The Right Time
When is the right time to ask?
In fund raising, as in comedy and dance, timing is important.
People's generosity changes with the seasons. Alterations in their lives may make them more or less open to giving, or to your cause. Developments in your organization could influence their decisions, too.
Even if they want to give you a large donation, many people do not have the financial freedom to simply give you all the money at once. They may be on tight budgets. They may live in an expensive house and drive a fancy car, but have all their money committed to mortgage and finance payments. They may have money tied up in investments that can't be liquidated right away. Major expenses may be coming soon.
These and many other barriers many prevent them from being as generous as they truly want to be.
You must arrange to take all these limitations into account. This is an essential part of the pre-campaign preparation.
Choose the moment to ask. This may be the least important of the six secrets of big gifts, but it still counts.
Ask before Christmas and Easter.
Most people give most generously in the pre-Christmas season. While this is far from an iron-clad rule, it is surprisingly common.
It may be because Christians and Jews are in a holiday mood just then. However, all of Canada seems to focus on gift-giving, no matter what religion or lack thereof.
It may be because it is the last chance to arrange contributions to reduce taxes.
Whatever the psychology, September through November is the best time to ask. By December, people tend to be busier, and many have already spent their charitable dollars.
Spring is the second-best time. Perhaps it is the combination of Lent, Passover, Ramadan, spring flowers, new fiscal years, or tax-filing and tax rebates.
Summer is generally the hardest time to gather volunteers, to reach prospects and to talk seriously about donations.
Ask at the anniversary of the donor's last contributions.
As noted earlier, some donors give at the same time each year. You may never know why.
The timing may relate to a personal milestone being memorialized (such as birthdays, weddings, or the anniversary of the death of a loved one).
It may have to do with their financial planning and the timing of their annuity cheques or dividends.
If you detect a pattern, that's the time of year to ask again.
Ask at the moment your organization is at a high point.
Too many campaigns for major gifts are launched in a rush because the organization is desperate for funds to survive. Success is more likely if you pick your moment.
Ask when you have had good publicity.
If the prospect has heard good things about you recently, you are more likely to get a gift. Even if you have a well oiled publicity machine, it may take time before stories run in the media.
Ask when you have had a success.
If you can tell the prospect about a major achievement, you will gain respect. Spread good news. Be upbeat. Special anniversaries are sometimes used, but they are not as effective. If all you can say is that your group is 10, 50, 100, or 150 years old, the absence of other achievements is a subtle condemnation.
The occasion could be:
Ask when your board is strong.
Right after a messy organizational split is not a good time. Neither can you give this proper attention when key people are distracted by a reorganization or the launching of a new endeavour. If the group's financial needs are pressing, you may not be able to wait for a better moment, but you should at least be aware that results might be greater at another time.
Ask at the time the prospect has or will have funds available.
People do not always have easy access to money particularly larger sums.
For people paid weekly, your timing may make little difference. For people paid monthly, it is much easier to give when the cheque comes in than three or four weeks after.
People who depend on investments for the money they give to charity may require even longer planning. They may receive payments only four times a year, or once a year when dividends are declared. It may be less often than that if their investments are not doing well.
More than 50% of gifts of stock are made in the last quarter of the year, and 35% are made in December. Although you want to cultivate your best prospects all year long, if you are asking for a gift of stock, be sure you have asked for the stock by October.73
Farmers find it easier to give in the fall when the harvest is in, than in the spring when they're investing in seed, fertilizer and fuel.
During the forum on major gifts74, philanthropists Lyman Henderson and Nancy Jackman talked about what had motivated them to make the largest donation they ever gave. The audience expected to hear about good causes, persuasive appeals, and influential solicitors. Lyman Henderson began with an answer that caught people by surprise.
Nancy Jackman agreed. Then she speculated on how a nonprofit could know when that moment occurred.
I would pick up on what Lyman said. In my case there was a transfer from one corporation to another. The money was liquid for a time before it got reinvested. It was at that point that I made the largest gift I ever made. That's information I suspect you'll probably not know.
If you can get the information, and if you can wait, carefully time your approach to promising prospects. Ask at the time when:
But remember, the key factor is not that they have a lot of money. Don't try to ask everyone you can find who wins a lottery, or sells a house or business. The primary consideration is that they support you and secondarily, that this happens to be a good time to ask.
When NOT to Ask
Never ask for money at a party. It is awkward for your prospect, embarrassing for your host, and guaranteed to make you look gauche and greedy. Time magazine reported that Joan Kroc, owner of the San Diego Padres baseball team, widow of the founder of Mcdonald's Corporation, and legendary philanthropist, was invited to a party at the home of Dr. Jonas Salk. What happened? `So many other guests accosted her with solicitations for money that she excused herself and left.'75
What should you do if you are lucky enough to meet such a person? Here's what Joan Flanagan suggests:
Do you really need all the money now?
An immediate contribution sounds wonderful. Whether it is in cash, or by cheque, money order, or credit card, it makes an organization feel secure to know the money is in the bank.
Sometimes, however, suggesting an immediate donation may be counter-productive. Depending on the prospect's financial situation, it may easier to give a larger amount later. The prospect might prefer to spread a gift over multiple payments.
If you can be flexible, the prospect may be able to give you much more money in the long run.
It may not even be necessary for your organization to have the money immediately. If the programme will not begin for a few weeks, months, or even years, it may be just as convenient to have the donation arrive when it is needed.
If the programme will proceed in phases, it may be sufficient to have the money arrive as payments are required. If the money is to fund salary, monthly donations are good enough (as long as they are reliable). In the case of equipment or buildings, periodic payments are required, and the full amount is not essential at the start.
There are, of course, obvious advantages to having the money right away. The organization can invest it and earn interest. There is security in knowing that donors will not change their minds, fail to pay in full, or die without a will.
On the other hand, these advantages may all be more than offset by problems.
The first is that holding onto a substantial amount of money can create bookkeeping problems. Revenue Canada, for example, restricts the ability of registered charities to accumulate funds over several years, except under special circumstances. Prospects, too, may be put off to see the organization carrying a surplus forward.
In addition, many organizations have demonstrated their inability to leave capital untouched in the bank. In the event of an emergency or changing priorities, they may give in to the temptation to reassign the money, at least on a temporary basis. This can lead to a shortfall, and may also constitute moral and legal misappropriation of funds.
Which prospects should be asked first?
Who you ask is the most important consideration.
The right person is predisposed to giving. The wrong person will require a great deal of preparation and persuasion and still may not give at all.
This topic was covered in great detail in the chapter on how to identify potential donors. In this section, we'll just prioritize who to ask first.
With limited energy (and it's always limited), you can't ask everyone at once. Where do you start? There are three main factors to consider:
The ideal is to start with those who can make the largest donations, then move down to people who would give smaller amounts.
The larger donors appreciate the honour of being asked first, as leaders. Often their gifts will influence others. If they are not asked first, there is a risk that they may be insulted, or that smaller gifts will become the `pace-setters'.
Will their decision influence others?
Choose people who are well respected. Their decision to give (or not to!) will influence others. These are the people who are more public about their donations although even an anonymous gift will have an impact if it is large enough. In some cases, a moderate gift from a much-loved person will have more effect than a larger amount from a wealthier person. Imagine the reactions of other prospects.
Also, choose people who may be willing to ask others to give. If you are short of good volunteers (as many nonprofit groups are), the first prospects can be recruited to expand the team. This is much like pyramid selling.
How easy will it be to get the gift?
Finally, comes the question of how easy it will be. It's a good idea to start off with some easy wins. Get a victory under your belt. Practice on people who are already really sympathetic. Save the hard cases until your volunteers have more experience.
To make it easy to decide who to ask first, Kent Dove suggests giving each prospect:
Codes for Giving Capacity
Codes for Interest Level
You'll find more about how to cultivate prospects in chapter 6 of this manual.
On the next page you'll see another method to rate the prospect's potential, based on the profile of top prospects mentioned earlier.
Total the scores of all your top prospects. The people with the highest score are the ones to approach first. Rank their priority based on their numerical scores.
Major Gift Prospects:
|Prospect gave to us previously||100|
|Prospect is rated to give a very large gift||35|
|Prospect's decision will influence others by example||35|
|Prospect's gift will be easy to get||35|
|Prospect is or was on our board||25|
|Prospect is known to make big gifts to other non-profits||25|
|Prospect is or was a volunteer with us||20|
|Prospect is or was a participant and we have stayed in touch||20|
|Prospect was a participant and we have not stayed in touch||15|
|Prospect is on the board of one or more other nonprofit groups||15|
|We have a personal contact||15|
|Prospect knows about and is interested in us||15|
|Prospect is religious||10|
|Prospect apparently has money to give||10|
|Prospect is interested in our issue but apparently doesn't know about us||7|
|Prospect has been given awards for community service||5|
|Prospect is conservative (no matter how he/she votes)||5|
|Prospect has a high profile in the community||5|
|Prospect is over 55 years of age||5|
|Prospect is in a professional or managerial occupation||5|
|Prospect is an active volunteer with other groups||5|
|Prospect is university educated||3|
|Prospect is still married to first spouse||2|
|Prospect has children||1|
|Total Score (maximum 400 points)|
On the next page is a form to use for your planning.
|Research done by (name):||Date:|
|Updated by (name):||Date:|
|Updated by (name):||Date:|
C O N F I D E N T I A L
Dove Scoring System
Giving Capacity Code:
Estimated Giving Capacity: $
Wyman Scoring System
Priority Rank (based on other prospects' scores):
Timing Factors to Consider
Time most likely to have funds available:
Prospect anniversary dates to consider:
Dates when the prospect will be away:
Dates when our organization will be at a high point:
Proposed date to contact the prospect:
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|Last updated : 1998/10/16|