The Need to Be Clear

The Need to Be Clear

by: David Phillips

Top 10 Effective Fundraising Rules

Rule #1:  Always approach prospective donors with two carefully trained people, at least one of whom should be a social and/or business peer of the prospective donor.

Rule #2:  When you solicit a gift, you need to be crystal clear—especially as it relates to the amount of money you are seeking, how the gift will be used and the difference it can make.

Rules #3-10:  See Rule #2!!!!!!!!!!!!


Seek first to understand, then to be understood. – Stephen Covey

How often do we speak to someone and feel as though we have been understood, only to find out later on that the issue was not clearly understood by the other person, or that they have a completely different understanding of the issue.  Everyone was in the same room; we all heard each other.  We felt there was clarity, but there was not.

What can we do to try to create better understanding?  How can we ensure that we are heard, and that the other person understands?  Some of the best ways are to:

  • Explain yourself, summarize briefly, then ask the person to paraphrase what you said to see if they understood.
  • Listen carefully to them and be fully present before you begin to consider your response.
  • Discuss any pieces of what was said and ask questions about anything you don’t completely understand, so that it doesn’t come back to haunt you.  Where there is disagreement that cannot be completely settled immediately, express your optimism that ‘we can work through this’, and suggest you get back together at a specific time.

Often it is very effective to tell someone more than once what you are thinking, and then reiterate it in slightly different terms.  In speech making, we often hear the best speakers mention what they are going to tell us, and then go on to expound on that topic before wrapping up with a summary. Sometimes they may go a step further and ask a rhetorical question about the topic to have us think about how we might respond or help address the issue.

Another good strategy for making sure you understand the other person is to be fully present, and not thinking about what you are going to say next.  Really listen to the other person and consider their viewpoint as conscientiously as you can.  When you sit quietly and hear, without regard to what you will say, you have a much better understanding of what the other person is thinking and you have a clearer path for approaching them to cooperate or create a mutually beneficial solution.

This is critically important when you are meeting with your donors, supporters and volunteers in a non-profit organization.  We all need to feel heard to feel appreciated.  Donors and volunteers have many demands on their time, so they need to know that you care enough to hear them and consider their opinions.  When you are with your donors—or your friends—be fully present and make them feel valued.

Wherever you are; be there. – Jim Rohn

One place where clarity is absolutely essential is when you are soliciting a gift from a potential donor.  You should articulate the request very specifically, citing an absolute amount you are hoping they would consider to fund something specific.  “We hope you will consider a gift of $50,000 per year for the next five years for a total gift of $250,000 to fund the new library center for learning excellence” or “We hope you will consider a gift of $100,000 per year for five years, for a total gift of $500,000 to fund the gymnasium component of our new student life center.”

Many organizations lose incredible amounts of money that is within reach because they do not clarify and define clearly for the potential donor what is needed and why, and how that donor can change lives and magnify this project through their participation.  People do not know how much you need from them to be successful.  So, your job is to educate them about the need and the incredible influence they can have on changing people’s lives for the better.

When a development officer or board member goes to a potential major contributor and asks for their help, without defining what that help will be, chances are all parties are going to be confused, and even disappointed, left unsatisfied with needs not met.  Clarity and specificity are two of the most important parts of every gift solicitation.  And, to ensure you have both, you should be taking a proposal or prospectus to every potential donor that clearly outlines the request, identifies the impact and reiterates the incredible difference their commitment can make.  And, where possible, it should be tied to a named giving opportunity.

If there are other factors, such as a matching gift challenge or some other exciting circumstances, you should make that clear also, as time is of the essence when getting things like this accomplished.

The best solicitations are carefully considered, and are offered personally in face to face meetings.  It is best to meet in the prospect’s home or office, but it can work in a different environment with the right controls in place.  You want to schedule an hour long meeting, getting through the perfunctory small talk in the first five to ten minutes before telling your story and making the request  clearly, specifically and succinctly before asking, “Do you feel you could do that for us?”. Then, silence.

Be quiet and be very present, listening carefully to all they have said.  At the appropriate time, you can re-engage, and try to help them get any questions answered, or any concerns addressed.  If they have not come to a decision in that meeting, please set another one for a specific time and date before thanking them and handing them the written proposal to consider.  Now they know exactly what you hope they will do, and they have time to think about it carefully.

Compare that conversation with a long, loose one during which much is discussed but the proposal is not brought up until 45 minutes into the conversation when the prospective donor looks at you and says, “Ok, what is it that all you want, because I really need to run?”  Now, you have to race through that discussion and you have limited or no quality time to work through their questions and concerns.

Worse still is when the donor is told, “We know you are clear about our wonderful project and we hope that you will help in ‘a very significant way.’”  There is no clarity about what you are asking them for—no spoken amount.  In that case, you may get a check for $500 from your $100,000 prospect.  They need to know exactly what you need from them in order to be successful.  Please tell them -clearly, specifically- and quickly exactly how much money you are requesting—so you can begin to dissect the request and their intended response to it.  Good luck with your fundraising.


David Phillips has over 30 years of fundraising experience.  He founded Custom Development Solutions, Inc. (CDS) in 1996.  CDS is celebrating twenty years of strategic planning and tactical execution of capital campaigns for non-profits.  If you have a fundraising question, please call CDS at 800-761-3833 or send an email to dgp@cdsfunds.com.

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