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Fearless Fundraising: Readying yourself for the “Ask”

Fearless Fundraising: Readying yourself for the “Ask”

“Fearless Fundraising” is a series on church and non-profit fundraising by Charles LaFond, a consultant, spiritual companion and master potter living on a farm in New Mexico. Charles is the author of many books including Fearless Church Fundraising, Fearless Major Gifts: Inspiring Meaning-making and now, Note to Self. For hundreds of free model documents, videos and Icons for use in fundraising go to


The gentleman in this photo is well-known to me.  He sleeps beneath my office window from time to time, or in the wood chips by the bank next door for the warmth of the sun. He reminds me why I do what I do. He suffers, and my fundraising will, I hope, alleviate his suffering.  He and Kai and I often share a sandwich. True, he is experiencing homelessness, but he is a WONDER-ful human being.


It is a tremendous honor to ask major donors to invest in solutions to homelessness (or anything meaningful really).  Jesus would recognize the work.  Jesus mentioned it.  He never said much about investing in liturgy – but visiting the sick, caring for the homeless, feeding the hungry, listening to the lonely? Yup…I remember that being mentioned.  And I find that as the generations shift, the Church and her Bishops and clergy are going to find that in about 15 years, funding for Sunday worship will begin to quickly evaporate with the death of the Silent Generation – the last to invest with pledges into church-Sunday-morning-funding.  The institutional church as we know it, funded as we know it; will molt into something new in about 23 Easters when ecclesial funding dries up. So now is the time to prepare just as 1970 was the time to prepare for global warming cessation… or not.


For now, pledges are coming in (even if we need to fight a bit harder each year to raise them (remember how it was when global warming was new…?) There is always a canary in the mine shaft. The question is this: Is anyone listening for the end of the song?


So we need to ask for major gifts.  And we know that we need 5-8 conversations BEFORE we ask.  So, when we visit or ask for a major gift from a major donor prospect in a church or non-profit, we need to midwife the holy conversation with great care and some valuable tools. One such tool is “The Call Sheet.”


It is quite simple and yet it is the one thing – essential to major gift fundraising – which is too quickly and easily ignored with “Oh, I meant to do that but got into other things and forgot.”  And sometimes we ignore it out of conscious or unconscious resistance because it feels creepy and invasive – which it could be if the author were to be reckless with his or her writing.


What is a call sheet (which has many names)?  It is simply a few paragraphs about the visit.  When you visit a major donor prospect for the “living room visit” or “office visit,” to build relationships between the rector or development officer or lay leader and the donor in question, you will want a record of the visit.  This is essential.  Even if you have a parish of 30 families, four or five of them will be major gifts prospects even if only because of a potential planned gift after death. If you have 200 families then you will have 30 major gifts prospects and will want to measure your visits with them to discuss major gifts.


Vestries and non-profit boards should measure these visits made by your clergy or Bishops, Executive Directors or Development Officers because “What gets measured gets done!” Hold them accountable.  Ask hard questions about doing this work. It is work which will, in the next 10 years, be the most productive for fund development.  Asking for major gifts is also a ministry to the donors who need to and want to give some money away.


But when the visit is over and you are driving back to your office, what then? “A Call Sheet of course!”


A call sheet is simply your record of what you discussed (so that you can refer to it before the next meeting.) What could make the call sheet creepy is the inclusion of very personal things (alcoholism, a poor marriage, cancer, an annoying habit, etc.) so avoid including that!  Nothing, and I mean NOTHING in your notes from the visit (The Call Sheet) should be on the page which you would not want the donor to see were they able to see their major gifts file.


Here is what “The Major Gifts Visit Call Sheet” should include when it is printed and placed in their major gifts CONFIDENTIAL file.

1. The author’s name, names of all involved, date, place, focus.

2. What did you learn about the donor prospect’s interests?

3. What did you learn about the donor prospect’s wealth? (Second home, address on park avenue, collection of Faberge Eggs, etc.)

You record these things assuming you feel they would not mind that being included. But remember that they know you have a job to do and their university, hospital, private school, local museum, etc., is absolutely doing these visits and this record-keeping very, very well.

4 .What did you learn about the donor prospect’smeaning-making?In what do they like to invest their philanthropy?

5. What would the donor prospect like to see or experience next in this process of discussing a major gift (IE: a wish list? A proposal? A list of previous, recent donors? blueprints for a building plan? A budget? A campaign plan? A statement from past donors as to why THEY gave early and robustly?)

6. What is your next step in the conversation? Who needs to be involved?What needs to be done?



Print, file, done. Set the next visit after a hand-written thank you note.


But in the end, never forget the gentleman or lady whose suffering the gifts will one day alleviate.  That image of human suffering, like the image above of my friend who is experiencing homelessness, alleviated by your non-profit or church, is the whole point of the gift and the whole point of the fundraising.  True, some give to projects of beauty like capital campaigns or art collections, but those are beginning to wane among younger donors, so be careful! Be sure that what you are raising money for is of real value.  If it is, the donor will invest and the call was needed as will be the Call Sheet when you are next invited to the living room for a conversation about deeper giving by the donor.



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