Major Donor Conversations: Pitch vs. Promise

Claiire Axelrad heart signToday I want to talk about the heart of successful major gift fundraising.

It’s about reframing what you may think of as a “pitch” into what your donor would like to consider a “promise.”

The pitch is one way: You deliver a monologue about everything you know about your organization, how great it is, how pressing the need is, how you know this is what the donor cares about (maybe based on a computer print-out of the donor’s past history with your cause)… and then drop this bomb into your donor’s lap – often leaving them feeling like they didn’t get a chance to get a word in edgewise and/or they’ll be a ‘bad’ person if they don’t respond as you suggest.

The promise is two-way: Your donor promises to make a gift to accomplish something near and dear to their heart; you promise to put that gift to work effectively and report back to the donor on what their philanthropy accomplished.

The difference between these approaches is the difference between success and failure, especially over time.

For donors to give at their most passionate level, and to stick with you over time, they have to see and feel the promise. They have to believe and trust in you. They have to feel good about their giving.

If they give because they felt coerced or guilty by your perceived sales pitch, they aren’t likely to want to do this again. When you make giving transactional, you fail to build a relationship. Ultimately, these donors will evaporate.

Which brings us to the heart of effective major donor fundraising:

THE CONVERSATION

Details
Chalkboard Menu

What to Put on Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan Menu

A good fundraising strategic plan, like a menu, should be broken into component parts so it’s easy to wrap your brain around.

With a menu, it might be appetizers, meat entrees, seafood entrees, vegetarian entrees, sides and desserts.

With a fundraising plan, it tends to break down into strategies.

It might be annual giving, major gifts, legacy gifts, foundation grants, business sponsors, events and so forth.

Before you can get to determining your priority strategies, however, you need to do a mini fundraising audit.

When I begin working with a new nonprofit client, I always ask the same three questions.

Details
Master chef creation

Master Chef vs. Line Cook: How Do You Prepare Your Nonprofit Fundraising Plan?

I learned something over three decades ago that I’ve never forgotten.

When I learned this, it made me very happy.

You see, I was transitioning from an unhappy, short-lived career in law and wasn’t really sure about my next chapter.  Nonprofit work intrigued me, but… was it really a discipline or just something folks “winged?”  How would I know I could be successful?

There weren’t a lot of role models around at the time, and I really didn’t know any other fundraisers.  And there certainly were no articles to “google” online!

So, I enrolled in a week-long course offered by The Fundraising School, then led by founder Hank Rosso (who I call the “Daddy of Fundraising), which is now part of the Lily School of Philanthropy at Indiana University.

And my eyes were opened to the very nature of fundraising. And the essential pre-conditions for fundraising success.

Details
Laptop, notebook, coffee

How to Write a Foolproof Nonprofit Grant Proposal

Too often grant proposals begin with some variation of “we want money because we’re a good cause and, since you’re good guys too, naturally this will be a match made in heaven.”

There’s nothing natural about this request.

In fact, it’s a version of “Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking Glass” thinking.

To paraphrase the Cheshire Cat speaking to Alice: If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.

Or not.

In fact, Alice tells the Cat she just wants to get “somewhere.” Could this, perhaps, be like you just wanting to bring in ‘some’ money to balance your budget? Hmnn… The Cat tells Alice “Oh, you’re sure to do that. If you only walk long enough.

Guess what?

Most funders reading your proposal will not want to read long enough. In fact, if you’re not clear on your destination from the get-go, they’re likely to abandon you before you get there. If you get there. In other words, wherever you end up, you won’t arrive there together.

And that’s the point of a grant proposal, right?

You seek a partnership… a travelling companion… an investor who cares about the outcome.

Where you’re Going… How you’re Going There… and How Much it Will Cost

Right from the get-go, this is what funders need to hear from you.

No beating around the bush.

Get right to the point with the specifics.

If the funder must read through several paragraphs – or pages – before it’s clear how much money you’re requesting and what, specifically, you intend to use it for, they’ll be in a ticked-off frame of mind as they read your proposal.

Not good.

Get organized!

The 6-step formula I’m about to share is one I learned when I first entered this business decades ago.

Details
'Wearing is Caring' Street art

Fool-Proof Nonprofit Crisis Fundraising Communications Templates for Every Audience

'Wearing is Caring' Street artDuring a crisis is no time to be passive. Build a list of audiences, prioritize contacts among those lists, and develop a step-by-step written PLAN to reach out. With updates, engagement opportunities, little gifts of content folks can use, and opportunities to contribute and make a demonstrable difference.

Sharing is caring too.  Do you have a plan in place to regularly share what you’re up to, and offer opportunities for donors to engage?  Are you communicating with donors as if they’re a part of your family or favorite group of friends? If not so much, what are you waiting for?

Establish templates with talking points in advance of your communications; then let the reaching out begin. First determine your purpose.

  • Do you want to say thank you?
  • Do you want to simply check in to see how your donor is doing, and whether they have any questions about your organization’s status and work right now?
  • Do you want to ask them to volunteer their time?
  • Do you want to ask for a philanthropic gift?
  • Do you want them to complete a survey?

Figure this out first, because the more you know where you’re going the more likely you are to get there! If you’re light on staff right now, ask your volunteers and influencers for help.

These communication templates can be used for phone (or other online) conversations and emails. Got that? Conversations! Merriam Webster describes a conversation as “oral exchange of sentiments, observations, opinions, or ideas.” In other words, you want to prompt two-way participation on some level. This is not about you delivering a monologue or formal dissertation. Think of your communication as you raising an issue for discussion. You want to pique your donor’s interest and ask open-ended questions that invite their engagement.

Start with your top priority donors who have the highest likelihood of making an additional gift to get you through this crisis. I suggest

Details
Paper heart tacked to tree, with motto

Are You Unclear on the Concept of Why to Send a Nonprofit Fundraising Appeal?

Paper heart tacked to tree, with mottoWhat’s the point of a fundraising appeal letter?

That’s obvious, right? To raise money!

But, wait a minute.

Dig deeper.

I always ask the question “why?” until I finally get to the end – where no more ‘why’ questions need to be asked — and uncover the true purpose behind anything I’m doing.

So… why are you endeavoring to raise money?

Because your organization needs contributed income.

Why does your organization need contributed income?

Because you don’t generate enough earned income to enact your mission.

Why don’t you generate enough earned income?

Because you make your services available for free or low cost to those who otherwise couldn’t afford them.

Why can’t folks afford what you offer without subsidy?

Because they’re … elderly on fixed incomes… vulnerable children… newly arrived immigrants… low-income single parents… families living below poverty level… veterans… unemployed… homeless… devastated by a natural emergency or illness… saddled by debt… or otherwise at-risk, marginalized, overlooked or being in need of a break.

Why else do you need community support?

Because the upfront cost is greater than the market will bear, but worth it for the ultimate community good of… a cure for a terminal disease… relief from devastating pain… ending injustice… saving the environment… preventing violence, abuse, addiction, suicide… restoring faith and inspiration to those whose lives would otherwise lack meaning, fulfillment and hope.

Aha! Now that you’ve answered all these important “why” questions you know the point of your fundraising appeal letter or email. Right?

It’s to get people to understand the benefit of their gift; what will happen absent their generosity.

It’s more than ridding themselves of the dollar they had burning in their pocket.

But wait another minute.

Can you dig still deeper?

Why do you want people to understand the outcome they can create?

Because… 

Details

REVEALED: Best Strategic Advice to Raise Money for Your Nonprofit, Crisis or Not

2020-05-31 16.07.25Is there a best way to raise money?

That question is really at the heart of what most nonprofits want to know.

And recently I was reminded of this when asked a question for a Virtual Summit for Nonprofit Changemakers in which I’m participating in the early Fall. [There will be a ton of useful content presented in this online conference – by 20 of well-respected experts over two days – so please check it out.]

Here’s what I was asked:

What is the best advice you can give to a fundraiser… and does it hold true in times of crisis?

I thought about this long and hard. Because I’ve lots and lots of advice!

But… my best advice?  Hmmn…

And then it came to me.

I recalled a favorite quote.

“If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend fifty-five minutes thinking about the problem and five minutes thinking about the solution.”

— Albert Einstein

That’s the advice!

You see, one can’t really pick a best fundraising strategy without first fully describing the reason money is not already flowing in. In other words…

You must identify and define your problem before attempting to solve it.

The time you spend doing so will be well spent. And when it comes to fundraising, worth its weight in gold.

I like to go through an iterative process of asking why, why, why, why…. until I’ve exhausted every question. It looks something like this:

Details
Mural art, pointing finger

Philanthropy Trends Your Nonprofit Needs to Know Mid-Pandemic

Mural art, pointing fingerCould you be getting it all wrong when it comes to the what, who, where, why, how and when of your nonprofit’s communications and fundraising as this pandemic plays out?

You could.

Especially if you’re leading from opinion above knowledge. You know, going with your gut when it comes to what your donors want or need from you right now. Otherwise known as guessing.

That’s never a good idea for someone whose job is to facilitate philanthropy. Because a lot is known about how much joy it brings people to demonstrate their ‘love of humanity’ through philanthropic acts. Your gut telling you donors don’t want to be invited to become heroes? P’shaw.

Now, thanks to the folks at Blue Frog Fundraising, more is known about how donors feel about giving in response to the current pandemic. In the recently revealed Coronavirus Research Findings: What do donors think now? they focus on what donors have told them about how their approach to giving has changed. Or hasn’t.

These philanthropy trends are important to understand, so I’ve selected the most salient among their key findings (highlighted in the break-out boxes) and have grouped them according to the traditional journalist’s rubric of what, who, where, why, how and when.

Research Graph, Blue Frog, What Donors WantI’m going to explain what your nonprofit should do to show donors you do, in fact, understand where they’re coming from.

Before taking any marketing message or fundraising appeal off your plate, and before adding anything new, always make sure to ask yourself these six important questions! They will help you assess almost any situation, plus focus your efforts and aid you in telling more relevant, compelling stories.

Let’s get started…

Details