Philanthropy, Not Fundraising: I Have a Dream 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of standing up for what’s right, even when it isn’t convenient. There is so much happening in the world around us today, and at such an unprecedented, rapid pace, it’s sometimes challenging to make sense of it all.  And, in particular, our place in it all. How will we face the world of 2019 and beyond? What challenges will we take on, and how? What can we do as individuals, as groups, as organizations, and as a community to adapt, stay positive and make a beneficial impact on the world within and around us — ourselves, our families, our friends, our neighbors and strangers. What can we do, especially, to protect and defend and care for the most vulnerable among us? What can we do that is not just transactional, but transformational?

“The time is always right to do what is right.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

I have a dream for 2019 – and beyond. I have a dream this is the year your organization will move beyond defining yourself by what you’re not (nonprofit) and will begin to define yourself by what you are (social benefit). I have a dream this is the year your people will move from an attitude of taking and hitting people up (aka “fundraising”) to a mindset of giving and lifting people up (aka “philanthropy”). I have a dream this is the year your staff and volunteers will move from enacting transactions to enabling transformation.

I have a dream you will push yourself and your organization this year. You will take the bull by the horns, adapt to the digital revolution and open yourself to the possibilities change brings. You will give up on the static donor pyramid, ladder and funnel theory of engagement and put your donor at the center of a new, active engagement model that reflects the myriad ways people connect with organizations and causes today. You will find donors where they are.

I have a dream you will learn who your best influencers and advocates are and you will embrace them.  You will recognize you are no longer your best messenger. You will understand many forces beyond you influence your donor’s decision to invest with you, and you will expand your thinking and operations from a one-dimensional to a multi-dimensional model.  You will allow your constituents to engage with you at multiple points of entry, and to move freely between these points during the life cycle of their engagement.

I have a dream you will think big, because thinking small will not get you where you need to go. 

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Be Up Close and Personal with Major Donor Prospects

I couldn’t possibly write this any better than the inimitable Jerry Panas (as told to his partner of many years, Jerry Linzy), so I’m not even going to try.  Please read the entire, brief and to-the-point article: listening with your whole body.

It covers five important ‘rules’ to guide you in all human interactions.  Don’t forget them when it comes to meetings with major donor prospects:

  1. Face people directly.
  2. Maintain positive eye contact.
  3. Use open gestures.
  4. Use your head.
  5. Activate your smile power.

Now, let me add a few things from my experience, plus some actionable tips.

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BIG Tips to Raise BIG Money for Your BIG Mission

If 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.

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 my upcoming Winning Major Gifts Strategies e-course that begins January 22nd. It may be the most important investment you make all year. Just one major gift will more than cover the cost].

Over my 37 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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10 Approaches to Inspire Philanthropists to Help Your Nonprofit Cause

How Do Major Donors Think About Philanthropy? 

To a large extent, they think about it the same way as anyone else.  They just have more money.

It’s good to remember that major donors are, first and foremost, just people.

And like all human beings, they are on a continual quest for meaning. It’s the existential search to be all that one can be. To feel self-actualized.

And you can help them!

In fact, this is your job. This is part and parcel of your organization’s mission.

You (as executive management, development staff or board member) are a facilitator of philanthropy. Your organization exists, in part, to facilitate your donor’s quest for meaning and teach the joy of giving. To do this effectively, you must be attuned to your donors. And, since the wealthy have the ability to make a larger impact when it comes to furthering your mission, you especially must be attuned to these folks.

In the past I’ve looked at five major donor philanthropic triggers. You need to know about these things, because if you can key into any of them you’ll have a strong basis for pursuing a major gift from the prospect whom you’re approaching:

  1. They feel economically secure.
  2. They are in a reflective phase of life.
  3. They’ve demonstrated a desire to build a closer connection with your cause and community.
  4. They are looking for meaning and a sense of purpose.
  5. They are seeking to identify themselves as the person they want to see reflected in the mirror.

Today I’d like to review six more things you should be on the lookout for; then I’ll suggest four strategies to help you enter into your prospective donors’ worlds so you can make a win/win match – one that will help your major donors simultaneously help your cause and themselves.

Coincidentally, I found a back issue of Lifestyles Magazine from 2008 (yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder) and was struck by some of what the publication had to say—a veritable peek inside the minds of major donors. There’s a clue right in the way Lifestyles (now out of publication) describes their mission (highlights are mine):

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Unless You Do These 7 Things, Your Major Gifts Program Won’t Succeed

Every nonprofit should have a major gifts program.

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 7 secrets that will guarantee your major gifts program is a success, whatever your size.

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3 Nonprofit Secrets to Rock Major Gift Fundraising

There’s a treasure trove of knowledge and research around major gift fundraising. What works well.  What doesn’t work at all.  What’s, at best, half-baked.

It’s not rocket science.  But there’s definitely art, and some science, involved.

The gestalt way of thinking about the three secrets boils down to simply being:

(1) smart,

(2) systematic and

(3) passionate.

But, I’m pretty pragmatic. So I’d like to give you something more practical.

If I had to pick the top three practical secrets to success, they would be the following:

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Are You Reading Your Major Donors Correctly?

Some years ago I had the opportunity to present a major gifts master class where Jay Love, Founder and President of Bloomerang (and a board member and major donor himself) offered his thoughts on major gifts development from the donor’s perspective.

SO important!

The more that you know, the less they’ll say “No!”

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.”

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?

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Shared Cure-Alls: Philanthropy and Placebo Effect

Stuffed animal with heart of lightCan the act of philanthropy make people feel better?

I say “Yes. Absolutely.” Much has been written about the warm glow that comes from giving.

So why not think about fundraising as a caring act, and fundraisers (aka ‘philanthropy facilitators’) as trusted helpers and healers?

Reframing fundraising in this way can be your key to:

(1) committing to major individual donor fundraising (helping people to be the people they’d like to see in the mirror), and

(2) engaging more staff, volunteers and board members in this noble endeavor (so they experience not just the joy of giving, but the joy of helping others give).

It helps to understand the similarities in findings from functional MRI research on both the placebo and philanthropy effects.

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