Last year I had the opportunity to present a major gifts master class where Jay Love, Founder and President of Bloomerang (and a board member and major donor himself) offered his thoughts on major gifts development from the donor’s perspective.
Since I’m constantly encouraging you to come at donor development from a donor-centered perspective, I want to share his viewpoint with you.
Not surprisingly, major donor development begins and ends with the same thing.
Can you guess what that might be?
It’s the engagement STUPID
I’m sorry to use such a loaded word, but it really is DUMB to think you can ask for a major gift without first engaging with your prospect – multiple times and in multiple ways.
It’s what you’d do in building a relationship with anyone else. A potential friend. A co-worker. Even a family member.
Ultimately, you’re going to be asking for a huge favor.
People don’t do favors for nothing.
They give back to those who give to them!
It’s called reciprocity.
Reciprocity is a huge deal, and don’t you forget it!
Here’s a combination of what Jay suggests (because he says it works for him when he’s wearing his donor hat) and what I suggest (because it’s worked for me when wearing my director of development hat).
How to Read Your Donors More Effectively Over Time
Become part of the family
Have multiple interactions. Make sure they’re fun.
- Offer relevant volunteer opportunities so your major donor prospect sees the mission come to life.
- Include family members (kids; grandkids): tailor opportunities to the different family members’ talents – e.g., I used to bring families with older kids to package beans and rice when I worked at a food bank; I had opportunities for young kids to decorate gift cards to include in care packages delivered to seniors when I worked at a social services agency). Plant seeds that will grow and blossom.
- Offer occasions to get to know multiple folks within your organization (e.g., I used to invite select donors to staff meetings and/or parties).
- This deepens your donor’s engagement, and makes their experience a richer one
- This helps sustain the relationship when there is staff turnover
- Ask folks to join committees; it’s a great testing ground and pathway to board involvement. And it also connects prospects to multiple folks who are passionate about the organization, creating powerful and pleasurable opportunities for networking and socialization among people with shared values.
Ask questions to really draw folks out
Whenever you’re in a room or on the phone with your donor, really take some time to talk to them. Ask open-ended questions. And listen.
- Jay likes “Who was your mentor?” He says this gives you an idea of what makes a deeper relationship in their mind and heart. You learn about someone who took time to help and guide them. Speaking about this also puts the donor in a kind, benevolent frame of mind. It makes them think about wanting to give back too.
- I like “What first got you involved here?” or “What keeps you so passionate about this cause?” This causes the donor to connect with their values, and what is closest to their heart. It puts them in the frame of mind of wanting to make a difference. Or wanting to give back.
Track engagement points from your donor database
People are constantly giving you useful information, even when you don’t ask. Use it! The following will all give you clues as to how to best approach your donor:
- Recency of giving
- Frequency of giving
- Size: upgrade/downgrade
- Number of events attended
- Volunteer history
- Opens emails (on what subject?)
- Forwards emails to friends
- Clicks on links (on what subject?)
- Communication preferences
- Talks about you on social media
- Visits your website
- Inbound interactions – calls, stops by, sends email or text, shares with you on social media, writes you a letter
- Soft credits – matching employer; foundation; DAF (clue they’ll be a donor for many years; folks don’t set them up unless they intend to use them)
Create year-long individual engagement (“moves” “touchpoints”) plans
This is a subject unto itself (one we’ll cover in detail in my upcoming Winning Major Gifts Strategies e-course), but here’s a quick-and-dirty suggestion from Jay when it comes to figuring out which prospects you should spend time to cultivate more personally and persistently:
Break donors into 3 groups
- Provide 0% of funding
- Provide 10% of funding
- Provide 90% of funding – FOCUS HERE!
Makes sense, right?
The major gift ask is seldom the first ask.
So… when it comes to reading your major donor prospect correctly, take care if they’ve never given a gift before. You may want to start with something less ambitious.
Not always, of course.
The key is to keep your donor at the center – it’s not about you and your organization. It’s about the donor and what they want to accomplish (through your organization).
Make them an offer they can’t refuse.
An offer to do something you know they really want to do.
Personalize your appeal.
Show them you know them.
“Usually I’m asked about a specific project and the project will have a range associated with it. Sometimes I’m asked for a specific gift. But a range is fine if I’ve been cultivated to the point where I’m very interested (e.g., we’d like to know if you’d like to support the whole project, or maybe join in with someone else to get this done?)”
Acknowledge and report
The gift is not the end of the relationship. Unless you blow it.
The more continuously you delight your donors, the more continuously they’ll delight you.
One of the best ways is simply to share stories that bring your mission to life.
Show them the impact of their giving.
Reassure them you are a good steward of their philanthropy.
Have a system in place
The best major gifts operations are well-oiled machines. This takes time, of course. But you’ve got to at least begin!
It takes a team of folks touching base with your prospects, and each interaction must become part of your institutional memory.
Think of your donor as a book, one that you’ve read multiple times until it’s well highlighted and annotated. Put these highlights and annotations in your database, so they’re easy for you to access and for other staff on your team to find.
Donors get ticked off if they tell you stuff; then you forget it. They want you to KNOW THEM!
Consider additional intelligence from external sources
For major gifts fundraising, you may want to invest in wealth screening and/or predictive modeling to help you understand how ready your prospects are to give. Outsourcing in this manner will save you time.
You can also do this research on your own. Google can be your friend! Even if you have purchased analytics, it’s never a bad idea to do a little bit of internet research to see what’s going on in your prospect’s life. LinkedIn and Facebook can be good sources of intelligence as well.
Just remember, use the information you have judiciously. You don’t want to come off as a stalker. Use it to help formulate open-ended questions to draw your donor out. Let them tell you what you already learned. For example, if you learn they are a golfer, ask them about their hobbies. If you see they attended school near an area you’ve lived or travelled in, ask them where they went to school; then you can share stories about the area. And so forth.
Important Readiness to Give Indicators per Jay Love
- Previous giving to you
- Giving to other nonprofits (are they giving them more? Why? Ask them what caused them to become so involved there?)
- Participates as a foundation trustee
- Political giving
- Real estate ownership
Reconnect with lapsed major donors
Don’t overlook lapsed major donors. Clearly they loved you at some point, so they have a higher likelihood of giving to you right out of the gate than most other prospects.
Talk to them about their past gifts, and what caused them to give. Reignite their passions! Show them some donor love.
Reconnect. Show them you’re interested in them, their life, their family and career. Maybe nobody really took the time to talk to them in the past. Or to report back to them. Apologize, and try to rekindle the spark.
Find out if they’re still interested in the project they previously funded.
Don’t necessarily ask right away. Take the time to rebuild the relationship.
This will logically lead to something else down the road
Broach the subject of legacy giving
Talk to folks to see if they are interested in leaving a legacy, especially those who’ve given at higher levels for two years or more.
Talk face-to-face. If they live at some distance, try to coordinate around your donor’s travel plans and/or yours so you can find a time when you’ll be in close proximity. If that fails, try a Skype call.
Ask if they’ve ever considered leaving a legacy to perpetuate their values.
Ask what it would take to get them to consider this.
Talk about a project opportunity.
Offer ongoing recognition (e.g. Legacy Society).
Almost everyone wants to leave some remembrance of their time on this planet.
Be patient and don’t worry
Jay Love says the shortest amount of time he’s been involved in a major gift cultivation before making a gift was three years:
“And that’s because I was involved with them as a volunteer. Otherwise, around 5 years.”
Whatever you do, don’t feel bad about asking! When asked how he feels when he’s asked for a major gift, Jay says:
“I’m always flattered. Then it’s just a matter of whether (1) it falls within our family’s area of interest, and (2) is it the right time to make that gift now.”
Work on YOU
- Strive for continuous improvement and education
- Seek out mentors who’ve experience asking for major gifts
- Become a donor to see how you’re treated by other organizations
- Build relationships with financial planners, estate attorneys, CPAs (use an advisory committee to make referrals and help you answer complex questions)
Think about what works for you when you’re wearing your donor hat.
It’s a good place to begin when you’re thinking about getting inside your donor’s head and trying to understand what makes them tick.
To your success!
Want more Winning Major Gifts Strategies?
It’s time for my most popular e-course of the year – Winning Major Gifts Strategies for the small to medium-sized shop! You can grab the Early Bird deal for subscribers only before December 20th. The course runs for 8 weeks, but it’s completely self-paced. Can’t get to it now? Save it until you’re ready. I only offer it once/year.
Keep in mind: Giving USA reports that 71% of giving comes from individuals. Another 9% comes from individual bequests. So the lion’s share of philanthropy comes from people. Not foundations. Not businesses. Not events. And 80% or more of your annual giving will likely come from 20% or less of your individual donors. Having a robust major donor program is the key to long-term, sustainable fundraising.
Questions? Ask me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo by Claire Axelrad as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums