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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cigar smoking Groucho

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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Nonprofit donor conversation

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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Fork in the Road

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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Two paths converge

Ask Not What Your Donor Can Do For You…

I’ve recently been enrolled in some coaching courses, and it got me thinking…

What if you were to think of yourself as the coach and the donor as your client?

As a coach (aka “philanthropy facilitator”), your goal would be to help that client.

This is a very different stance than approaching them as someone who will help you. It completely shifts the equation of your interactions.

I’ve been working with donors, and organizations working with donors, for forty years now. Along the way, one of the things I’ve learned is your approach to your work matters. It’s why I talk a lot about reframing.

Today I’d like to discuss another type of reframing. It has to do with using your ears and mouth in the proportion in which they were given to you.

How to reframe the borders of donor meetings.

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Building - motto about knowledge and stability

Top Planned Giving Myths and Truths Revealed

Building - motto about knowledge and stabilityWhat the heck are “planned gifts?”

For some reason, this term remains largely mysterious for many nonprofits. There’s a feeling planned giving is complicated. Not for the faint of heart or the small of budget.

This couldn’t be more wrong.

People wonder:

  • Are they deferred (i.e., you won’t receive them until after the donor dies)?
  • Are they outright (i.e., you’ll receive money now)?
  • Are they only for building an organizational endowment?
  • Are they just another term for major gifts?
  • Are they gifts where donors receive benefits like life income and tax avoidance?
  • Are they legacy gifts?

The Truth about “Planned Gifts”

They’re all of the above!

If there’s any overarching guideline, the truth is that planned gifts generally represent the largest gift a donor will make to you.

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Fish in a pond

What Fishing Can Teach Us About Fundraising

Fish in a pondAre you in the right pond?

Alas, nonprofits spend too much time thinking about the right way to ask people for donations, yet not enough time thinking about who the right people are to ask. 

It’s like buying a perfect fishing rod and reel, learning how to cast, and then casting off into empty waters.

Folks, success — in fishing and fundraising — takes more than toiling, tackle, and time.

If you are fishing in the wrong place, nothing else matters.

If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a volunteer or staff member in an organization say “Why don’t we get So-and-So Famous Person to give?” I’d be a wealthy woman.  Because usually, within a given community, everyone is targeting the same So-and-So.  And here are four reasons why that won’t work.

When You Need to BAIL on a Donor ‘Prospect’

Determining who to include in your major donor prospect portfolio takes work. It’s not something to be done on a whim (or on the whim of a board member who throws out the name of a celebrity who resides locally or a nearby venture capitalist or tech CEO.)  That’s why I put “Prospect” in quotes, because So-and-So is not a viable prospect for you in any of the following circumstances.

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So You Want More Major Gifts This Year? Here’s the Secret!

Dream anything, then think.All you’ve got to do is ask!

Seriously. The number one reason people don’t make a major gift – or any gift for that matter – is no one asks them.

But I’m getting a bit ahead of myself.

Before you can ask, you have to know a few basics:

  • Who will you ask?
  • What will you ask for?
  • When will you know they’re ready to be asked?
  • Where should you ask?
  • How should you ask?
  • Why are you asking?

Let’s take these fundamentals one at a time.

Who will you ask?

Not everyone in your donor base is a major gift prospect. Even if they were, you probably don’t have the bandwidth to cultivate and solicit all of them right now. It’s just common sense to prioritize those donors with whom you’re most likely to succeed. There’s no hard and fast rule as to how to pick this priority group.

I generally advise starting with

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Top Strategies to Overcome Fear of Nonprofit Fundraising

How often have you heard someone say “I hate fundraising; I’ll do anything else,” or something along those lines?

Every time I hear this, my response is to get curious. “What makes you say this? How does fundraising make you feel?” Generally I’ll get a range of responses; mostly they boil down to some variation on the theme of FEAR.

Board members aren’t lazy because they’re afraid of asking for money. Your staff aren’t slackers because they fear fundraising.  They’re just scared, and need help overcoming their fears and anxieties. That’s your job if you’re the fundraiser!

Today we’re going to look at how to get around these fears, so you can turn reluctant fundraisers into ready ones. Honestly, it’s not rocket science; it’s just not something most of us are taught. Very few people are “natural fundraisers,” so falling back on “some people are good at this; others are not” is neither true nor helpful.  Everyone can become good at facilitating philanthropy – once their fears are addressed.

How to Overcome Fear-Based Barriers to Fundraising

It’s the job of a nonprofit’s leadership to work with insiders and stakeholders (staff and volunteers) to help them feel both passionate about the cause and confident in the fundraising process. Below you’ll find some top strategies to address challenges within your own organization so you can transform folks from fearful and reluctant to joyful and ready fundraisers.

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