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5 Key Factors of Solicitation Preparation

It is extremely important for school leaders to understand and embrace the dimensions of successful development processes. When development suffers, the school suffers. When development grows, the school grows. ​Missing these important steps prior to major gift solicitation will lead to hap hazardous outcomes.

Much of the following is adapted from the writing of Jerry Twombly, founder of CDP, and shared by permission. Please visit to learn more.

What Is Development?

While most people might think of development as “fundraising,” it is so much more far-reaching. School development is more typically known to involve the following essentials of operations: Fundraising, student recruitment, public relations, volunteer recruitment/retention, database management, and strategic planning. But, most of all, development is relational! Development represents those things we do within our organization to build rational relationships with others. Successful development encompasses doing the right things organizationally, the right way, at the right time, involving the right people and resources, to sustain the involvement of our constituents. Development Work is Relational – The primary focus of development is the establishment of relationships.

  • The Role of Emotion in Relationships – While people may be drawn emotionally to the work of your school; they will only sustain their involvement with you as they become rationally committed to your mission. Like falling in love, “It is an emotion that brings us together; it is rationalism that keeps us together.”

  • The Role of Rationalism in Relationships – No one feels abused and manipulated in a true relationship. Individuals within a relationship don’t expect perfection. They do expect to be dealt with honestly and with integrity.

Key Factor #1: Planning

Most non-profit organizations operate without one or more of those things important to their development success. A sense of frustration often characterizes board members, administrative staff, personnel, constituents, and prospective donors of these organizations.

  1. Organizations without a mission statement that makes sense and can be lived out in practice are treading water, unable to effectively evaluate progress (or success) in their work.

  2. Organizations without a clearly articulated vision are most generally managed re-actively and seldom achieve their potential.

  3. Organizations without a strategic plan are constantly frustrated and often move aimlessly in a variety of directions following a variety of plans. The reality is, If you don’t have a plan, there are several people in your organization that do!

  4. Organizations without a development plan lack focus and success. This generally results in a deterioration of enthusiasm for your work among all constituents.

​Development work is infrastructural. Every day you build an infrastructure to support what you will do tomorrow. It is an understanding of this important fact that could change the effectiveness of your organization. ​Why Donors Continue to Give

  1. They Know Your Mission – They know what you’re all about. You must communicate that mission regularly through all the resources that are available to you.

  2. They Believe in the Mission – The individuals who sustain their involvement with you believe in your mission; they feel it is important that you be successful in achieving your organizational goals.

  3. They are Irrevocably Convinced That You Can Accomplish Your Mission – They sustain their support because they have reason to believe that you can do exactly what you say you are committed to doing!

Key Factor #2: Prospecting Donors

Many organizations express frustration for their lack of potential prospects. It should be remembered that no organization lacks the potential of accomplishing its goals. In the discussion of potential prospects, it is important to understand the difference between your organization’s universe and market universe.

  • Universe – An individual’s personal “sphere of influence.” Among these people are those of whom you have earned the right to be heard. The average universe of the average individual in North America is 40.

  • Market Universe – This represents the total of all the individual universes of everyone in your community who has been impacted by the work of your organization, either directly or indirectly. The number is enormous. ​

Capturing Your Universe – A prospective supporter of your organization is not a prospect until you have their name and address recorded in your database. A primary function of your development program should be the acquisition of names. Good development provides a means of capturing the names of individuals who have demonstrated an interest in the mission of your organization.

Key Factor #3: Qualifying Donors

The development process is somewhat analogous to courtship. Once a prospective marriage partner has been identified, generally a process takes place wherein we determine whether or not we want to pursue the relationship (we qualify, or narrow down the field)! There are a variety of ways in which development qualification occurs. Included among them are: Linkage – Simply stated, “the closer someone is linked to you; the greater the likelihood that they will support you.” There are two kinds of linkage:

  • Natural Linkage – This is the linkage that exists among individuals who are directly impacted by what you do.

  • Created Linkage – This is the linkage that has been created by an organization through creative applications of projects and/or programs.

​*An Important Reminder – One of the most important developmental initiatives is to create linkage among those groups of people with whom we do not have natural linkage. Relationships – Of the multiplied thousands of potential prospects with whom you have the potential of building a relationship, each one will fall into one of three broad categories. These are:

  • Nuclear Prospect – A “nuclear” prospect represents someone who has “benefited directly” from the services you provide. It would include clients, their immediate families, staff, board members, etc.

  • Affinity Prospect – An “affinity” prospect is anyone who “benefits indirectly” from the services you provide. This might include churches, extended family members of clients, friends, employers, vendors with whom you conduct business, etc.

  • Fringe Prospects – A “fringe” prospect is anyone who lives or conducts business in the same geographic area where you provide your services. This would include wealthy people, corporations, businesses, foundations, and charitable trusts.

Another way to qualify prospects is based on their assumed wealth. Some organizations create an arbitrary system for qualifying prospects using a scale similar to the following.

  • Principal Level Donor Prospect – A Principal Level Donor prospect is one who is capable of making a single or multi-year high 5-figure or higher gift.

  • Major Donor Prospect – A Major Donor prospect would be anyone who might consider making contributions in support of your organization of more than $10,000 each year.

  • Mid-Level Donor Prospect – A Mid-Level Donor prospect would be anyone who might consider making annual contributions in support of your organization of $1,000 to $10,000.

  • A Core Donor Prospect – A Core Donor is anyone who gives monthly or annual gifts in support of your work totaling up to $1,000.

Key Factor #4: Measuring Donor Affinity (Interest)

A key step in the developmental process is cultivation. It is the “courtship” aspect of relationship building. It takes time, energy, and planning. It must be tracked to be truly developmentally effective. Not Everyone Is In the Same Relationship With You – It is important to remember that not everyone you identify as someone with whom you would like to build a relationship is in the same relationship with your organization and your mission as the person next to him or her in your prospect database. A common mistake made in development is to treat everyone on the database alike. This “cookie-cutter” approach to development prevents organizations from achieving their developmental potential. Think of prospects from a cultivation standpoint in one of four broad categories:

  • Grade each donor - A, B, C, D

  • Identify vestiture – (AID) – where the donor-prospect, (A) Attends an event or function of your organization; (I) They show high interest by involving themselves in a process, event, or need; (D) They have donated to your organization in the recent past.

An “A” level prospect – has a match in all three AID categories (attended something you sponsored, are actively involved, and made contributions in the past). A “B” level prospect – has a match in two of the three AID categories. A “C” level prospect – has a match in just one of the three AID categories. A “D” level prospect – has no match in any of the AID categories (has some linkage to the school - not the “Bill Gates” type of prospect).

Key Factor #5: Assessing Investment Potential

Prospects who have invested something in your work are most likely to become sustained donors. Not all prospects are invested. Non-invested “D” cultivated prospects are very unlikely donors. Something has to happen to improve the likelihood of their involvement both now and in the future.

Conclusion (for now)

These are 5 key factors that must precede solicitation. To do an end-around on any of the above can be detrimental to schools being successful in truly establishing development strengths and proper practices. To learn more above establishing step-by-step essentials for fund development at your school CLICK HERE. ​Authored by Clint Holden © SchoolRIGHT, LLC., unless otherwise specified. All rights reserved.


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