeting is to get the right person to ask the right donor for the right amount of money. In general, volunteers should not be assigned to approach more than 5 donors. If you go beyond 5 on the assigned list, it’s likely that your volunteer will get overwhelmed.
Next, you do the solicitation.
The volunteer might need a member of the development staff to go with them, although if they are confident in their ability (perhaps they are a veteran of many campaigns) they may be able to do it themselves. The development officers should provide them with good, personalized materials for each of their solicitations. If this turns into a lot of paperwork, it is better to get clerical help than to send out generic materials. This is a PERSONAL request.
Say “Thank you!”
After the solicitation, you will follow-up with the donor thanking them for either their donation or their time, and your volunteer for both. Make sure that you do a good job thanking the people involved because you want them to be involved the next time around.
One major point to think about with this kind of fundraising is that you want to make the process as seamless and fun as possible for your volunteers. These are high-powered people with high level connections, talking to personal friends who might not even return your phone calls. Make sure that you respect their contribution and their time. Keep it during a brief ‘campaign season,’ with very specific expectations. That way, you can come back and ask them to participate when the next year’s campaign gets rolling.