If you’re a small to medium-sized organization or movement, especially if you’re local, you’ve got an unfair advantage over your larger compatriots in the social benefit sector.
Perhaps you’ve never looked at it this way. Perhaps you fret about not being able to compete with the behemoths. Perhaps you’ve been waiting to hire a major gifts officer who’ll have time to get out in the field and do nothing but meet with prospective donors face-to-face.
There are dozens of excuses, but that’s what they are.
A: something offered as justification or as grounds for being excused
B excuses plural:an expression of regret for failure to do something
Regret no more. Think again.
You’re Not Too Small to Raise Major Gifts
In fact, your size may be just the “secret sauce” that helps you attract, and retain, loyal, passionate mid-level and major donors.
Donors like to give where they know they’re making an impact. And with big shops, 4, 5 or 6-figure gifts are often treated as chopped liver. Here are some comments I’ve heard:
“$1,000, in my Mom’s memory, was the largest gift I’d ever made – and no one reached out to say thank you. I got a receipt.”
“They treated my $2,500 gift like a drop in the bucket. The next time I heard from them, they were asking me to increase it – in a mailed appeal. I expected at least a phone call.”
“I just didn’t feel they really needed my gift.”
Your size is a unique selling point, and one you can use to show folks what a big impact their philanthropy will have with you.
3 Secret Advantage Ingredients
Let’s look at three key ingredients in your special recipe for long-term fundraising success. They’re all about time, which I know you don’t think you have. But we all – large and small — have the same amount. The difference lies in what you prioritize, and how you use that time. Skip the staff meetings, endless emails on which you’re copied or blind copied, and the time spent fighting to get multiple approvals. Instead, focus on the things you can do really well.
1. Use Your Time to Build Relationships
Much has been written about the importance of building relationships to sustain and grow meaningful philanthropy. See here, here, here and here – just for starters. But, guess what? Many large, national and international nonprofits do a lousy job relating to their supporters, human to human. Why? They’re just too big. And, often, too bureaucratic. They mean well, but donors too often get lost or ignored. Buried in the database somewhere. Or left hanging on someone’s overloaded “to-do” list.
EXAMPLE: Lisa Greer was prompted to begin her own blog and business because of how poorly she, a serial major donor, was treated by nonprofits with which she was engaged. She describes herself as “obsessed with saving giving.” Here’s one story (she, alas, has dozens): She was invited to a major donor sit-down event for an institution she’d supported with a high-level gift. No one greeted her on arrival, and there were no table assignments. She sat down, only to have another donor tell her to leave the table because it was “his.” She was still okay, and moved to the back of the room thinking a staff member would see her and show her to a seat. Still, nothing. She gave up, went home, and declined the next time she was solicited for a gift.
EXAMPLE: In recent years, I became what I consider to be a major donor to a number of philanthropies. Here’s one story: I gave a four-figure gift to my local chapter of a national nonprofit. To their credit, they noticed, assigning me my own personal gift officer. We chatted a few times by phone, and even had coffee in person one time. She sent me articles of interest and personal notes. I started attending more events, and felt the relationship was blossoming. A few years down the line I made a five-figure gift (unheard of for me)! I was pretty proud, and expected my contact would feel the same way. But, guess what happened next? I was transferred to another gift officer who happened to reside at the national office. I only found out about this because I actually sent an email to my previous contact asking how she was doing. She told me she was moving to another position, and my new contact would be this nationally-based one. The “new and improved(?)” person failed to contact me. I actually reached out to let them know I was unhappy, and wanted to be more involved. They had someone call me (a national person who happened to be visiting my area), and we arranged a coffee date. I told her I would prefer a local contact, and also described some of my history with the organization. She apologized profusely, telling me she would make sure this didn’t happen again and she would get back to me soon. I never heard another word. And, as much as I love this organization’s work, I’ll not be making another five-figure gift there. You see, I’m human.
People need time to build the essential trust that forms sustainable human relationships. And it’s super important to show your donors you know them.
2. Use Your Time to Engage in Inquiring Conversations
It is only when you talk with someone that you can truly unpack their hearts. The best way to do this with donors is to ask thoughtful, generative open-ended questions. Generally, large organizations don’t do this. If you’re a small to mid-level donor, no one talks to you at all. Not even through the mail. You get mass “one size fits all” communications. If an engagement survey is sent, it’s mostly yes/no or multiple choice. Why? These responses are easier to tally and collate electronically; no one has the time to read open-ended copy. But you do!
You have time to chat – and you should do it as often as possible. Thankfully, the exigencies of the pandemic — which taught us you don’t need to keep to a rigorous schedule of in-person meetings– have made building the relationships essential to successful major gift fundraising more manageable than ever. Virtual conversations work well, and it’s actually easier to get a meeting with a donor this way as it requires less of their time (and yours!). That being said, it’s nice to offer to meet in person (let the donor choose).
When you show up, do so as tuned in as possible. Have listening conversations where you look for the places where the donor’s own energy shows up. Listen to learn something new that translates to insight. Insight you can use to ask more questions that lead to insight on the donor’s part. If done well, this will lead to meaningful action (the donor does something differently) in order to realize their potential (become a more fully-expressed person).
3. Use Your Time to Be Personal
Getting personal has always mattered. Visualize your person, and before engaging in any strategy or tactic, ask yourself: Is there a more personal way to deliver this message? [See 4 Types of ‘PERSONAL’ Your Nonprofit Must Adopt Today].
Where people have a personal connection to charities, trust and confidence rises. And trust is the foundation of all lasting relationships.This is born out in research by Adrian Sargeant and Elaine Jay in “Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value,” Ken Burnett in “Relationship Fundraising: A Donor Based Approach to the Business of Raising Money,” Roger Craver in “Retention Fundraising: The New Art and Science of Keeping Your Donors for Life” and the Rogare Relationship Fundraising Review on drivers of donor loyalty.
For example, a thoughtful handwritten note added to a thank you or appeal letter can make a huge difference. So can a phone call after an event, just checking in to see what they enjoyed and whether they have any recommendations for your next event. These distinct human touches build your community. [In Part 2 of this two-part series we’ll look at ways to apply these strategically.]
Your size makes you uniquely capable of creating a sense of community, even family. This is what people yearn for. You’ve just got to prioritize treating your donors like you’d treat your own friends and family.
Reach out, and keep reaching out.
Want to Learn More About Facilitating Passionate Philanthropy?
That’s why I created the Major Gifts Playbook. It’s an easy, step-by-step, four-volume journey where you’ll learn how to develop and implement a successful major gifts program for your small to medium-sized organization. For major gift prospects to become viable options for you, you must become meaningful to them. You can’t ask virtual strangers for major gifts. This means a systematic process of building relationships where you and your prospective donor continue to learn more about one another over time. You can buy each of these guides individually too, if that better meets your needs. But you’ll get a bargain buying the bundle.
All Clairification products come with a 30-day, no-questions-asked, 100% refund guarantee. So you can’t lose. I’ve packed decades of experience into these guides, and I really want you to benefit. But if you’re not happy, I’m not happy. So… no worries. [Please note if you’re a Clairification School student you’ll receive a generous discount. So be sure you’re logged in before purchasing. And if you’re not yet enrolled, now would be a good time.]
Image of Three San Francisco Hearts: Dorothea Lange. Silver Lining Surf. Digital health Convergence. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation.