The 39 Steps

The 39 Steps

Post by James V. Toscano

The following is a teaching tool to be used with potential solicitors after research has been done, after ratings have been done by a committee, and after a campaign has been organized. It assumes a team of two persons making the call: a peer volunteer and a professional staff person expert in the substance of the campaign, not often a development officer. Two volunteers could make the call, but it is always better to have one peer and one professional, the president or executive director, and a board member. This is part of a larger system: The Ten Strategies for Success.

39 steps is a nod to Alfred Hitchcock, so there is no magic in the number.


1. Schedule an interview/appointment.

2. Get interview scheduled by phone, but don’t have it turned it into the solicitation.

3. Prepare for the interview: Know donor history, interests. Rehearse the actual interview.

4. Think out in advance other needed involvements of prospect.

5. Decide in advance on the amount to ask for with a peer rating group.

6. Don’t be afraid to ask for a large gift, perhaps with a multi-year pay-out.

7. Take a knowledgeable second person, a peer of the prospect, with you.

8. At the interview, eliminate barriers, keep it eyeball to eyeball.

9. Use materials – Bring something that is difficult to throw away.

10. Get the prospect involved through shared values.

11. Show optimism, warmth. Talk about successes of the organization and the beneficial outcomes of its work.

12. Let the prospect know they are needed for continuing success.

13. Ask for help, advice.

14. Get prospect to talk about their experiences with the organization or the values it represents.

15. Compliment donors on past advice, gifts; thank them for past service, gifts.

16. Involve prospects through questions:

a. Fact-finding to verify research

b. Feeling questions: “How do you feel about…?”

c. Challenge questions: “What do you think…?”

17. Listen to prospect’s answers.

18. Reassure prospects that the organization will do what it promises to do’ give examples of previous accountability.

19. Use examples, anecdotes, statistics, surveys about organization’s needs against the backdrop of its successes.

20. Treat prospect’s objections as questions.

21. Use more than one meeting if you are going for a very large gift. Try to have prospect visit site.

22. Have a different person with you for second visit.

23. Be in loose control of the interview.

24. Ask for the gift – ask for a specific amount.

25. Show direct benefit of gift to society, to prospect’s values.

26. Show how tax laws help prospect give large gifts.

27. Break down gifts by year, month, day.

28. If agreed, have prospect sign pledge card.

29. Close the interview – don’t overstay.

30. Don’t take “no” for an answer – suggest prospect take more time – set up follow-up appointment.

31. Follow up with 24-hour turnaround thank you letter.

32. Have other trustees acknowledge gifts with thank you’s.

33. Ask donor to suggest others who might give. Ask donor if they would be willing to call on others for the organization.

34. Write call report after de-briefing.

35. Keep donors involved. Communicate often.

36. Ask for other things besides money: Advice, ideas, time.

37. Invite donors to non-fundraising events. Appropriately reward them with symbolic exchanges.

38. Send progress reports, milestone/achievement reports, annual reports.

39. Repeat.

Article is Copyrighted by James V. Toscano, Becky Glass and Kathy DeShaw.

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