Meeting over coffee

Improve Major Donor Fundraising to Grab a Larger Piece of Philanthropy Pie

meringue pieIf I had to tell you what you need to do to succeed with major gift fundraising in one sentence it would be this:

Identify major donor prospects… qualify them so you know they want to build a deeper relationship with you… cultivate them… visit with them… listen to them… reflect back to them what you heard… ask them for something specific that resonates with their passions… steward their gift and communicate in an ongoing way to make them feel like the hero they are!

Whew – that was a mouthful!

A shorter way to say this is: Meet with donors. Listen to donors. Ask donors. Thank donors.

See — it’s simple!

It’s definitely not rocket science. It’s just good old hard work. Satisfying and rewarding work. And it’s a type of work anyone can learn to do. [If you want to learn, please sign up for the upcoming Certification Course for Major Gift Fundraisers that begins April 5th. It may be the most important investment you make all year. Just one major gift will more than cover the cost].

Over my 40 years in fundraising, 30 of them working in the trenches as a director of development for organizations with budgets ranging from $1 – $40 million, I have asked for a lot of major gifts.  I know what works, and what doesn’t work. Today I want to give you:

(1) some of my best words of wisdom, and also

(2) answers to some of the questions folks frequently ask me .

I hope these tips will help you tweak your mindset and invigorate your systems so you can be more successful fundraising in the coming year!

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No fear

How to Overcome the Money Taboo and Succeed with Fundraising

No fearMost fear of fundraising boils down to two factors:

(1) fear of rejection, and

(2) fear of looking stupid due to insufficient knowledge/skills.

It turns out these fears are relatively easy to overcome. But it requires some serious reframing. A move away from begging and towards offering a gift of opportunity. The opportunity to feel joy, meaning and purpose.

The hard part is overcoming our deep-rooted psychological aversion to talking about money.

Most of us were raised to believe this is impolite. We’d rather talk about anything else.

In fact, many scholars argue money is the number one social taboo in America (see also Krueger, The Last Taboo). Even religion, sex and politics are better discussion topics as far as most of us are concerned. Where money is concerned, we tend to come from a place of “no.”

Alas, people think fundraising is all about money.

Here’s what I mean:  Say the word “fundraising” and look at people’s faces.  Their mouths will pucker up in a grimace.  Their eyes will squinch closed as if in pain.  Their brows will furrow.  I recently tried this with a board of directors, asking them each to give me the first word they thought of when they thought of fundraising. Here are the (all) negatives:

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puzzle pieces

Bring Top Value to Your Donor Survey

I get lots of questions about what to include in donor surveys.  But that’s the wrong place to begin.

First you must have clarity on why you’re sending the survey. You can’t bring top value to your donor survey unless you’re specific about what value you want to receive and deliver. The great thing about donor surveys is they’re a genuine “twofer.”

  1. One is for you(useful information you will act on);
  2. One is for your donor(a way to usefully participate, other than giving money, and feel a part of a community of like-minded folks).

Donor surveys are an opportunity for a value-for-value exchange. This is at the heart of all successful fundraising and marketing. The donor gives something of value (usually time and/or money) and you return something of value (usually an intangible “feel good;” a sense of meaning, purpose and connection). Donors are focused on value; you need to focus there too. And value is understood as a clear ‘walking’ of your talk.

Never do something merely to check the task off your ‘to-do’ list. If you’ve had “do a survey” on your back burner for a while, now’s the time to move it to the forefront and give it a closer and more purposeful look. What pieces of the puzzle are you looking to uncover? Begin with asking: How will I know this survey was successful?

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Clouds and sky

Legacy Gifts Don’t Usually Fall From the Sky

If you’ve been around ten years or more, and have demonstrated you have staying power, it’s time to start thinking about promoting legacy giving. And not just a little. A lot.

Even during a pandemic. Why?

Because once you have a steady stream of legacy gifts maturing, you’ve secured your nonprofit’s future — in good times and bad. Not 100% of course. You’ll still need to continue with annual fundraising. But you’ll be confident in the knowledge that every year or so unanticipated income will flow into your nonprofit’s coffers, like a windfall from heaven. In fact, after a while you’ll even be able to conservatively budget for a certain amount of bequest income (based on your averages) each year.

Legacy gifts can be quite transformative for the financial trajectory of your nonprofit. Think about this for a minute. While not every bequest will be six or seven figures, it’s rare to see a two or three figure bequest. They’re all major gifts!

Except… legacy gifts won’t usually fall from the sky unless you seed the clouds.

So let’s take a look at how to do that.

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Valentine-Monterey-Aquarium-300x300.jpg

8 Strategies to Celebrate Nonprofit Donors on Valentine’s Day

I love a good celebration.

And nothing is more worth celebrating than a holiday, and your donors!

So… let me wish you a happy Groundhog Day! Whether or not the groundhog sees their shadow, chances are good we’re still in for a long season of time during which donors could really use a little extra love from you. As I’ve written before, during this season of isolation and uncertaintly, people — your donors included — are love starved.

You’ve still got time to send a little love your donors’ way!

Why might this be something for you to consider, amidst all the other “to-do’s” on your plate?

If you don’t do a lot more donor loving, you’re going to do a lot more donor losing.

I hope by now you know donor retention is the name of the game. It costs so much more to acquire a new donor than to keep an existing one. Yet too few nonprofits have serious, intentional donor stewardship programs in place. Because of that, on average, nonprofits lose nearly 8 out of 10 first-time donors and close to 6 out of 10 of all donors.

Don’t be one of those organizations!

If donors only hear from you when you want something from them, they’re not likely to give more. Or even give again.

Be generous! Show donors how much their support means to you.

Really, donor love should be like breathing for you. In and out. Out and in.

  • They love you, and show you.
  • You love them, and show them.

You’ll be amazed at how a little love can go a long way.

This year why not dedicate Valentine’s Day to giving, not asking?

If you can’t send valentines to every donor, pick a segment or two.

Think about those donors for whom you’d like to show some special love, because they showed you some. Show them you noticed! They could be:

  • Major donors.
  • Monthly donors.
  • Donors who’ve given faithfully for five years or more.
  • Donors who increased their giving this year.
  • First-time donors of $100+.
  • Donors who also volunteer.
  • Board and committee members.
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