Tag Archives: solicitation

Get Worried! About Asking for Too Little

When was the last time you had a knot in your stomach because you were worried you were going to ask for too small of a gift? If you are like many fundraisers, the answer is not often enough!

  • $8 Million gift from Glenn Korff to University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Music.
  • $2 Million gift from Gene Feaster, an inventor of Superflab to the University of Kansas.

How badly do you want gifts like these?

The wealth screening companies tell us – perhaps with some bias – that organizations which raise more money and get whopping big gifts, screen their donor database for wealth regularly. This does not surprise me. Does it surprise you?

Bias aside, large organizations are much more likely to worry about asking for too little. It’s a high-pressure, go-get-the-gift environment and the winners are those receiving the largest gifts. And large organizations invest in fundraising, including prospect research.

Research gives them the facts that can validate what they suspect, or disqualify a prospect, or find new information that impacts gift type and size.

But what can I do?
Hey! I heard that! “But we have no money for a screening.” “We can’t hire a prospect researcher anytime soon.” “Our leadership won’t invest in research.”

And I have a response! (It wouldn’t be much of an article if I didn’t, would it?)

Whether you are a smaller organization dreaming big or one of a hundred gift officers, you are in control of your own behaviors. And here’s a few winning behaviors to adopt – and maybe even influence others, like your leadership.

Get worried about asking for too little.
Words matter. When you talk strategy for a gift, state your target ask amount and then say, “But I’m worried that might be too low.” (That was easy!)

Get wealth-educated.
Pay attention to articles, blog posts, studies and conversations about wealth. Because when someone asks you – “why do you think that ask is too low? – you will need an answer.

  • He sold one company. Could there be others?
  • He seems like the kind of guy to have a vacation home, but I don’t have the tools to find out.
  • Jane board member says he owns a number of restaurants, but I don’t know for sure.

Get search savvy.

No, you don’t have to be a full-fledged prospect researcher, but every fundraiser should be able to find key information online about prospects. When was the last time you visited your county tax assessor’s online database? How about Zillow.com? Do you have rule-of-thumb formulas to create capacity ratings?

Wealth screenings are one tool in the research toolbox. Even so, I hope you are actively thinking about a future budget that includes a screening. You might not need it now, but you will need it sometime soon.

Your mission and the people and causes you serve deserve funding. And if for no other reason, that should get you concerned about asking for too little.

If you want help finding information about your prospects, click here to contact Aspire Research Group.

Other Resources You Might Like:

Fall Fundraising Trends by Preeti

Filla Fast Favorite Links – a categorized list with wealth studies at the bottom

Dating Donors, Data Mining & Donor Profiles -oh my!

Roxie Jerde, President & CEO, Community Foundation of Sarasota County

by Jen Filla.

I had the pleasure of hearing Roxie Jerde speak at the AFP SW FL luncheon on May 10, 2011. She is the new president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County, having previously been with the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. She packed a lot of information into her 20-minute slot. Thank you Roxie!

First, as the new person on the block, she made an interesting comment. She told us that she will not accept offers to meet for coffee or lunch. Instead she invited herself into our organizations. That really resonated with me. Since moving to Florida I have spent a lot of time getting to know the organizations operating in my area and that has meant of lot of driving and a lot of tours. For someone who works on billable hours this is an expensive investment! But I have never left a visit with an organization and felt it was a waste of time. There is so much culture, pride, and action packed into the buildings and places where fundraisers realize their missions.

Roxie also reviewed the Giving USA statistics, which reflected giving in 2009 (2010 is due out in June). Here’s a breakdown of giving in the U.S.

  • Individuals -75%
  • Foundations -13%
  • Bequests – 8%
  • Corporations -4%

Ho, hum, yawn, we’ve all seen this before. BUT have you actually gotten the statistics out of your own donor database? This kind of data mining yields key information you *must* know to create an intelligent fundraising strategy. Does somewhere around 75% of your funding come from individuals? If not, why? Every organization is different, so it might not make sense for your percentages to match the country’s giving overall, but if you differ significantly you’ll want to investigate whether you do indeed have the best strategy for your organization.

Roxie Jerde

Peppered throughout her presentation Roxie referred to the donor gift cycle as dating. Yes, most of us have heard this before too, but Roxie took it to a new level. In a previous position she and her staff used the dating terminology instead of the usual fundraising terms. It was endearing and funny to hear her talk about how blind dates can work too (prospecting), what it’s like to be newly married and still in the honeymoon stage (a major gift) and then, down the road, planning for your golden years (planned giving). Words are powerful tools and using dating words can create a much needed shift in how we interact with our donors.

Near the end of her presentation Roxie talked a little bit about asking for a major gift. She mentioned the uncertainty around how much to ask for and the drawbacks of asking for too much or too little. Being as passionate as I am about using prospect research to inform cultivation and solicitation it was all I could do to sit quietly. Profiles! DONOR PROFILES! I wanted to shout.

Donor profiles provide an awe inspiring amount of information to aid in determining an ask amount. Time and again fundraisers have told me how much more confidence they have asking for the gift when they can base it on known assets *and* their gut feelings. Development shops using prospect research, including donor profiles, ask for and receive larger gifts.

Too many human services and other similar organizations are not receiving their share of million dollar gifts and it is not because they don’t attract million dollar donors. It is because they don’t ask for million dollar gifts from their very own donors who are capable of giving them.

If you want to find out how Aspire Research Group can help you find your million dollar donors, just ask us! Call 727-231-0516, email jen at aspireresearchgroup.com or visit our website for more information, www.aspireresearchgroup.com

Is Prospect Research Too Expensive?

Kevin O’Brien, Senior Vice President for Development at The Chester County Hospital and Health System, is in Pennsylvania and Aspire Research Group (ARG) is in Florida, but we had a great discussion over the phone about prospect research that I would like to share with you. Thanks Kevin!

ARG: What first got you thinking about prospect research?

Kevin:  My first development job was at Drexel University in 1993. Prospect research was a critical component of development at Drexel with two or three full-time prospect researchers at that time. With a tight budget we treated prospect research as a precious resource. As a result it was common practice to wait to request a profile until just prior to a solicitation.

ARG: Why is it important to you now to use donor prospect profiles?

Kevin: There are three reasons prospect research remains important to my work. First, as a professional fundraiser I think it is critical to “do your homework” before soliciting a prospect or donor for a significant gift. I want to make sure that the size of the gift I am soliciting is reasonable given the capacity and inclination of the donor. I feel that the best way to determine their capacity is to obtain an in-depth, thorough, research profile that is able to assess, as much as possible, that capacity in an objective manner.

Second, I consider fundraising to be both an “art” and a “science. A successful fundraiser has to have, among other things, good judgment, good instincts, good interpersonal skills, and good communication skills. Those are what I consider some of the “artistic” skills of fundraising. A successful fundraiser must also gather information, analyze that information, and make critical decisions based on that analysis. This is what I consider the “science” aspect of fundraising. I need the prospect research to help me apply that “science” to my work.

Third, I need to work efficiently and be sure I am focusing on our best prospects. A professional research profile provides me with an objective capacity rating that helps me prioritize that particular prospect among the many others.

ARG: What tips or advice do you have for other fundraisers?

Kevin: Prospect research can be an expensive resource if not used efficiently. By staying focused on major gift prospects nearing solicitation and outsourcing the profiles to Aspire Research Group I get a high rate of return on my investment. While not every prospect I have had profiled committed to a major gift, many of them did. In my opinion, if you want to make sure you secure the largest gift possible from each and every solicitation, you need prospect research to help you prepare for that solicitation.

About The Chester County Hospital and Health System

The Chester County Hospital and Health System is a leading provider of care to patients in Chester County, Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, and a national model for quality and service excellence. The Chester County Hospital is the only remaining nonprofit, independent community hospital in Chester County.

Solicitation Approach for Distressed Donors

[Jan 2011 E-Newsletter Article]
I recently had the opportunity to meet up with Suzanne Nixon, State Director of Development for Devereux in Florida. We had such an interesting conversation that I asked her if I could share some of it with Aspire Research Group readers. Wouldn’t you know it, she said yes. Thanks Suzanne!

ARG: You have a lot of small and family business owners and other donors who have suffered with shrinking income and assets. Have you changed your solicitation approach with these donors?

Nixon: Yes, and I can give you an example. Some of Devereux Florida’s best and most passionate donors have found themselves struggling to meet their own and their peers’ expectations of giving. Thankfully, fundraising is not accounting so I have been able to help some of our donors reach a desired giving level by “stacking” their gift. One donor was able to make a gift by adding together several resources. She included a smaller than typical personal gift, adding that to one from her business and a third one from her family foundation. I was able to recognize her gift under the combined amount, which put her in a much higher giving level than any one of those gifts alone.

ARG: When do you use prospect research? 

Nixon: We are in a campaign to build a gymnasium and after my campaign cabinet has a brainstorming session I request a solicitation profile on the top four or five prospects that have surfaced. These are prospects my cabinet members already know, or know someone who knows them. Getting a solicitation profile at the identification stage makes sense for me because I have so little time. I need to know right away whether the prospect is philanthropic and what size gift might be possible. The solicitation profile gives me all the information I need to plan a strategy for cultivation or to disqualify early. When I’m ready to solicit for a gift I just ask for a profile update.

About Devereux:

The Devereux Foundation helps empower children and adults with intellectual, emotional, developmental, and behavioral challenges to lead fulfilling and rewarding lives. Devereux is a nationwide organization, headquartered in southeast Pennsylvania, positively impacting the lives of tens of thousands of individuals and families each year.

Devereux Florida operates nearly 50 programs in 38 counties statewide and is the largest non-profit provider of these services in the state of Florida. In 2012, we will celebrate 100 successful years nationally and 25 years of service in Florida.

Raising Money for the Arts – with Crowdfunding

Never heard of crowdfunding? Me either. But it’s raising millions from tiny gifts for artists around the world. The September 4, 2010 issue of the Economist featured a story, “Putting your money where your mouse is” that described the crowdfunding phenomenon quite clearly. People’s comments on the article were even more illuminating.

Going beyond social media and “tip jars” on websites, crowdfunding takes advantage of both of those methods to fund creative works through a defined dollar goal, within a specific time. If the minimum amount is not raised, no funds are collected. Interesting, huh?

Let’s say I need seed funding to create a documentary about the dynamics of homelessness in Tampa Bay, Florida. Using an intermediary like Kickstarter, IndieGogo or Sellaband (yes, they collect a fee), I create a campaign to raise $5,000 minimum within six months. I promote the campaign on my website, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and anywhere else I have built a fan following. Once I reach $5,000 committed I can keep raising money until the time limit. Funds successfully raised for projects have ranged from under $5,000 to as much as $200,000.

The reality is that the funds raised many times do not meet the full project funding needed. Most projects have grant or other funding secured as well. What crowdfunding does is give artists the social leverage they need to secure additional funding and give their fans the chance to be a part of the creation.

Fans getting the opportunity to be part of the creation. Wow! Doesn’t that sound familiar? C’mon! Let’s re-phrase that into language familiar to the fundraiser. Donors getting the opportunity to be part of the campaign. Hah! Now that I’ve got you on that thought-train, doesn’t it highlight how important it is to start with our donors when we are looking to raise funds? They have already given to us, they like us, and they want to help.

Helping fundraisers prioritize the donors in their databases is a service Aspire Research Group is proud to offer its clients. Sometimes we get so excited about the big dollars we hear in the news we forget that there is gold right inside of our own well-nurtured donor base, just waiting to be called upon. Call on yours today!

Videos on the Art of the Ask

The American College has made a series of five videos that walk you through the cultivation and asking of a donor prospect. They are called “Donor Dialogues: The Art of the Ask” and they are AWESOME! Really, really!

Don’t even let me hear you think it: FIVE videos, Jen? I’m not sitting through FIVE YouTube videos. But I bet that once you see the first one you’ll be hooked. We’re talking some great discussion *and* role-play. Yes, you read that correctly: ROLE PLAY. And you don’t even have to get up in front of an audience. Told you it was good.

And of course video #3 talks about the importance of prospect research as you get closer to asking for a major gift. Granted he calls it “legal stalking” which has an awful connotation, but I’m going to let that slide because overall the series is very professionally produced, pleasant to watch, and grossly informative (touché!).

How to use Prospect Profiles for Successful Solicitations

Sometimes when I tell fundraisers that my firm does a lot of prospect profiles they balk at the perceived price tag. “I can find everything I need to know on Google – for free.” But we all know that doesn’t ring true. The real cost is when you ask for $10,000 and the prospect was ready to give at least $100,000.

How much you know about your major gift prospect matters. You work hard to engage your prospect and when you walk through the door and ask for a major gift, you expect the answer to be “yes”. Or better yet, “I need to talk with my accountant”. The people your organization serves deserve those major gifts and it is your job to raise them.

What the Fundraisers Say

But the answer isn’t always “yes”. In his article, “Prospect Research: A Tool for Professionalism in Fund Raising“, Michael J. Worth, Vice President for Development and Alumni Affairs at The George Washington University writes the following …way back in 1991:

“The greatest risk in fund raising is that too little will be known about the donor, resulting in approaches that are ill-conceived, insensitive, and ineffective.”


Even further back in time, in 1933, John D. Rockefeller Jr. commented, “You cannot deal successfully with all people the same way. Therefore, it is desirable to find out something about the person you are going to [visit]…. Information such as this puts you more closely in touch with him and makes the approach easier.”

Professionally researched prospect profiles give you the information you need to prepare for successful solicitations. Online resources continue to improve and prospects are posting more and more information about themselves publicly. A prospect researcher is skilled at homing in on the most important information and checking the most reliable sources. Moving through the solicitation process without a prospect profile is like driving naked – you might not get caught the first time, but eventually you will be embarrassed!

Exactly How to Use the Information

Major gift donors are sophisticated and savvy. Flatter them with your knowledge of their business and philanthropy. Listen carefully to discover what can’t be found online – their personal motivations for giving and their values. Don’t alarm them with facts on their real estate, securities holdings and other wealth.

Instead, keep your knowledge of their wealth in the back of your mind so you can effortlessly respond, moving gracefully into an ask that is welcomed and answered with an enthusiastic “Yes! …just let me talk to my accountant”.

  • Are you choosing your prospects randomly?
  • Do you feel like you are going on prospect visits blind?
  • Are you confident in your ask amount?

If you answered “yes” to any of the above questions, call Aspire Research Group today to learn how we can help: 727 202 3405 or visit www.AspireResearchGroup.com

Score a touchdown with prospect profiles

Graphic by Gabriella Fabbri

Just to tickle myself today I Googled “prospect profile” to see what would rise to the top. It turns out that the sports world is keen on prospect profiles! A potential player is identified, gets profiled and then eventually the best bets are picked for teams.

The top search hits were all prospect profiles of sports players including an NFL draft prospect scouting report on Brandon Spikes (okay I added the keyword “Florida” to get this one).

I now know all sorts of details at a glance about him and can read some narrative for even more. Turns out that he played for the Gators in Gainesville, he apparently attempted to gouge out another player’s eyes once, and he can run pretty fast for being such a big guy.

Sports is a HUGE business with equally large profits. There is no way they are going to pick players willy nilly. And what tool do they use? A prospect profile. Hmmm.

Major gift fundraising is VITAL to your organization’s fiscal condition. How important do you think a professionally researched prospect profile is before you go on your next major gift solicitation visit?

Maybe the answer depends on how successful you want to be.