If you've been around development work for any amount of time, or have worked with major donors at all, you've probably asked yourself this question - maybe more than once. We have a saying at The Timothy Group (sorry, I don’t know who originated it), “A successful donor visit is when the right person asks the right person for the right amount for the right project in the right place at the right time.”
How do you know when the donor isn't ready? If you've been involved in development work for long, you've probably had a situation where you made the “ask” of a donor before they're weren't ready. How so? A couple of differing ways, probably – either they were offended, said “no”, or gave a significantly smaller amount than you hoped for. No worries, we have all been there a time or two.
Maybe a better question is - how can you know (for next time)? The relationship between a donor, the development staff person or volunteer assigned to the donor, and the institution in need of support is a tricky one. There are guidelines of when a donor is ultimately “ready” for solicitation, but no hard, fast rules. Every donor, every organization, and every campaign is different.
Recently, I was privileged to conduct Pre-Campaign Study interviews on behalf of a client. Essentially, these interviews are one-on-one meetings with their key stakeholders. This capital campaign would be the single largest fundraising effort ever entered into by this organization - the total needs exceeding $5 million. When we conduct these interviews, we ask the stakeholders several questions to gather their perception of the need. These are confidential conversations. We end each interview by asking if they would consider supporting the campaign as described and to estimate what their three-year giving level might look like. These are not pledge commitments, but they do help us to evaluate what the total dollars might project to.