Virtual vs. in-Person Solicitation for Major Gifts: Predicting the Future of Fundraising

This article is submitted by Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE.

For the last decade, I’ve written, spoken, taught, and even preached about the benefits of in-person solicitation for raising major gifts.

The success I’m seeing with virtual solicitations taking place these days has made me reconsider some of my own assumptions and question what the future of fundraising will look like.

Of course, in-person visits are off the table for now. But social distancing doesn’t mean you should stop raising major gifts. In fact, the need to raise big gifts is likely more important than ever.

So — through no choice of their own — fundraisers everywhere have made the transition to speaking with their donors and soliciting them virtually (by phone and video chat) in record numbers.

And they’re finding success — a whole lot of success.

I’ve heard from hundreds of fundraisers on my blog, on social media, and through my weekly coronavirus townhall sessions that donors are giving generously when asked over the phone and via video chat. You and your peers have raised 5, 6, and yes, even 7-figure gifts virtually.

So what does this mean for the future of fundraising?

COVID-19 is changing the face of fundraising — permanently

COVID-19 and its economic impact are changing us in ways we never imagined, and in ways we probably still can’t imagine. Will it change the way we work and learn and socialize? Certainly. Will it change the values we pass on to our kids and grandkids as a result? Definitely.

This leaves us on the precipice of a new world with many questions about what that world will look like:

  • Will shaking hands return or will we be bumping elbows at business meetings for years to come?
  • Will movie theaters make a comeback or have insta-streaming new releases sounded their death knell?
  • How will COVID-19 change the way we conduct our nonprofit work and raise money in the long term?

An unexpected silver lining

A silver lining to come from social distancing is that it’s forced us to transition to virtual solicitation, both over the phone and by video chat. And it’s actually working!

So that begs the question:

Will virtual solicitation continue to work in the future?

If we look at the numbers, we can make some educated guesses.

Predicting the future of fundraising

COVID-19 is changing the face of fundraising - permanently

This crisis has forced fundraisers to connect with donors in record numbers — in ways they’ve rarely tried before. Anecdotal evidence shows that record numbers of people are picking up the phone. Of course, it’s likely, in large part, because so many people are home. As people start to venture out and return to work, it may become more difficult to reach donors again.

However, asking virtually is turning out to be so efficient and effective that it’s certainly worthwhile to question whether we should ever go back (completely) to the way things were before our 2020 pandemic.

The benefits of virtual solicitation for major gifts

It was always considered the gold standard to ask in person. We may go back to that for raising the biggest gifts, but virtual solicitation is likely to be a key component of fundraising from here on out. It’s proving to be efficient and effective.

1. Virtual solicitation is EFFICIENT

It seems to be easier to get appointments over the phone and by video chat — at least for the time being. But I wouldn’t be surprised if that continues to be true beyond COVID-19, now that so many people have been forced to become more familiar with video chat technologies (and the convenience that they bring).

There’s no travel time with virtual meetings. In the past, major gift officers could meet one or two people per day when they had in-person appointments. Now, they are able to have 3, 4, or even 5 meaningful calls per day. That’s a huge increase in productivity!

Image of woman virtual fundarising

2. Virtual solicitation is EFFECTIVE

Donors are giving major gifts virtually. Is it because we’re in a crisis? Possibly. However, if you have a compelling case for support moving forward, it may not be any different than right now.

And while I don’t have a crystal ball, I believe virtual solicitation will be added to a fundraiser’s toolbox for a long, long time to come.

So is virtual solicitation here to stay? I think it’s a pretty safe bet.

Help Connecting With Donors Virtually

If you’re still struggling to get your head around the in’s and out’s of virtual solicitation, I’ve put together a quick 15-minute video on how to pick up the phone and virtually reach out to your donors.

What kind of success have you had?

Are you having success with virtual solicitation? How does it compare with asking in person? Share your experience in the comments below.

About Amy Eisenstein

Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, is one of the country’s leading fundraising consultants. She is also the CEO and Co-Founder of the Capital Campaign Toolkit. She’s raised millions of dollars for dozens of nonprofits through event planning, grant writing, capital campaigns, and major gift solicitations. She has a real talent for making fundraising simple and accessible for her clients and followers.

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by Emily Patz

Mar 8 21
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