How to Get Donors to Ask You, Not Vice-Versa

There’s a simple six-step process to assure you secure a philanthropic gift.

The heart of this process — your key to success — is to flip the philanthropic asking equation on its head and get your donor to ask you, not vice-versa. 

That’s right.

Just get your donors to pop this one little question, and you’re home free.

Of course, you have to set them up to pop this question. But it’s easy, once you know the formula.

And I’m going to share that formula with you today.

Guess what else is really great about this?

It’s not scary!

If fear has been holding you back, today is your hallelujah moment.  Because I’m here to tell you exactly how to get your donors to ask you for a gift, rather than the other way around.

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10 Common Nonprofit Major Gift Asking Mistakes to Avoid

When you’re not aware you’re making a mistake, it’s hard to avoid it.

So let’s get curious. I’m going to ask you to close your eyes for a minute to imagine a donor you’ve been wanting to ask for a major gift. I’m going to ask you to visualize a space where you’re meeting. Put them in your office, their home, a café or even a Zoom screen. Choose what’s comfortable, and where you think you’d be most likely to meet with this donor within the next month or so.

Okay… do you have your donor and your meeting space in mind? Excellent!

Now, before closing your eyes, commit to visualizing these four things:

  1. You’re in the room together.
  2. You smile. They smile back.
  3. Someone else is in the room with both of you. . Imagine you brought them with you. Who are they, and how does it feel having them there to support you?
  4. Bolstered by the smiles and good company, what do you say to open the conversation?

SELF-EXERCISE: Okay, are you ready to close your eyes? Even if this feels a little weird, why not give it a try? (1) Pick your donor… (2) your meeting space… (3) your additional person supporting you in the room… and (4) open the conversation. What are you saying to them? What are they saying back? Play this scenario out just a bit, until you get to a place of comfort or discomfort. Then open your eyes.

What did that feel like?

What felt comfortable to you? Uncomfortable? Did it feel more comfortable and pleasant than you may have imagined?  Smiling people, committed to the same cause, hanging out in a comfortable space together…. from such a space can come many good things.  What did you say to open the conversation? How did that feel?

If it felt good, why?  If it didn’t feel good, why?

Take a few minutes to journal some answers to those questions. I guarantee this will help you shift the energy for the next time you move into this space – in real time – with a donor.

A Mistake is Just a Misjudgment

It’s not fatal; you can correct it. But first you have to recognize it happened!

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How to Transform Reluctant Fundraisers into Ready Philanthropy Facilitators

How do you help people afraid of fundraising become comfortable in what should be a mission-aligned role for everyone associated with your nonprofit organization?

After all, everyone benefits from increased philanthropy.  Not just development staff.

Increasingly, successful nonprofits are adopting cultures of philanthropy where everyone involved – administrative staff, program staff, board members, committee members, direct service volunteers and even beneficiaries – comes together as ambassadors, advocates and askers on behalf of furthering the organization’s mission, enacting its values and fulfilling its vision.

Facilitating philanthropy is not rocket science, yet folks unaccustomed to the relationship cultivation and solicitation required to land major donations are fearful because they don’t know how to do it. Actually, they do. They just need some guidance, hand holding and support along the way. Reluctant fundraisers tend to think fundraising is just about money. It’s a lot more than that.

It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with insiders (staff and volunteers) to help everyone feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process.

There are barriers to be overcome; first and foremost is fundraising fear.  This fear takes many forms, and is perhaps best expressed in some of the questions I frequently receive.  So I’m endeavoring to answer a few of these questions below.  Hopefully this will help you address these challenges within your own organization so you, too, can transform folks from fearful and reluctant “fundraisers” to joyful and ready “philanthropy facilitators.”

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10 Tools to Give You and Your Nonprofit Donor Space to Co-Create — and Change the World

Man pointing to ear and hearing aidI recently wrote about 4 Strategies to Listen so Others Will Talk, noting the secret to building authentic relationships is to use your two ears and one mouth in that proportion.

It’s a good start, but there’s more.

You can’t just listen passively.

Active listening, supported by powerful, succinct, to-the-point generative questions – that’s what will draw you and your donor (or anyone with whom you’re in relationship) closer together.

But not all active listening is created equal. And you may think you’re actively listening, when really you’ve listened for a hot minute; then gone down your own rabbit hole of reality. In that rabbit hole, you become the narrator. It thus becomes your story, not the donor’s.

Uh, oh.

Today we’ll explore how to draw your donor out so you truly hear their voice and sense their emotions, not your own.

1. Economy of language.

This is something I value, as an outsider looking in.

I’m not good at it.

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Hold these 4 Nonprofit Fundraising Truths to Be Self Evident

DeclarationOfIndepenceI’ve created for you a little “Declaration of Fundraising Independence” to help you become a fruitful philanthropy facilitator from this day forward.

This Declaration incorporates what I consider to be essential fundraising truths — four pre-conditions which must be met before you’ll be able to successfully exercise your fundraising strategies. Within these four pre-conditions are additional hidden truths (don’t worry; I’ll call them out for you).

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that not all charities are created equal, that they are endowed by their constituencies with certain unalienable visions, missions and values, that among these are visions, missions and values that some, but not all, members of the public share. That to secure these visions, missions and values, charities are instituted among the public, deriving their just powers from the support of the public. That whenever any form of charity becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to fail to support it, and to instead support those institutions as to them shall seem most likely to effect the safety, happiness, goodwill and public benefit of the populace.

Fundraising is not an end in itself. It serves noble ends.

(1) When those ends are ones valued by the people, and

(2) When folks trust you’re doing an effective job meeting needs they believe must be met, then

(3) You earn the privilege of fundraising and, in fact,

(4) You assume the responsibility to fundraise to assure those who rely on you to meet these needs are not left high and dry.

So… this is where you get your Declaration of Fundraising Independence.  You are ‘free to fundraise’ once you’re able to make a case to enough people that you deserve to exist.  For this to be the case:

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Where Are Our Nonprofit’s Legacy Donors?

fruit in basketLegacy gifts don’t fall from the sky.

Legacy donors aren’t delivered by storks.

You won’t find them hiding behind cabbage leaves.

You’ll mostly find them living in your donor database, volunteer roster, alumni mailing list, membership roll, client files and anyplace else folks connect with you and have a positive affiliation. An affiliation with you.

You see, the mere fact someone is wealthy does not make them a legacy giving prospect. Period. And the fact they’re wealthy and philanthropically inclined does not make them a legacy giving prospect for your charity.

The biggest indicator someone is a good legacy giving prospect for your organization is their affinity and loyalty. Generally this is demonstrated through affiliation (how they are connected to you) and behavior (what they do with you).

Of course, someone who simply shares the values your organization enacts can also be a viable legacy giving prospect. But they’re not likely to make a bequest or other type of legacy gift unless you first develop their affinity and loyalty — to your charity.  So let’s begin with the fruit already picked and in your donor basket.  We can look at the low-hanging fruit later. I do not recommend investing a lot of resources going after the fruit you’re hoping will just fall from the sky (though a little couldn’t hurt).

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How to Rock Nonprofit Text Messaging Appeals

text messaging womenText messaging is becoming an increasingly important fundraising tool. Why? One of the reasons is U.S. adults now spend 10.5 hours/day consuming media.  With all the competition for your donors’ attention, there’s a need to cut through the clutter.

Texting can do that! In fact, it offers a wonderful way to strengthen and build authentic relationships with your donors because it’s so intimate and immediate. Done well, it can create a potent way for people to connect with your cause.

The key is to choose the texting tools that will work best for you, given your resources and constituency, and to wield those tools with wisdom and responsibility. While I’m not recommending any particular products, much of what I’m reporting in this article I’ve learned from experts at Rally Corp and Qgiv. You can find additional platforms here; there are others as well.

Why text messaging is so powerful for fundraising

  • Over 90% of Americans own a smartphone. And they look at it at least 80 times/day, on average.
  • 98% of texts are read within the first five minutes – which is way better than the 20 – 30% open rates for emails.
  • 39% of people have more than 100 unread emails in their inbox, with 20% saying they have over 1,000
  • 10 – 15 minutes is the average adult attention span; short term it can be as short as 8 seconds.
  • 90% of texts get opened and read.
  • 45% of people reply to branded text message blasts; 5%x the average reply rate of emails. The most immediate information – where folks go if they really want to reach us – is found on smart phones.
  • Almost 40% of Americans use cell phones to pay at least one bill. So your constituents are already accustomed to processing financial transactions via mobile.
  • Studies suggest text messages generate average gifts of $112 per Rally Corp. Even major gifts are given this way today.
  • Adding a text to donate as a giving option resulted in a 32% increase in giving over a 12-month period per a study by PushPay.
  • A study by Qgiv learned 10% of donors, overall, prefer to give by phone. And it’s a higher percentage for certain demographics. While not as attractive to Boomers (who still represent the majority of giving), it’s true for more than 30% of GenX and Millennials.

Different styles of text fundraising

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Wrong Ways to Woo Nonprofit Donors

trust signWhat do you most need to sustain your nonprofit through thick and thin?

A steady, reliable source of income – natch!

For most nonprofits this means loyal donors.

How do you get them?

Alas, too many nonprofits act as if all they need to do is acquire the donor; then, magically, that donor will stick with them forever.  Sadly, the data shows otherwise. On average only 20% of first-time donors renew; only 43% of all donors renew. And there’s a very good reason this sorry state of affairs exists.

Most nonprofits woo donors the wrong way.

It may not happen all the time. But it happens enough. Too often, in fact.  Does this look at all like the trajectory of how you handle a newly acquired gift?

  • You badger the donor for gifts.
  • When they give, you warehouse them in your database.
  • You then send a form letter (pretending it’s personal because you use their given name and indicate their gift was earmarked for a particular purpose; in reality, most of the time you don’t know them from Adam nor do you try to get to know them beyond what they wrote on the flap of the remit envelope).
  • Next, they get on your newsletter list and receive mass mailings.
  • Before you know it – or know much about them — they’re getting another appeal letter.

There’s a better way.

Actively show donors love and trust. This is the best way to get them to love and trust you, and the two most important aspects of donor loyalty. Relationships that last are reciprocal. Penelope Burk, the queen of donor-centered fundraising, famously found through her research that donors’ number one desire is … please, please “show me that you know me.” If you want donors to trust you and be loyal to you, you have to trust them and be loyal to them.  Simple, yes?  Actually, no.

To earn trust and loyalty takes strategy.  And it takes work. Mark Schaefer makes a brilliant analogy

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Philanthropy is a Team Sport

Team huddleNo one can do it alone, sitting in their own little corner.

Not the E.D. Not the development director. Not the development committee of the board. Not the fundraising consultant.

One-person shows don’t work in fundraising.

This isn’t tennis, figure skating or golf. You’re not one person trying to be the best you can be, with all the glory accruing to you. You’re part of a team, all pulling together in the same direction, with the glory accruing not just to your team but also to your fans and your community.

Siloes don’t work in fundraising.

You aren’t saving up grain for the winter. Besides, simply hoarding won’t help enough. Development operations must figure out how to grow and harvest as much grain as possible so you can feed more and more people in need. Hoarding in siloes is a scarcity, not an abundance, mindset. A status quo, not a growth mindset.

If you have vision and big goals you need a team to see you through.

How Do You Build Your Development Team?

Begin with recruitment of stakeholders.

Look around you. Who do you see? You see internal and external stakeholders. People who care about your organization winning.

Generally, you’ll see:

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10 Strategies to Actively Build Nonprofit Donors Trust

trustTrust defines the credibility and legitimacy not only of your organization, but of the entire social benefit sector. Yet too few organizations make the effort to operationalize this construct into their fundraising and marketing planning.

You should.

Without donor trust and confidence in philanthropy there’s no future for social benefit organizations.

Donor retention guru Professor Adrian Sargeant has spent 20+ years researching the relationship between trust, philanthropy and continued donor commitment. And he has found, unequivocally, that trust is the essential foundation of the philanthropic relationship.

Ignore this at your peril.

Actively Build Donor Trust

The Donor’s Bill of Rights is a great starting point.  But simply using it as a checklist is not enough.  Too transactional. I encourage you to go above and beyond. Because the best predictor of future giving is when people feel good.

You can make giving to you a transformational experience. How? By actualizing what you learn here into a series of multi-step plans for:

  1. Gift Acknowledgement that Satisfies Donors
  2. Donor-Centered Communications that Instill Happiness
  3. Useful Content Marketing that Offers Gifts
  4. Consistent Branding that Instills Confidence
  5. Relationship Fundraising that Creates Meaning and Builds Loyalty

If you take these five steps, I can guarantee you’ll steadily build trust and make donors happy. What I’d like to do now is break these steps down into 10 action strategies. They may seem simple, and they are. But honestly ask yourself if you really do these things? I’m going to guess you could do better. So please read these with an eye to what you might do to make your donor retention plan – what I prefer to call a “donor love and loyalty plan” – more vigorous.

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