Even the most seasoned fundraisers experience a skip of anticipation going into a solicitation – will we tell a compelling story and get our facts right, will we understand our donor’s interests and address any reservations, will we make the right ask – then can we wait out the “silent” phase, and with a little breath holding, finally secure the gift?

There’s a lot to think about.

Focusing on the solicitation content – the story and the gift request –is the source of stress for many fundraisers. And it’s this approach that often makes volunteers so reluctant to fundraise. How many times have you heard board members and volunteers express that they don’t want to fundraise because “I don’t know what to say!” 

Instead of focusing on the content of our story and our request, what if we focus on creating a meaningful solicitation experience through effective communication and connection with the donor? 

Let’s think about how the solicitation experience can make the donor feel engaged, empowered and appreciated. Remember the last time you were affected by a speech? Do you remember the specific contents of the speech, or do you remember the way it made you feel? Let’s put solicitation content to the side for a moment and look at how to best shape the structure of a memorable solicitation experience. 

How do you show up? 
Are you rushing from another appointment or from a meeting that ran late? Before meeting with your donor, you will have done your homework. And if a board member or volunteer also attends the solicitation, you will have reviewed the agenda and specifics beforehand. Don’t do it as your walking in the door. Instead, show up early and take a few minutes to mentally prepare. Relax. Find the place within yourself where you feel confident, calm, and energized. If you’re rushed and nervous, the donor will pick up on it, and you’re already off to auspicious start.

What environment have you chosen for the solicitation?
When setting the stage for the meeting, take into account the sights, smells and sounds – the ambiance. Whether you’re in a restaurant, office, home or on a project site, you will want to find a quiet, intimate spot to have meaningful discussion without interruption.

What do you want the donor to experience?
Your connection and communication with the donor as a whole person is the heart of the solicitation.

Pay close attention to the donor’s style, interests and needs. Listen carefully to how she speaks and notice her posture and how she gestures. Is she relaxed or tense? How does she breathe?

Put the donor at ease. People are most comfortable with people who are like themselves. You can put the donor at ease and establish rapport by mirroring language and gestures. But be careful not to mimic, you will appear inauthentic. Also be sure to understand and respect any cultural sensitivities the donor may have.

Pace the conversation by paying attention to what the donor is saying, and then once you understand where she is coming from, lead her in discussion to a point where you find commonality. Ask creative, engaging and open-ended questions to encourage the donor to talk about her feelings.

When you tell your story and make your solicitation, take your time, don’t rush. Before the meeting think about how you best tell a story and how you feel most confident when asking for a gift. What resources do you need to help you feel centered and energized? Think about how your story and your request will make the donor feel. You should tap into her values, passion and sense of purpose.

After asking for the gift………embrace the silence. This is when the magic happens. The donor needs these quiet moments to digest, reflect and make her decision. Don’t rush this moment. The donor is exploring her wallet and her heart at the same time. Allow her the space to do it.

Keep the outcome positive. If you get the gift you were hoping for, then being positive and appreciative is so much easier. But if you meet with resistance, more questions, or if the donor is not yet ready to make a commitment, be flexible and keep the dialogue positive. Be appreciative during the meeting and continue engagement with the donor afterwards.

Whether you get the gift or not, you will want the donor leaving the solicitation feeling that she genuinely connected with you and your organization. She’ll believe that you have a shared a meaningful time together and that you appreciate her as a person. Talk about and agree on what your next step will be and then, follow-through.

By planning the structure of your solicitation, you will have created a memorable shared experience that deepens communication, strengthens connection and continues to build a lasting relationship with your donor.