“I finally have a visit scheduled with Dr. Smith for tomorrow!”
This was the joyful exclamation made to me recently by a gift officer. I smiled and congratulated him on the achievement. Dr. Smith had been one of those prospects who made himself very slippery. He was believed to have the capacity to make a substantial gift, perhaps even a transformational one, if he so chose. But the institution never had a meaningful relationship with him.
He gave, but they were mostly token gifts. If he was caught at an event, he would agree to the notion of meeting with the gift officer. But when the actual outreach was made to confirm a date and time, he went into dark mode – rarely responding, or responding in such a tardy fashion as to be unhelpful. This went on for almost 2 years and became a running joke among the team of major gift officers. But, now, it appeared the visit would happen.
I was genuinely happy for the gift officer and for the institution because of the possibilities associated with this visit. So, I asked the gift officer this question:
“When you finish your visit with Dr. Smith, what do you hope to come away with?”
The gift officer paused and said, “I want to share our funding priorities with him and see what he thinks.”
“Ok, so the primary purpose of the visit is for him to learn more about your plans?” I asked.
He struggled to articulate a response. “Well, yes,” he said, “and to ask him what he thinks of our plans.”
“Ok, I’m with you. Let me encourage you to go a step or two further with that questioning part of your visit. What if you think of your time with him as an informal interview of sorts?” I asked. “What if, instead of sharing with him during this first visit all of the exciting plans the institution has, you ask him well-crafted questions that will help clarify the ‘3 P’s of Discovery’?”
I continued, “It seems to me that you still need some important discovery questions answered about Dr. Smith. For instance, before moving too fast with sharing your case statement, it could be very helpful for you to gain more clarity about him and his interests. Specifically, I would encourage you to seek more understanding about his:
Prosperity – what size gift could he make if he were really engaged with you? Does he really have the capacity that you believe he does?
Propensity – how generous, in general, is he? Especially since he hasn’t given much to you over the years. Has he made major gifts elsewhere and, if so, what motivated those gifts?
Passion – what is it, specifically, about our institution, program, or project, which aligns with his values and interests?
So often gift officers feel pressure (real and perceived) to share the case for support before learning what needs to be learned about the prospect. A few well-articulated, open-ended questions, such as those below can be exceptionally helpful:
- “I’d love to hear more about the other institutions you support. What has encouraged you to get involved/stay involved with them?” or
- “As you think about all the gifts you’ve made, which ones stick out as being especially meaningful for you?” or
- “From what you know of us right now, which areas/programs/initiatives/projects/etc. do you believe are especially important?”
People will tell you many important facts about themselves when you ask in a way that communicates sincere interest in them and their stories. And after you gain more clarity on the 3 P’s, you’ll be in a much better position to invite them to transform your institution through their giving.