Season 3, Episode 13
If you want your campaign to be successful, ask for the largest gifts first. In this episode, you will learn about the strategic order of solicitation and why it matters.
There’s one thing you need to do to set your campaign up for success. It’s super important. Stick around to find out what it is.
Hi, I’m Amy Eisenstein. I’m here with my co-founder, Andrea Kihlstedt, and we’re super excited to talk to you today about one thing that’s really going to set up your campaign for success. Andrea, what’s the one thing we’re talking about today?
Amy, it’s simple and important and hard. You know what it is? It’s that you have to ask your largest prospect for the biggest gift to your campaign first.
That is hard. It’s easier said than done, but we want to encourage you to do it. And at the end of this podcast, you’re going to believe and understand why it’s critical for the success of your campaign. We call it the strategic order of solicitation, and it’s really important that you follow it.
The Strategic Order of Campaign Solicitation
What’s the strategic order of solicitation, Andrea, and why should people pay such close attention to it?
Yeah. So the common phrase, Amy, and it’s so important, is you have to solicit gifts from the top down and the inside out. But let’s stick with the top down for the moment.
Let’s say that you’re starting a $10 million capital campaign and you’ve done all the pre-campaign planning and you’ve done your feasibility study. And you have your campaign plan and you’re ready to go. You know what the list of donors are, how much you’re going to be asking them for. And your temptation is to start with the lower level donors because the big ones make you too nervous. You want to practice on the lower ones.
Right. It seems easier, for sure.
Yes. But you know what? You have to solicit the top gifts first. And the reason you have to do it is really quite simple, if you think about it.
Let’s say that you have your $10 million campaign and you’re ready to go. And you decide that because you’re nervous that you’re going to ask someone to make a $25 thousand or $10,000 gift because you know this person and you’re confident they’re going to say yes. So you go and ask them for a $10,000 gift, right? Your first gift you ask for on a $10 million campaign.
Now, they might well give you that gift, because your friends and you’re comfortable. But in the back of their minds, they’re going to think:
“Well, gee, my $10,000 gift isn’t going to make a very big dent in this $10 million campaign. If they’re coming to me first, I wonder if they’re in trouble.”
Right. Are they going to make it? There’s no path to the goal with $10,000 gifts.
I mean, think about how many gifts you would need at the $10,000 level to get to $10 million. You probably don’t even have enough donors in your database.
Right. So, it’s ridiculous.
Top Down: Advantages of Soliciting the Biggest Donor First
And while your donor might give because they know you, but it’s going to set up questions in their mind about whether you know what you’re doing, honestly. But if you go to the donor that is at the top of your list for a gift of let’s say, two and a half million dollars, a quarter of your campaign goal, that might be the top gift you’re after. Maybe it’s $3 million, right? This big gift, one of the gifts at the top. And you say to them:
“We have had a relationship with you for a long time. You are one of the few people who could give a gift that is a pace-setting gift for this campaign. If you give that gift early on, it will create a sense of confidence for the rest of our donors and the rest of that campaign. Would you be willing to step up right early in the beginning?”
Yeah. I like the visuals. I mean, certainly when you talk about top down and inside out, we’ll get to inside out in a minute, but we’ll keep going with the top down, and think about another visual is this traditional campaign thermometer. Right?
A two and a half million dollar gift fills up some of the thermometer. A $10,000 gift at the bottom when there’s nothing there, doesn’t get you very much red, in terms of the thermometer going up. But once you’ve filled 75 or 80% of the thermometer, then a $10,000 gift is more meaningful. There’s more movement. So, it really does make a difference.
Now, and keep in mind that capital campaigns are very top-heavy, that with 10 gifts, you’re going to raise well over half your campaign goal. So if you focus your attention on those top 10 gifts, that thermometer, I mean, not that we’re recommending you have a thermometer publicly placed yet. We’re not. But it’s just a good image. But that thermometer is going to rise very quickly.
Now as it rises, the amount of money you have to raise, of course, goes down. As you raise the money, the amount left goes down. And as you have smaller amounts to raise, then the smaller donors towards the bottom of your gift range chart, their gifts become proportionately more important.
I think that’s such an important point. Everybody who makes a gift, no matter what size, wants to feel like their gift is making a difference, and that their gift is meaningful. And the reality is that oftentimes when people make a stretch gift of $2 million, it may not impact their finances or be as significant financially to somebody who makes a $10,000 gift, who really digs deep to do that.
And since we want every donor to make sure that they feel that whatever they’re giving is truly meaningful, we want to make sure that we’re asking them in a place in the campaign that it makes sense. And it doesn’t make sense to ask for those smaller gifts early in the campaign. That’s why top down is so important.
Inside Out: Next, Focus on Donors Closest to Your Organization
So top down, inside out. Let’s talk for a minute, Amy, about inside out. What do we mean by that?
Yes, that’s an important part of the image as well. You want me to start?
Alright. So top down, we’ve explained biggest donors first. We’re also focused on inside out, which is the people that are closest to your organization.
So, board members would come next. And we want to make sure that board members, and we don’t necessarily mean next board members can be solicited simultaneously with some of those biggest gifts, because they really are the insiders.
So when we’re talking about inside out, they understand that you are focused on the top donors and the people absolutely closest to the organization.
What it really should indicate for you that the leaders of the organization need to give first or early, and you’re not going to random people on the street. You’re not going to people who are not connected to your organization early on in the campaign. Maybe later, later, later, you’re going to go broad to the community. But first, you’re going to start with the people closest to your organization.
Amy, both of these really are about, both of these meaning top down and inside out, they’re both about building confidence, that you build confidence by asking for the largest gifts first, because people look and see:
“Oh, they’ve already raised so-and-so much money, I think they’re going to succeed.”
And you build confidence by going to the people who are closest to you. Because if you can show that the people who know the most about your organization are seriously committed to this campaign, then it lets everybody firmly believe that the campaign is important and will succeed, and has a bunch of cheerleaders inside who are willing to put their own money into the campaign.
Those two things together create a head of steam for a campaign that you can’t build any other way.
That’s right. I mean, confidence that a campaign will be successful is so important. There are plenty of donors who wait, honestly, to see if the campaign has indicators of success before they’re making their gifts. So, some of those early donors need to take a leap of faith with your organization to take somewhat of a chance.
Now, of course, you’ve done all your pre-campaign work and your feasibility study to give your campaign the best chance of success and do the proper planning so that you will succeed. But there is some element of risk to those first donors. And so, we need to find those biggest donors and people on the inside to step up and say:
“Yes, we believe in this campaign.”
And that encourages everybody else to give. As you said, it increases the confidence that the campaign really will succeed.
Combat Fear of Soliciting Top Donors with Authenticity
I just want to revisit the idea that it’s scary to ask for the biggest gifts first. Even when we talk about it, I find myself getting a little anxious, even though I’m not having to solicit any of them. But I can so easily put myself in that position of knowing that these top few important asks set the stage for success. There’s so much riding on them that it does make you nervous. And something would be wrong if you weren’t anxious about it.
So they need to be honest, effective conversations with the people who are at the top of your gift range chart, the people who are able to give the most. And you need to let them know what a difference their early contribution is going to make to the entire campaign.
And I think that is an excellent topic for another podcast for us. So —
… this is great. I think understanding the strategic order of solicitation, making sure that your board and leadership team understand why it’s important. I think many board members are so eager to get going sometimes, that they just run around asking their friends willy-nilly for gifts.
And that’s when we see campaigns run into trouble. Because they’re not asking their friends for the right amount, if that makes sense. They’re not paying attention to the strategic order of solicitation. They’re just going to ask… Honestly, board members often ask what they think they can give.
So if they can give 10,000, they go out and ask their friends for 10,000, even though that friend might have the capacity on the interest in giving a hundred thousand or a million. So pay attention, follow your gift range chart, your plan, and the strategic order of solicitation.
You wanted to say something else?
Yes. I think you’ve just raised an important point, Amy.
As you prepare your board for a campaign, you should talk to them about the importance of the strategic order of solicitation. Because many board members make them mistake of saying:
“Well, can I go out and ask my friends now?”
And if they understand why it matters, both that they make a sacrificial contribution or a generous contribution, and that the campaign asks for the largest gifts first, then perhaps it will hold them back a little. They’ll understand why they shouldn’t merrily go out and ask their mom for a thousand bucks.
Send this podcast, forward it to all your board members as you prepare for your campaign so they can give it a listen.
Alright. Thank you so much for joining us. We’re so happy you did, and we look forward to seeing you next time.