Every nonprofit should have a major gifts program. Because that’s where the lion’s share of the money is.
It’s a rare organization that has a mailing list large enough to raise a million dollars from a million different $1 donors. But most nonprofits do have major donor prospects hiding in plain sight.
It’s up to you to find them; then move them along a cultivation path that prepares them – and you – to make an ask that results in a win/win values-based exchange.
Let’s review the full panoply of secrets that will guarantee your major gifts program is a success, whatever your size.
10 Secrets to Major Gift Fundraising Success
Plan the Work (Part 1)
- Your Major Gift Amount
- The Right Prospects for You
- The Best Case for Support for this Campaign
- A Gift Chart Tied to Your Fundraising Goal
- A Cultivation Plan for Each Prospect
Work the Plan (Part 2)
- The Right Solicitor(s)
- The Right Decision-maker(s)
- The Prepared Solicitor(s)
- Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Organization
- Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Donor
In Part 1 we covered the behind-the-scenes essentials.Today we’ll cover the keys to working your plan.
6. The Right Solicitor(s)
There is no one right solicitor for every prospect. Ask yourself a series of questions from the perspective of your targeted prospect. Does the prospect know who the asker is? Will the asker be perceived as important, authoritative, credible, friendly or otherwise persuasive?
ACTION TIP: Consider whether one or more solicitors should be involved. Sometimes you’ll have one person serve as the “educator” and the other as the “asker.” The former may be a knowledgeable staff member (e.g., doctor, teacher, researcher, program manager, executive director, development director) while the latter may be a volunteer leader or peer with a relationship to the prospect.
SECRET: There are no hard and fast rules on who should play these various solicitor roles. You just want to know, going in, which role is being played by whom. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving the room without ever getting to the solicitation.
7. The Right Decision-Maker(s)
Are all the necessary people in the room? You may as well have everyone there who will ultimately influence the donor’s decision. Otherwise, you’re counting on the person you meet with to convey what you said to someone else. This is a bit like the game of telephone. Something gets lost in translation.
ACTION TIP: Consider whether you should include a spouse, adult child or significant other? What about a legal, financial or philanthropic advisor? If this is a gift from a family with a private foundation, perhaps it will be several family members together?
SECRET: You put a lot of work into preparing your “dog and pony show.” Make sure you extend invitations to everyone who should be in attendance.
8. The Prepared Solicitor(s)
Are you (or is your volunteer or staff member) psyched? Are you prepared physically, mentally and emotionally to put your organization’s best foot forward? Do you have all the information you need about your prospect? About the project for which you’re asking? Have you practiced what you’re going to say? If you’re doing a team solicitation, have you practiced together? Do you feel you’ve got a super good chance of success?
One of the main reasons board members won’t ask for gifts is they’re afraid. It’s the job of staff to help board overcome their fear of fundraising. Show them it’s not about asking for money; it’s about what the gift makes possible. And assure them you’ve got their back and will prepare them with all the information they need to do an effective job.
ACTION TIP: Hold a board inspiration session to fire them up about your mission and remind them why they became involved with you in the first place. Ask them to tell stories about their own engagement and about what your nonprofit means to them. Tell them they don’t need to memorize lots of facts and figures about your organization (scary and threatening); they simply need to recount their story, and maybe some of the stories they’re hearing around the room (easy and non-threatening).
SECRET: Years ago when I trained to be a lawyer I took a trial litigation course. Rule #1: Don’t ask any question to which you don’t already know the answer. You should know your prospect is ready to give you a “yes.” It may be a conditional or provisional yes. It may not be for the amount you ask. But you want to be confident when you go in that you’ve done absolutely everything within your power to prepare for the question you’re about to ask.
9. Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like For Your Organization
You need a gift that is enough to meet the need. If you don’t raise enough you’re not going to reach your goal. You’ll help less people than need help. You may even have to close down programs or shut your doors. Asking for and accepting “any amount you can give” is a wing and a prayer strategy. That’s not what you want.
ACTION TIP: Get crystal clear on what a successful outcome will look like before you make your ask. Sometimes you may have 25 prospects and need only 10 gifts at a particular level. So if one prospect gives less than what you’d hoped for, you may be okay. Other times, especially at the top of the gift chart, you may not be able to be so sanguine. Rather than meekly accepting your prospect’s disappointing answer, continue to explore the reasons for their resistance.
SECRET: Gentle persistence works wonders. Ask questions to find out why your donor is either saying no or coming in lower than expected. I overcome resistance with empathy. I find out why they feel the way they do. Maybe I can relate. Maybe I can share my feelings, and suggest an alternative way to handle that feeling. I know we’re trained to be grateful, no matter what. But think of it this way. If your kid comes home from school with a grade of “F” I’m guessing you won’t be telling them how proud you are. Yet too often we’ll walk out of a donor solicitation meeting and pat ourselves on the back for having elicited a $25K pledge when we asked for $50K. That’s 50%. That’s an “F.” Persist, folks! You don’t have to acquiesce. Learn to probe for the reasons your donor may have objections. Sometimes you can turn them around.
10. Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like For Your Donor
This question is important because all effective fundraising is donor-centered. Each individual has different values and motivations. The more you understand them, the better able you are to shape an offer that will provide the donor with the value they seek. The entire process, after all, is a value-for-value exchange.
The donor offers monetary support in return for something, usually intangible, from you. It may be their name in lights, or it may be simply knowing that they’ve given back or fulfilled a moral obligation. Or it may be giving at a level that puts them with their peers (or those they’d like to become their peers).
ACTION TIP: Work opportunities to ask open-ended questions of your prospect into your cultivation strategies so you learn more about their goals. Don’t just guess. I like to ask:
- “What first got you involved here?
- “Why is this your favorite aspect of…?”
- “How do you feel about the role of our organization in the community?”
- “What would you like your legacy to be?”
SECRET: Cultivation, in part, is your opportunity to figure out what has meaning for your prospective supporter. Find out what would incline them to give. Then find out what would incline them to give more. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your ask.
Ready to shake that piñata now?
You may recall from Part 1 that I mentioned 80% of all philanthropy comes from individual donors, and 2/3’s of all household charity in the U.S. comes from the top 3% of U.S. households.
I call that the elephant-shaped piñata in the room.
If you want to get your share of the major gift sweets, you’ve got to shake that piñata
Just remember to do so gently.
Your goal is not to beat gifts out of donors who don’t want to give. Just the opposite, in fact. Your goal is to coax them to unravel the crepe paper themselves and give freely of their goodies. And this happens more than you might imagine.
Never forget that philanthropy translated means “love of humankind.” Your donors yearn to make a difference. To be more than they could be on their own. They need you to facilitate this. They need you to describe the problem their philanthropy will address in glowing colors – colors so bright they’re impossible to ignore.
Tell intense stories of the outcomes your donor can achieve, and compel the donor to gaze upon them in all their vividness.
When you paint a vivid picture of the problem you’ll trigger the intense emotions that drive passionate philanthropy. The vivid story you tell becomes the foundation of a compelling fundraising offer:
- Donor clearly sees the burning problem
- Donor yearns to end the pain; extinguish the problem.
- Donor makes passionate gift, enacting their passion to bring about healing and hope.
- Problem gets fixed; calm and peace is restored.
Happy ending for everyone.
Ready to Rock Major Gifts This Year?
Whether you’re new to major gifts or a seasoned pro, I invite you to join me for my 8-week online course: Winning Major Gift Fundraising Strategies.
If you’re serious about fundraising, you’ve got to get serious about investing in major gifts. This is true no matter your size. There’s no more cost-effective fundraising strategy. It’s a struggle to figure out how to do it on your own, and it wastes time. Enroll yourself and your team (up to six people per organization)
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