How Not to Ask for a Major Gift

Man yelling into phoneTwice in the past month I’ve been asked for a major gift.

Pretty much out of the blue.

Without much preparation, relationship-building or making of an inspiring case for support.

It was clear to me what the charity would get out of it: my money. It was not so clear what I would get out of it. Should I not care?

  • Perhaps not.

  • Perhaps if I were the ideal, perfect donor I would give with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

  • Perhaps if I were less ego-centric, I’d just do it because it was the “right thing to do.”

  • Perhaps if I were not on a quest for personal meaning, I’d give just because the person who asked is someone I know (though, not all that well); it would give them a feeling of success, and that would bring me some happiness.

  • Perhaps if I were not searching for a community of folks who share my values, I’d give without quite understanding the depth and breadth of values enacted by these charities or without having met more of the people involved.

  • Perhaps if I were not examining what it is that sparks joy in my life, I’d give whether or not this cause was currently at the top of my list or I’d been given opportunity for reflection and consideration.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting most of your donors aren’t either.

Donors have expectations… egos… personal meaning they’re seeking… communities they’d like to form… and cups of joy that need filling. Otherwise they wouldn’t be human.

And even if you could find a perfect donor prospect, in the instances where I was asked the case for why this was the right thing for me to do wasn’t even made all that well. The ask was about money, not impact.

There was simply an assumption that since I’d shown interest in the past, I would welcome this opportunity to demonstrate my interest even more passionately.

Okay. That’s not a bad starting place. But… you should never assume. You know what they say about the word “assume,” right?

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What Causes so Many Fundraisers to Leave their Jobs?

Fundraisers report money is the number one reason they leave their jobs. While I do believe too many fundraisers are underpaid relative to their skill sets and performance, I’ve a strong hunch it’s not the real chief culprit for fundraiser dissatisfaction.

What is causing so many fundraisers to leave their jobs? Or leave the nonprofit field entirely?

Support. Culture. Infrastructure.

Or, to be specific, the lack thereof.

  • Too little support.
  • Toxic culture.
  • No organizational infrastructure to facilitate philanthropy.

Alas, in interview after interview with fundraisers working in the trenches, I find these essential components of a productive and joyful work environment sorely lacking. This situation doesn’t usually arise out of malice. It’s born of a desperate lack of understanding about what it takes to manage people well. Of course, that’s a topic unto itself. But there’s something else that happens with people hired to work as development staff. And that’s what I want to address here.

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Money Matters: Why a Good Nonprofit Fundraiser is Hard to Keep

What’s love got to do with it?

Show me the money.

Some year’s ago the Chronicle of Philanthropy published an article about the need to Shake Up Development Offices and Curb Turnover. The article cites Penelope Burk’s five years of research which culminated in her groundbreaking book, Donor-Centered Leadership, as well as a revelatory study, Underdeveloped, by CompassPoint and the Evelyn and Walter Haas, Jr. Fund that found half of chief development officers planned to leave their jobs in two years or less. And 40% planned to leave fundraising entirely.

What’s going on, and how can you fix it?

Is it about money, or something else?

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How 13 Nonprofit Donors Yields a $1 Million Philanthropic Legacy

Hope mural13 happens to be my lucky number. I want it to be lucky for you too.

Today, I’m going to reveal to you how you can make this happen.

A recent survey of wills reported on by the Chronicle of Philanthropy reveals the average bequest by everyday donors is $78,630.

Some people will leave less; some people will leave more. What this survey reveals, however, is you only need 12 to 13 donors making a provision for your organization in their will to reap $1 million.

If a major gift for your organization is $1000 (or even 5000 or 10,000), I imagine this sounds off the charts to you. Guess what?

Legacy giving is off the charts!

In fact, bequest marketing produces the highest ROI (return on investment) of any fundraising activity.

The first step to making this happen for your organization is to encourage bequests. Actively.

Promote Charitable Bequests, or Else

If you don’t actively encourage charitable bequests, people are unlikely to make them.

Why? There are three primary reasons:

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Nonprofit Marketing & Fundraising Are Like Peanut Butter & Jelly

They’re meant for each other. Yet it may take a while to bring them together.

Here’s what I mean:

Peanut butter was first introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. It didn’t get mixed with jelly until 1901, when the first PB&J sandwich recipe appeared in the Boston Cooking School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics. It was served in upscale tea rooms, and was exclusive food. Until the world changed.

The 1930 Depression made peanut butter, a low-cost, high-protein source of energy, a star. But not the combo sandwich. Not yet.

Then…WWII.

Peanut butter and jelly were on U.S. Military ration menus. Soldiers added jelly to the peanut spread to sweeten the sandwich and make it more palatable. When soldiers came home from the war, peanut butter and jelly sales soared.

Suddenly this marriage became the norm. Why separate them?  After all, they went together like… PB&J!

We never looked back.

How is Nonprofit Marketing and Fundraising Integration like the Marriage of PB&J?

They didn’t start out married, but they belong together.

Here’s what I mean:

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Why Donor Wooing Requires WOWing

cashier-Pixabay1791106_640The Unfair Exchange Bernadette Jiwa, The Story of Telling.

That will be eight dollars,’ the woman, who is carefully weighing and wrapping two serves of freshly made fettuccine for us to take home, says.

As my husband is about to hand her the cash, she takes another handful of the pasta from behind the glass and adds it to our package.

She doesn’t announce that she’s giving us twenty per cent extra for free.
She doesn’t even invite us to notice the gesture at all.
It’s enough for her that she knows she has added value.

We think of value as a hard metric—the anticipated fair exchange of this for that.

But value can be a surprising, generous, unfair exchange.

Something that is given because we can, not because we must.

Ah… value.

Wow, wow, WOW!

This is what all fundraising, fundamentally, is about.

A value-for-value exchange.

Yet one side of the exchange is a hard metric: The donor’s cold, hard cash.

While the other side of the exchange is something decidedly less tangible: Freely given gratitude from you and your organization.

Or at least that’s how it should work.

The Difference between ‘We Must’ and ‘We Can’ 

What does your donor love and loyalty plan look like?

Do you even have such a plan?

If the only reason you acknowledge donations is because you feel you ‘must,’ it’s likely your donors aren’t walking away from the encounter feeling much more than matter-of-fact. The transactional receipts many organizations send out are registered by the donors as “Ho, hum. Guess I’ll go file this with my tax receipts.”

This kind of exchange is fair, sure.

But it’s not generous.

WHAT ELSE DO YOU HAVE TO GIVE?

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Nonprofit Content Marketing Should Help, Not Sell

Helping handWhen I think about nonprofit content marketing, one of my favorite marketing strategists is Jay Baer, author of Youtility: Why Smart Marketing is About Help, not Hype.

He says the difference between “helping” and “selling’ is only two letters. But what a difference those two letters makes!

If you substitute ‘h’ and ‘p’ ( in ‘helping’) for ‘s’ and ‘l’ (in ‘selling’) in building your nonprofit content marketing strategy you’ll convince more of your nonprofit social media fans and followers to convert to subscribers or members, and more of your subscribers and members to convert to donors.

Think of it this way. If you’ve traditionally focused on selling vs. helping, you’ve emphasized ‘s’ and ‘l’ [stupidity (your customers) and laziness (you)]. You’ve acted like your customers don’t know very much, so they need you to show them the way. Yet at the same time you’ve been too lazy to gently teach them what they need to know.

Now imagine you focus on helping vs. selling. You emphasize ‘h’ and ‘p’ [humanity (your customers) and peer (you and your customer)]. You treat your constituents like individuals with specific values, needs and desires. You endeavor to learn more about them so you can meet their needs. You engage them as partners, showing you’re all in this together. You create a community of like-minded folks, welcome folks to your community, and take care of your members. Not as infants, but as peers. No one likes to be infantalized.

Sell something and you create a customer today. Help someone and you create a customer for life.

It’s human nature to fall into a ‘sales’ model when you feel so proud of what you do you assume everyone else will want to jump on your bandwagon. Yet just “doing good” is not enough. Anymore than having a good product is good enough for the soap manufacturer. You need to tell people how you can be helpful to them, their loved ones and their community. And don’t expect them to just take your word for it. Show them by offering up useful content and sharing powerful emotional stories and facts that demonstrate your outcomes. Otherwise, you keep people dependent on you to tell them what to do because “you know best.” When you keep people in the dark about the details, they feel both stupid and disempowered. Since these are not good feelings, how to you think this “sales vs. help” model makes your constituents feel?

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Treat Nonprofit Board and Donors Like Family. Or Else.

Family, diverse, on stoopPeople are more generous when they feel more connected.

Like members of your community. Or, if you will, your family.

This isn’t just an opinion;

In fact, it’s documented in a study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

The study found people have three basic psychological needs: relatedness, competence, and autonomy.

Today I want to examine relatedness and autonomy as they connect to success in fundraising.

Relatedness

Relatedness is particularly important for promoting pro-social behavior. Like philanthropy. The study found certain words — community, together, connected, and relationship — invoked feelings of relatedness.

Sharing feelings of relatedness also promotes pro-social behavior. This is why asking donors to share their own stories about why they volunteer, give or help in any other way is an effective fundraising strategy. Likewise, when you share with donors how you feel related to them this will make them feel good about how they’re affiliating with you.

4 Action Steps to Invoke Relatedness to Trigger Philanthropy

Here are strategies to engender feelings of being part of a family or community:

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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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