Think fast – who is the first person you would approach for your first campaign leadership gift? If your organization is like most, you’ve hesitated to answer this question and the others that follow it: Who is next and who needs to be involved in order for others to invest?

Engaging your most committed stakeholders and evangelists of your mission early on is essential to setting a pace that will drive your campaign straight across the finish line. This is why your campaign should begin with a top-down, inside-out sequence of solicitation, which means those closest to your organization who have the ability to the make the larger gifts should be at the head of your top prospect list. To help determine who these important prospects are, know these basic rules about sequencing your prospect list – and build in flexibility to seize the opportunities that a well-executed campaign will no doubt present you!

  1. A gift pyramid’s foundation is at its top because strong lead gifts impact other gifts at lower levels. Potential donors are drawn in because of the campaign’s success thus far – so start strong! Even if those lead donors do not have time to volunteer, the unspoken message they send speaks louder than anything else. Start with the largest leadership gifts and work your way down.
  2. The First Gift donor should always be involved as a leader in your campaign. Look to an already-recognized leader for the first gift. Their strong example will provide crucial leverage for the campaign.
  3. The Best Gift is not necessarily the First. Trading capacity for influence can make sense sometimes. The Best Gift donor may not be a campaign leader, but such a leader should be involved in making the gift request (and must have already given).
  4. The board may not be your best prospects. Resist the urge to solicit the entire board just because they are there. Make your first ten solicitations reflect the highest capacity request amounts.

But how do you determine who your best prospects are for the First Gift and the Best Gift? A recent Philanthropy 360 post, Prospecting 101, highlights a simple process to identify, qualify and segment donors. While this process can provide information about a donor’s public profile and their history with your organization, a planning study is a useful tool for providing the following campaign-specific information that could affect the donor order of gift sequencing:

  • Gift Indication (a prospect’s capacity)
  • Peer Citations (a prospect’s influence)
  • Goal Viability (a prospect’s confidence)
  • Affinity for Specific Priority (a prospect’s inclination)

After gathering all the information and doing the proper research on a donor, the next hurdle to conquer – and the most interesting – is the donor’s history and personal relationship with the organization and other donors. Do the Thompsons need to give before the Johnsons even pay attention? Will John Smith be the key to effectively engage Jane Doe? Are the Williams going to be offended that the Browns were asked first? Exploring these questions can help favorably position each leadership gift donor so when the big ask occurs, they are positive and supportive of the organization and the campaign.

Gift sequencing is an art. You can run all the predictive models and have the finest prospect research at hand, but unless you strategically move a prospective donor through a logical sequence that increases their commitment to your organization, you have missed a best scenario opportunity. It takes many considerations, and some strategic engineering, to give the early stages of a campaign a strong foundation and sustained momentum. Success with these initial gifts will bring not only early and substantial results, but also a sense of commitment and inevitability to your campaign effort.

How has your organization leveraged an effective sequence of gift solicitations?

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