A recent study to determine the probability of success to raise support for a certain charity found more than 40 different campaigns for capital needs being conducted in the Greater Peoria Area, ranging from the Children’s Hospital of Illinois’ Milestone Project to churches which are expanding facilities. This article is meant to help all central Illinoisans understand the process used to ask donors for a special gift and encourage their support of the charitable cause.

The common answer from people when questioned as to why they did not give a gift to a charity is: “I was not asked.” This answer can imply a multitude of reasons potential donors are not asked to give. It could be that the leaders of charitable causes have a reluctance to make the request. Much has been written to determine why this reluctance exists. The reasons range from lack of sale initiative to fear of rejection. The crux of the issue is found in a lack of relationships between the donor prospect and the cause which seeks support. For example, the executive officer of a charity may be reluctant to approach a donor whom he/she does not personally know.

A key element and current buzzword in fundraising circles is “donor-centered” fundraising. The stress is focusing on the donor and his/her interest. In a review of Henry Rosso’s book, Lessons from a Master’s Lifetime Experience, F. Duke Haddad highlights three hypotheses:

This focus on donors begins with the initial process of fundraising, which requires the charity to identify potential donors from those who use their services or are in touch with its cause. They may be grateful patients and family members, volunteers, annual donors, or attendees at an event. Once identified, donors are then qualified to discover the inclination and capability of the donor to make a gift. What are the donor’s interests in the charity’s purpose? What friends or associates of the potential donor could help create a real and lasting relationship?

Once those discoveries are made, the process of nurturing the donor’s relationship to the charity is more carefully planned. The nurturing process is on a continuum, beginning when a potential donor is identified and continuing through his/her lifetime.

The crucial element of the donor-centered fundraising process is the solicitation. The classic model involves a special team from the charity—of which the first member is a leader, someone at the proper level in the organization who can speak to the impact of the gift and how it intertwines with the donor’s interest. It is important that the gift be given a face. It is not just a piece of equipment or a building, but how this new technology will make a difference in the treatment of a patient or how this new facility will improve the lives of those served by the charity. It should be clearly explained how the gift will impact those receiving care and how it is consistent with the donor’s interests.

The next person on the solicitation team is a friend or associate who can give guidance to the donor. Usually, this is a person of similar means, who can encourage the donor to consider a major gift. This is usually the person who, earlier in the nurturing process, helped build the relationship with the donor. This person provides help by encouraging a responsible amount and even helps with how to make the gift.

The final person usually included in the solicitation team is the organization’s development officer, whose role is to help answer “how-to-make-the-gift” questions, along with providing the necessary follow-up. Follow-up includes providing legal gift documents if necessary, and technical help with proper transfer of gift assets. The follow-up may also include consideration of various tax consequences and necessary due diligence with review of gift assets.

The solicitation occurs when the relationship has been nurtured to the point that the donor’s interests are known and he/she is expecting to be asked to help. A solicitation should never be a surprise to the donor. The request should challenge the donor to consider a gift that would stretch their comfort level but should be realistic and within their means.

The solicitation should include all of the decision-makers on the donor’s side. If the donor is married, the request should be made with both spouses present. This prevents one spouse from having to solicit the other to complete the gift. If the donor is elderly and relies on children for decision support, you might include the child when the ask is made.

After the solicitation has been made, the process continues with bringing the gift to closure. This can be as simple as the donor writing a letter to pledge his/her gift. Many times, a draft of this letter is provided by the development officer. If the gift is complex and involves recognition by naming a facility or space, it could involve a more extensive pledge. The gift could also involve a life income plan which would require legal documents to be prepared. In addition, donor questions and possible hurdles could suggest special negotiations between the donor, their legal and tax counsels, and the leadership of the charity.

As an example of this solicitation process, when OSF was in the early stages of planning for the expansion of Children’s Hospital of Illinois (CHOI), a child was brought to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The pediatric emergency care physicians and surgeons used their expertise to save this child’s life. She has since fully recovered. A few days after the surgery, the parents approached hospital staff and indicated that they wanted to make a gift. Through the leaders of CHOI and the fundraising staff, a very large gift was suggested to the family, and they, in a relatively short time, responded “yes” to the ask.

Staff has continued to apprise the donor family about the progress of the new addition, and the family remains closely involved in the process. You can see how the donors’ interest was the driving force connecting them to support the hospital. Their intent was to respond to the hospital saving their child’s life—an intent that was expanded to help treat other injured and sick children. These satisfied donors are now in a strong relationship with the hospital and ideal examples of successful donor-centered fundraising. iBi