“The more that you know, the less they’ll say ‘No!’“
Such is the advice given by Jay Love, Founder of Bloomerang and a seasoned board member and major donor, some years ago at an online conference where we both presented major gifts master classes. His was on the topic of major gifts development from the donor’s perspective.
Do you think about your donor’s perspective before you ask for a major gift?
Here’s what I learned from Jay:
The more you know:
- what floats your donor’s boat,,,
- what other things compete for your donor’s attention (not just causes, but also career and family)…
- how your donor prefers to communicate…
- how your donor prefers to be wooed…
- how your donor prefers to be recognized…
… the more likely you’ll get a “Yes.”
This advice is SO important I want to dig deeper into ways you can get inside your donor’s head and build the type of relationship that will be a win/win. When your donor gets what they want and need, you get what you want and need!
If you can’t show your major donor prospect you really know them, how can they trust you’ll be a good steward of their passionate philanthropic investment?
We all want to be known before we enter into a major engagement.
Which brings us to the crux of successful major donor development. Not surprisingly, it 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 to build a relationship with anyone. A potential friend. A co-worker. A vendor. A family member.
Because, 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. In fact, it’s one of Robert Cialdini’s 6 principles of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. When you give to other people, they’re hugely inclined to give to you. History and research backs this up. Plus, research shows taking is perceived more negatively than giving is perceived positively.
Don’t make your donor think all you want from them is to take their money!
Instead, make it a point to give them some donor love. Offer them little gifts of your time, attention and resources over time.
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).
12 Ways to Read Major Donors More Effectively!
1. 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 developed opportunities for young kids to decorate gift cards to include in care packages delivered to seniors when I worked at a social services agency. Consider how you might plant seeds that will grow and blossom.
- Offer occasions to get to know multiple folks within your organization (e.g., I’ve invited 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 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.
2. 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.
3. 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
- Visits your website (which pages?)
- Opens emails (on what subject?)
- Clicks on links (on what subject?)
- Forwards emails, retweets or pins social media messages (on what subject?)
- Talks about you on social media
- Communication preferences
- 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)
4. 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?
And one interesting discovery from Cialdini’s research: The more unexpected and personalized the gift you give someone, the more likely they are to want to reciprocate.
- Don’t send everyone the same holiday card. Donor A may celebrate Christmas, while Donor B may not.
- Don’t invite everyone to the same event. Donor A may hate black tie affairs, while Donor B may love them.
- Don’t bake everyone holiday cookies. Donor A may love them, while Donor B may be diabetic or gluten-free.
Take to heart the old adage: “Different strokes for different folks.”
Effective major donor cultivation is a thoughtful, donor-centered endeavor.
5. Ask appropriately
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.
If you’ve engaged with them a lot (perhaps they’ve been an active volunteer or client, patient, parent or ticket buyer), you’ll know them well enough to know what’s appropriate.
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.
Make them an offer to do something you know they really want to do.
Personalize your appeal.
“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?)”
— Jay Love, Founder, Bloomerang
6. Acknowledge and report
The gift is not the end of the relationship. Unless you blow it.
It’s up to you to assure your donor gets out of the giving experience what they put into it.
In fact, give them more than they anticipated. Wow them! 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 donors the impact of their giving.
- Reassure donors you’re a good steward of their philanthropy.
- Make donors feel like the heroes they are!
- Track how donors respond to what you’re saying so you know what really moves them.
7. Have a system in place
The best major gifts operations are well-oiled machines.
Think of your donor as a book, one you’ve read multiple times until it’s well highlighted and annotated. You want to put these highlights and annotations in your database, so they’re easy for you and other staff on your team to access. Make sure you develop database rules so everyone uses the same fields. Otherwise, information gets buried and lost.
This takes time, of course. But you’ve got to at least begin!
It takes a team of folks touching base with your prospects, with each interaction becoming part of your institutional memory.
Donors get ticked off if they tell you stuff; then you forget it. They want you to KNOW THEM!
8. 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, Twitter 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 traveled in, ask them where they went to school; then you can share stories about the area. And so forth.
Important Readiness to Give Indicators:
- 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 (Those who serve on foundation boards tend to understand philanthropy and be generous)
- Political giving (There’s a correlation between donors to political campaigns and philanthropic giving)
- Real estate ownership (Mostly an indicator of capacity)
9. Reconnect with lapsed major donors
Don’t overlook lapsed major donors. If there were ever donors who needed you to read them better, these are the ones! 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.
- Reconnect. Talk to them about their past gifts, and what caused them to give. Reignite their passions!
- Show them some donor love. Demonstrate 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 for another gift right away.
Take the time to rebuild the relationship.
This will logically lead to something else down the road
10. Broach the subject of legacy giving
Another one of my favorite questions to draw donors out is to ask: “What type of legacy would you like to leave the world?”
Sometimes this can lead naturally into a conversation about leaving a philanthropic legacy. This works best with those who’ve given at higher levels for two years or more.
If you’re going to have such a conversation, I always advise talking 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.
Learn what values your donor would like to perpetuate, and how they would like to be remembered
11. 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.”
12. Work on YOU
- Strive for continuous improvement and education
- Seek out mentors who have experience asking for major gifts
- Become a donor to see how you’re treated by other organizations, and how it feels to be wearing a donor’s shoes
- 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 to Excel at Major Gifts Fundraising?
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Having a robust major donor program is the key to long-term, sustainable fundraising.
Photo by Claire as part of a series: The Art of Philanthropy – ‘Love of Humankind’ – as Seen Through the Prism of the World’s Art Museums