Are You Getting the Best Bang From Your Fundraising Buck?

Studies show over 88% of all funds raised come from just 12% of donors. 

In fact, the top tier of donors account for the lion’s share of all philanthropy.  Just 3% of donors give 76% of all gifts.

If you’re not focusing your fundraising resources on these donors, this should give you pause.  You’re missing a really big boat.

Plus, chances are good you’re fundraising in a manner that’s not exactly cost-effective.

You’re not alone. I run into this problem all the time.

  • Board members want to do events.
  • E.D.s want to focus on grants.
  • New staff think the future is all in digital fundraising.
  • Existing staff are wedded to increasingly less productive direct mail fundraising.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these strategies. However, generally they won’t give you the biggest bang for your buck.

Where you do get a huge return on investment is from an individual major gifts program, which costs you roughly 10 cents on the dollar vs. 50 cents or more on the dollar for special events fundraising and actually losing money on direct mail donor acquisition.

If you know the Pareto 80/20 Rule, you might want to focus just 20% of your resources on the lower-yielding strategies and 80% on major individual and legacy fundraising.

What’s holding you back from doing something so sensible?

Usually I find it’s one of the following reasons:

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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, the devil’s in the details. 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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Can You Smoke What’s in Your Major Gift Pipeline

You want a smokin’ major gifts program, don’t you?

Of course you do.  You want to light those babies on fire!

Better put, you want to ignite your donor’s passions, light the fire in their bellies, and help facilitate the type of philanthropy that will be a win/win/win – for you, your donors and the vision your organization seeks to attain.

You can’t do this without;

  • Nurturing a pipeline that lights your donors’ sparks of interest,
  • Fans the flames, and
  • Patiently waits until ignition happens.

Sure, you could just light little fires. Fires that self-extinguish pretty quickly. But these aren’t the fires that will sustain you and keep you warm over the long haul.

That’s why every nonprofit, no matter your size, cause or longevity, needs to build a major gifts pipeline.

Otherwise, you’ll have nothing to smoke!

Want to learn how to stop running on fumes?

Let’s Build Your Major Gifts Pipeline in 10 Steps!

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Top Strategies for Open Nonprofit Donor Conversations

Over the pandemic I took some time to enroll in an intensive coaching course. Over Zoom, of course. It was designed for people who don’t necessarily intend to become certified life coaches as a career path, but who want to incorporate a coaching approach into their daily life.

The heart of this approach, I believe, can be distilled into two words. And they’re extremely useful for donor conversations:

1. CURIOSITY

When you’re genuinely curious about another person you ask questions to draw them out. And questions to help them get to the place they want to go; not where you think they should go. Because what’s right for you is not always right for someone else. They’ll tell you what’s right – with you acting as their guide – but only if you’re interested enough to ask.

It happens some questions are better than others if you want to get to the core of the matter at hand. We’ll get to those in a moment.

2. LISTENING

There’s a better way to have dynamic, effective conversations than jumping in prematurely with your own opinion. I’ve always known this, but it turns out there’s more to it than adopting the old adage: “You have two ears and one mouth; use them in that proportion.” Because it’s how you approach the listening that matters.

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The Secret of Donor-Centered Fundraising: No Money Involved

Heart transporting donor through spaceDonor-centered fundraising is not about money.

Huh?  If that first sentence has you scratching your head, it’s time to take a moment.

I know. You’re thinking this is just semantics.  You’re thinking that, of course, fundraising is about money.  You’re thinking we can pretend it’s about something else but, seriously, we need money to fulfill our missions. I know what you’re thinking.

I want you to stop thinking that way.  Because it’s getting in the way of you raising more (ahem) money.  So… close your eyes. Breathe.  Clear your mind. Ready? Okay… now…

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Top 10 Countdown: Most Popular Clairification Articles of 2021

This was another year of adaptation. Settling into some things, while feeling decidedly unsettled in others. Opening our eyes, minds and hearts to see, and be, things clearly.

This year continued to mark a shift in the direction of my content, as “business as usual” seemed out of sync with the times we found ourselves in. Much of the heart of fundraising remains constant, while much of the practice and culture is evolving. It is a time in which feeling our humanity, and coming from a place of love, seems more important than ever.

Today I summarize my writing of the year by sharing the articles that most resonated with readers out of the 70+ I created for 2021, including some popular oldies.

In case you missed them, here are last year’s blog posts with the most views, according to Google Analytics.

Plus, at the end, I’m sharing some photos I hope you’ll enjoy!

Counting Down…

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How Do You Keep Former Nonprofit Board Members Engaged?

Heart hands

Sustain the positive energy of love and connection

Are you throwing your former board members out like yesterday’s trash? You are if you don’t continue to build relationships with them and let them know how special they are.

Every single communication with a former board member should let them know you know who they are. One of the foundations of Penelope Burk’s groundbreaking work in Donor-Centered Fundraising is the finding donors want one thing first and foremost: “Show me that you know me.”

If you treat former board members like they’re toast, don’t be surprised when they start sending you little bread crumbs instead of the whole slice – or loaf – they once sent. People want to be appreciated. It’s just human nature.

Stop blaming board members for stopping loving you. Instead, focus on not stopping to love them!

8 Strategies to Build a Former Board Member Love and Loyalty Strategy

Former board should be one of your top segments for cultivation! They have a deep understanding of your vision, mission and values. For years, they made your nonprofit one of their top philanthropies. They may even have included you in their estate planning!

Former board have numerous connections to your cause; don’t lose them! They may have relationships with staff or even beneficiaries. They also have connections with each other. At one point you were part of their identity and family. You likely have a special place in their heart.

Don’t stop making beautiful music together! Continue to treat them personally, unless they specifically ask you to stop. Don’t simply relegate them to your impersonal e-news mailings or mass annual appeals. Treat them like major donors and develop a love and loyalty strategy that invites them to stay engaged with you, albeit in a new way.

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4 Strategies to Connect Nonprofit Donors to Cherished Values

Your donor’s philanthropic journey begins with you. Your job is to steer them down the pathway to passionate philanthropy, making them feel joy and fulfillment every step of the way. When the gift is finally made, they should experience a true sense of victory in a job well done.

The cherished philanthropic outcome generally will only happen if you do your job well.

One of my favorite fundraising experts, who specializes in major and legacy giving, is Dr. Russell James. He knows everything there is to know about what the industry calls “planned giving,” but he knows so much more than most. Because Dr. James, while a skilled technician, is also a thoughtful and strategic fundraiser. And he knows the best practitioners guide towards a goal. I recently listened to a webinar where Dr. James spoke extensively about the universal hero’s journey and how this comes into play in fundraising. It dovetails so nicely with my fundraising philosophy I thought I’d write about it!

You see, once you know where you’re going with any particular donor (be sure to pick a goal!), your job is to advance their journey towards that goal with every step you both take. You’re like a “Donor Engagement Sherpa,” who supports your donor up their trek towards the mountain’s peak. Sometimes there will be more than one way to get there. Be open to your donor’s needs, not just yours. Lead with vulnerability, but lead.

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How to Deal with Disgruntled Donors: Don’t Waste Valuable Complaints

Don’t ignore a single disgruntled supporter.

If someone takes the time to tell you they’re unhappy, that means they care. They’re connected to you. They want something from you, and you’re disappointing them.

Express compassion and contrition.

Seth Godin says “customers who feel listened to help you improve (and come back to give you another chance.”

Begin with learning where the donor thinks you went astray. Maybe you really did. If so, embrace your errors.

This is your golden opportunity to get inside your donor’s head and find out what your supporter really cares about!

Don’t blow this person off. Instead,

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How to Use Psychology to Pre-Suade Donors to Give

This time of year is what I call “presuasion time.”

Because if you’re thoughtful about it, you can presuade donors to give up to the moment you ask!

That’s what we reviewed in Part 1 of this two-part series, where I described research from Robert Cialdini, author of the seminal Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and the newer book, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuadeand discussed how you might apply this research to your fundraising strategies. We learned the importance of leading with a “gift” or “favor” that will incline your donor favorably in your direction. Even the smallest of favors can create significant goodwill, and there are simple ways to boost the likelihood your favor will be returned.

  1. Today we’re first going to look at a way to tweak your language to make a difference.
  2. Then we’ll explore some types of favors donors are likely to value enough to want to reciprocate.

First, a reminder: Every time of year is presuasion time. Everthing you do with supporters should be designed to prime the pump so people are pre-disposed to give to you the next time you ask. Whether that’s next week, the week thereafter, or any week of the year! Whenever you’re not asking, you should be in presuasion mode.

So, let’s get a little psychologically-minded, keeping in mind one of the six core Cialdini principles of Influence and Perusasion: Reciprocity. In brief, human beings often feel obligated to return favors, even if they are unasked for.

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