There are three possible answers (and only three) that a person can give after being asked for a Major Gift:
- and maybe
You need to be prepared for all of them.
When a Prospective Donor Says “Yes”
Let’s say you ask someone for a major gift, and they say “yes.” What do you do?
First, thank them, of course. Then find out how they would like to make their gift.
Will they be writing a check? Should you send them an envelope or even arrange a time to pick it up? Do they wish to pay by credit card, or will they be giving stock?
Don’t leave the meeting until the “when” and “how” are determined, or you could be in the awkward position of having to ask again or needing to remind them.
After you leave, be sure to follow-up, as promised. In addition, send a thank you letter with a personal note go out the same (or the next) day. A thank you call is also in order for a major gift.
Finally, make a note — you probably asked for too little. After all, the donor was able to say “yes” right away and didn’t need to think about it for long. Ask for more next year.
When a Prospective Donor Says “Maybe”
“Maybe” is actually my favorite answer. It means you asked for so much that the person needs to think about it, and not so much that they immediately said no.
Great job! You hit the sweet spot.
When a person says they need to think about it, or “maybe,” you must have a response ready. For example, ask a few good questions, such as:
- Can I get you more information to help you make your decision?
- Do you have any questions that I have left unanswered?
Once again, don’t leave the meeting without a follow-up plan. Ask when you can follow up to find out if they have made a decision.
Once you agree on a date and time in the near future (shoot for 1-2 weeks), it’s your job to actually follow-up. If you don’t, it’s as though you never asked in the first place. They will not follow up with you.
When a Prospective Donor Says “No”
Lastly, what do you do when the person you’ve just asked for a Major Gift says “no”?
I once heard one of my fundraising mentors say, “the best fundraiser is the one who can turn a ‘no’ into a ‘yes’”.
I like to talk about “no” in two different ways — the “hard no” and the “soft no”.
A “hard no” is a “not now, not ever” kind of “no”, and you should not be getting this type of response if you handle your cultivation properly.
So, let’s assume you get a “soft no” which could mean a variety of things, including:
- Bad timing (“Not now. I just got laid off from my job,” for example.)
- Wrong amount (Too much or too little.)
- Wrong project (They love your organization. They’re really interested in the after school program — but you asked for the preschool program.)
Or a variety of other reasons. With a soft no, your job is to get to the bottom of the “no” and turn it into a “yes”.
Be prepared with open-ended questions and turn it back around to the person being asked.
After getting a “no”, say something like:
“I’m sorry to hear that. I thought you were interested in supporting the program (project) in a bigger way. Can you tell me a bit more about how you want to help or what you were considering?”
Your job is to keep the conversation going and the dialogue open. Ask if they need more information, time, or something else. Tell them you hope to continue the conversation.
Be gracious and truly grateful. Thank them for their time and all they have done for your organization to date.
Then, make a follow up plan when you can revisit the issue (unless they need to get more engaged first, in which case, invite them to an event and/or to volunteer again).
Action Item of the Week — 2 hours or less
Practice your response to any of the possible answers for the next three people you plan to ask for a major gift. Rehearsing before asking is one of the best things you can do to ensure a favorable outcome.
Have you ever hit the sweet spot and gotten a “maybe” from a prospective donor? How did it turn out? Share your story in the comments below.
This post is part of Amy’s Major Gifts Challenge. Read the entire series to learn how to solicit major gifts by spending just a few hours each month.