Just last week a client hosted a fundraising event, called Party With A Purposefor about 50 people. The president of the organization needed to “make the ask.” Over the past year of working together, I have seen him grow as a solicitor in one-on-one situations; but, I’d also seen him struggle when asking for support in a group setting. He’s a great speaker, but hadn’t quite managed to master this very tricky skill.
Group solicitations present unique challenges, but an effective speaker can create an emotionally charged atmosphere that inspires higher levels of giving. I knew this to be the case and wanted to make sure that he was able to capitalize on the opportunity. I wrote a few tips for him, and we talked through them together. I am pleased to report that that evening he gave the best solicitation I’d ever heard him give.
Because of his success I decided to present these tips to our readers: The next time you are called on to make a public solicitation (or coach someone else), use these tips to avoid the potential pitfalls and make the most of the opportunity:
· Pace and Volume: You’ve probably noticed that inexperienced public speakers are too fast and quiet. Since a group solicitation is first and foremost a public speaking event you need to be aware of these common problems. With a little practice and mindfulness you can avoid them.
Tip: Designate someone in the audience to watch your pace and volume. Glance toward this person for signs and then adjust your pace and volume. Your pace should be half your normal speed and approximately 1/3 louder than normal. Just knowing they are there will help you be mindful of both.
Eye Contact: A disadvantage in making public solicitations is that you don’t have the chance to connect with the people you are soliciting – to look them in the eye and make your case. But you can help people feel that one-to-one connection by making direct eye contact with them.
Tip: No more than six sentences should be uttered without a brief pause; (2) select four people in the audience, all in different areas of the room. At each pause, focus your gaze alternately on two of them. Making direct eye contact with one individual will make everyone in their area feel like you are looking right at them.
Tip: Economy of words: Normally, a group solicitation has two key messages which must be conveyed: (1) why the appeal you are making is urgent, and (2) the need for those in the audience to offer their support.
Tip: Choose your words carefully and stick to your core message. Less is, indeed, more.
State your investment: When you are asking for support from a group it’s important that you also be a supporter and that you share this fact. It makes your ask more powerful. Tell the story of why you donated and at what level.
Tip: As you transition from talking about the case for support to asking for their charitable giving, use the announcement of your own gift as the bridge between the two. Your personal commitment is the icing on the cake.
Convey optimism: Nobody wants to be associated with a lackluster cause and, conversely, everyone wants to be part of a success.
Tip: After you have shared the details of your own giving (and paused after doing so, allowing others to absorb the information and digest the details), share with the group other aspects of your fundraising approach which point to eventual success: a matching challenge perhaps, or how close you are to achieving your goals, or that 100% of your board has made a financial commitment.
Clarity of ask: Those attending events of this genre know that there will be a fundraising moment, and this is a significant advantage. Your ask needs to be the dramaticconclusion to your remarks.
Tip: Prior to asking for their support, take a deep breath, smile, and make the ask along the lines of: “I believe that you have an opportunity right now to join me in supporting a special organization. The time is now because the need is pressing. In your packets are pledge forms—on the left side. I hope that you are inspired by our organization and programs, and see that it is of value to our community. I ask that you consider a commitment in the most generous amount. We have pledges ranging from $(low end) to $(high end), and any amount that you consider will be most appreciated.”
Golden Rule of Silence: Typical advice for a one-on-one ask is that you don’t say a word after the ask is made so that you give the person a chance to think about what you’ve said. By speaking you diminish the power of your ask. You can’t do that with a group, but you can still capitalize on the power of silence.
Tip: Pause for only 10-15 seconds and then announce that pledge forms, when completed, may be given to you or persons who you will now identify in the audience. Ask those who will collect the pledge forms to raise their hands. Two or three collectors are usually enough, but at a very large event you may need a collector at every table. Then smile, offer a simple thank you, and exit the stage.