Closing Major Gifts: How to Seal the Deal

By Nancy Peterman

Closing major gifts can be a challenge. We’ve all worked with donors who, for various reasons, just don’t take that final step and put their signature to paper.  After a lot of hard work and activities designed specifically to yield well-received solicitations, the frustration of not being able to include a major gift in the campaign totals is felt by development officers and campaign volunteers all over.

The following real life examples of the elusive closing signature may feel all too similar to situations you have encountered yourself.

  • A prospect agrees in principle to a seven-figure gift, but is hesitant month-after-month to finalize the paperwork.
  • Another donor offers a six-figure pledge to the campaign, but has trouble deciding which campaign priority to support.
  • A third promises a decision soon to your proposal, and after six months, the decision is still pending.

Sound familiar?

Here is how each example eventually played out.

The first prospect needed the camaraderie of sharing his signing ceremony with a second donor, whom he had solicited himself. This push of persuasion from his peer was instrumental in gaining the necessary signature and they celebrated with champagne and a photographer to capture the moment.

The second donor was not an alumnus of the institution, but in appreciation of the city’s quality of life improving due to the institution’s presence and work, he had given a $100,000 restricted gift to “something.” After trying and failing with meetings, tours, and high-level briefings, he finally put his gift in writing, with our suggestion that he “reserve the right to determine a restriction for his gift by the end of the campaign period.” Ultimately he chose to restrict his gift for a friend’s memorial chair, which met his need for a meaningful restriction.

The third (and most difficult) prospect is still unresolved.  Even with the proposal reviewed, meetings with professors and the chancellor, as well as a staff follow-up, the deal has yet to be sealed.  By all accounts – including the prospects! – the gift is still viable. In order to wrap this up, it is our responsibility to continue the conversation, and determine when the time will be right to close the deal.  Fortunately, we still have four more years to discuss!

As you can tell from these examples – and probably from your own experience – each individual is as unique as their situation. It may take teamwork, brainstorming, and understanding of the prospect’s concerns or reasons for delay, but with determination (and patience!), you will find the perfect solution to get that signature and continue your campaign.