Saturday, July 19, 2008

Elicit Before You Solicit

If I had to sum up thirty years of philanthropic experience in a few short sentences, one of them would be, "The more you elicit from donors, the more successful your solicitations will be."

Elicit, of course means to draw out or bring forth. And what we are trying to draw out of our donors, well before we solicit their support, is their passions. What do they care most deeply about? What issues or current events affect them most deeply? Where do they think the human condition is in the greatest need of attention? Where do they volunteer? Why?

Our first or early calls on would-be donors should focus on eliciting their passions. Here are some questions that could be helpful:

What were the building blocks of your success?

Who or what made a difference in shaping your talents and virtues?

What are the most important lessons of your life?

What gives you most hope? What troubles you most?

What are the most important lessons or values we should pass on to the next generations?

What will the future demand of us? What adjustments will we need to make?

Who is making the most positive contributions to society?

Who or what organizations do you admire?

What has been your most rewarding civic, volunteer, or philanthropic experience?

Do you have a philanthropic plan?

If we ask the right questions and listen patiently and sincerely, we can then see if it is genuinely possible to align the passions of those we seek out with the purposes and aspirations of the institutions we represent. If we can help others understand the meaning of their lives, we can show them how to extend that meaning to others through philanthropy. We can show them that we are not just asking them to give to our organizations but through them to create a better world.

James Michael Langley

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