Does Personal Solicitation Work in Major Gifts?


Personal solicitation, face-to-face, is proven to be the most effective way to solicit major gifts.  This is the only cost effective way to generate large gifts and higher percentages of participation from donors.


  • Direct mail typical return is 1% to 2% with high costs and low ROI
  • Phone campaigns have an average return rate of 15% to 25%.
  • Personal solicitation, when done correctly, can have a success rate of 75% to 80%!

Even in the smallest of geographical areas it is easy to create the image of passion and commitment from a board member, development staff, program person or trained major gift person. Thus, making contact with the carefully selected major donor prospect is a fulfilling and successful experience for both parties.  The foundation for success is the carefully prepared case for support, training and the appointment.  Costs are low and the returns extremely high with minimal budget risks in this personal solicitation approach.

Getting the major gift is a science as well as an art.  The science is properly prepared research and training.  The art is how you handle the meeting, timing and “the ask.”



Not everyone is comfortable asking for large sums of money, even after all the resources are in hand.  The right person must do “the ask” and make sure they are comfortable and confident in meeting the donor or prospect face-to-face. A good major gift officer enjoys interacting with people.

With the focus on major gifts as the best return, having the right person and the right time becomes the goal of the program.   The first mistake made by most major gift officers is not asking.  The second mistake is hiding in research and case statements and never making the time to go and ask.  Waiting for the “right” time and having enough research can get in the way if the major gift officer is not aware.  A balance is needed in order to succeed.  The major gifts officer is the director and relational part of the process and having a qualified assistant who supports the major gifts officer is the very important behind the scenes part of the process.

A recent Chronicle of Philanthropy poll says that 56% of households have been approached by personal solicitation and asked to give face-to-face by at least one nonprofit; of these, 95% made a donation compared to 79% of the households that did not receive a face-to-face personal solicitation.  Again, the best form of solicitation is a personal visit from the right person and having the right relationship.

The art of being a successful major gifts officer involves enjoying the relationship and means being sincerely interested in people by learning whom they are, where they have been, why they love the organization and their interest for giving.   It is not about who you are or where you have been. It is about the “DONOR and finding a connection of interest. Your goal is to learn what the needs of the donor are.


Getting the major gift must be the most natural part of the process for you and is the reward for your perseverance and hard work.  Giving is something people do to give back what God has given them and you are the catalyst that can make it happen.

Your goals:

  • Do your homework
  • Set up personal visits
  • Stay connected with frequent contact
  • Continue your research and work with a skilled assistant
  • Maintain and keep current your donor file

To begin the process, the first thing you will want to do is your homework before getting to know the donor.  Learn about Who do they know? What is their wealth information (wealth screening is so important along with our data history of giving, what they give to, when they give, etc), where have they worked and what they done to make a difference in the world?

Remember, you don’t need to wait until you have all the research and information before you get to know your donor.  Your visits can be a vital part of the research process. Here are few suggestions of the information you will need:

  • When is their birthday?
  • When is their anniversary?
  • Where did they go to college?
  • What interesting experiences have they had in their life?
  • What do they enjoy doing? Hobbies?
  • Have they traveled?
  • What projects do they like to support
  • Do they like to see the benefit of what their donation has accomplished?

After you have the basic information about them, and you can begin to build the relationship. Have your assistant set up a donor system file and keep all hard copies in a file.  Keep case notes for your hard file.  As you gather information, keep it at your fingertips and be prepared and equipped to begin setting up personal solicitation visits.  Send them a birthday card, anniversary card, newspaper clippings about their college or places they have traveled, or a Starbucks gift card sent in a thank you card and anything else they might enjoy receiving.  This gives you a connection and reason to let them know you care about them. Information is powerful in this process.

To take the next steps in planning your Major Gifts strategy, download our free e-book on A Planned Approach to Major Gifts.


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