Ice Cream Cone Spill

10 Common Nonprofit Major Gift Asking Mistakes to Avoid

Ice Cream Cone SpillWhen 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?

Okay, are you ready to close your eyes? Even if this feels a little weird, why not give it a try?

EXERCISE: You can do this by yourself, but it works better if you do it in a pair. Find a co-worker, friend or family member to prompt you to close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Notice if you’re holding tension anywhere in your body. Relax those areas (forehead; neck; shoulders; hands; belly; thighs; calves; feet)  Now have them ask you the following questions:

(1) Pick a donor to meet with.

(2) Pick your meeting space.

(3) Pick an additional person to support you in the room (e.g., program director; subject matter expert; volunteer; executive director; board member; other donor). Describe who they are, and how it feels having them there.

(4) Open the conversation. What are you saying to them? What are they saying back? What’s their body language? Are their eyes lighting up? Are they smiling? Leaning forward? 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!

Mistakes in major donor conversations generally arise when you don’t know enough about the donor, or vice-versa. That’s why there are two kinds of major donor visits:

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Three San Francisco Hearts: heartsinsf; Love Captured Heart; Planes

Nonprofit Major Donor Fundraising A B C’s

Three San Francisco Hearts: heartsinsf; Love Captured Heart; Planes

You don’t just roll out of bed one day, randomly go visit a major donor prospect and ask for a random amount. At least not without a boatload of advance preparation. Right?

It’s a lot smarter to begin at the beginning.

And then take it step by step from there.

According to a plan.

A plan to secure BIG gifts for you BIG mission.

It’s always a great time to review what you can do to get yourself and your solicitors (staff and volunteers) ready to make win/win matches between your organization and your prospective major donor/investors.

Ready for some A, B, C’s?

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Could Gifts of Stock Be Your Nonprofit’s Magic Genie?

Genie pexelsDoes your nonprofit promote stock gifts?  You should!

A groundbreaking study by Dr. Russell James J.D., Ph.D., CFP®, professor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning at Texas Tech University, found nonprofits that consistently received gifts of appreciated stocks grew their contributions six times faster than those receiving only cash.

This is HUGE.

If you learn to ask for gifts from appreciated assets you’ll get more generous gifts. The study shows:

  • Received only cash gifts = 11% growth.
  • Received any kind of non-cash gift = 50% growth. Included gifts of personal and real property and deferred gifts.
  • Received securities non-cash gifts = 66% growth. Massive difference from just this one strategy!

You Don’t Have to Get Fancy

The most productive strategy is simply to accept gifts of stock.

But it’s up to you to offer up this giving framework to your supporters.  Otherwise, they’re apt not to see this as an opportunity.

And speaking of ‘framing,’ this can establish a persuasive reference point for would-be donors. Researchers have found people don’t treat all their money as if they have one big pool of it.

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Three-San-Francisco-Hearts: Hope-BLooms-Connected-Poppies-by-the-Bay. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital Foundation

It’s Fundraising Malpractice Not to Build Future Reserves

Three-San-Francisco-Hearts: Hope-BLooms-Connected-Poppies-by-the-Bay. Benefit for S.F. General Hospital FoundationJust like it’s prudent for individuals to have both a checking and savings account, it’s prudent for nonprofits to have both operating funds and endowment reserves.

Living paycheck to paycheck is less than ideal, especially when constituents rely on you for services that really matter. Seriously ask yourself:

  • Are we potentially one lost grant away from having to close our doors? Funders change priorities all the time.
  • Would losing one major donor gift mean we might not make payroll? People move. People die. People change their loyalties and areas of interest.
  • If we don’t do a big special event every year, will we need to cut programs? This happened to many nonprofits during the pandemic.
  • Am I regularly losing sleep over not being able to pay rent? Without insurance against funding cutbacks, your focus is always on survival rather than effective planning and management.

If your answer to any of these questions is affirmative, you’re living on quicksand. When you’re not actively safeguarding your future, you’re robbing your community of precious resources.

Does this sound like a prudent, caring way for your nonprofit to behave?

Not if you see yourself as a community.

A Community Cares for its Members

Without caring, you’re just a zip code or a building, not a community.

Make this the year you demonstrate your caring by planting seeds for future harvests.

You can’t care for people, animals, places, things or values without nourishment and fuel. As a recipient of philanthropy, it’s your job to steward the resources others give so you’ll be there for the community when they need you most.

  • If you don’t plan ahead to survive and thrive…
  • If you don’t plan for growth that may be necessary as new needs arise…
  • If you allow vital resources to run out…

You fail.

Your community fails too.

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Three San Francisco hearts: Rainbow, Love, Resilience - 2023 benefit for S.F. General Foundation

Before Sending a Fundraising Appeal Do This, Not That

Three San Francisco hearts: Rainbow, Love, Resilience - 2023 benefit for S.F. General FoundationTaking the time to look at your fundraising message with a critical eye can help you raise a lot more money.

You see, there are right and wrong ways to talk with prospective donors. You’ve likely read a lot on this topic (I know I’ve certainly written a lot on this topic – for starters see here), yet it bears repeating. If you fail to put your best foot forward, you’re going to end up shooting yourself in that foot!

That’s why I’ve developed this checklist to help you get your full share of the philanthropy pie.

Do This, Not That

As you read through this checklist the “to do” part of the equation may sound completely logical at first blush. You may think “of course we do this!”

Good for you. That means you’re thinking correctly.

But… sometimes good intentions get lost in translation during the executing phase. Because a lot of things you shouldn’t be doing creep in and tend to cancel out the good things. And this holds true in spades if you’re generating your letter through ChatGPT or some other AI-enabled app.

Grammatical is not emotional.

There’s nothing wrong with good grammar, of course. But sometimes the best fundraising letters break the rules a bit to come across as conversational. And they borrow from principles of psychology, neuroscience and behavioral economics to ramp up the persuasion [TIP: You might want to check out this book.]. Your goal is not to show you can write a coherent sentence. It’s to move your message recipient towards a desired action.

So I encourage you to consider the “do NOT do” part of the equation as well. Then double check your work. Why? Because this stuff is tricky.

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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 B. A. I. L. 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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Head and Heart

Easiest 7 Strategies to Get Inside Your Donor’s Head and Heart

Head and HeartHere is some wisdom gleaned from many decades of personal nonprofit work.

It derives from both my stints as an in-the-trenches development professional (five different organizations, wearing many hats, over a 30-year career), and my past decade as a coach/consultant for nonprofits of all sizes and shapes.

I will also be sharing quotes from donors Penelope Burk surveyed (also here), as these authentic testimonials provide great insight into how donors think and feel.

Finally, we’ll conclude with seven relatively easy things you can do to connect more meaningfully with your supporters so they’ll stick with you through thick and thin!

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Felt heart hanging from a pole

Top Secret Strategy to Communicate with Nonprofit Donors

Heart carved into treeDid you ever wonder if there is a foolproof way to communicate with donors?

Actually, there is!

And it’s not about process.

It’s about another ‘P’ word.

Can you guess?

I’ll give you a hint.

It relates to the secret business your nonprofit is in.

You may think you’re in (arts, healthcare, human services, environment, social justice, animal rescue, education or whatever) but, fundamentally, your core business is something else.  Something deeper.

Something that emanated from whoever founded your nonprofit.

Without this special something, your nonprofit wouldn’t exist.

Have you figured it out?

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Fundraising Do's & Don'ts logo

Fundraising Don’ts vs. Do’s: Mailed Fundraising Appeal Strategy

Fundraising Do's & Don'ts logoHere comes my occasional “Do’s vs. Don’ts” feature, where I share with you something arriving in my mailbox that seems a good ‘teaching opportunity.’

Today we’re going to review a year-end annual direct mail appeal strategy.

We’ll take a look at the various elements; then assess what works/doesn’t work.

I’ll ask you some questions.

  1. Would you open this letter?
  2. If yes, why?
  3. If no, why?
  4. What looks good about the mail package? The letter? The remit?
  5. What looks not so good about all these package elementsl?
  6. Would it inspire you to give?
  7. If yes, why?
  8. If no, why?

First, I’d like you to think about your answers and jot them down.

Second, I’ll tell you what I think.

Really take the time to notice what you like and don’t like.

I promise you’ll learn a lot more this way. We learn best by doing.

Seriously, I mean it.

Let’s begin at the beginning.

Carrier Envelope

Appeal Carrier Envelope

Some identifying information has been removed for purposes of confidentiality. I’m not here to shame. Just to teach.

  1. Would you open this letter?
  2. If yes, why?
  3. If no, why?

I’ll wait…

Have your answers?

Okay!

Ready to learn what I think thus far, and also see what else we’re working with?

Let’s begin!

What’s wrong or right with this envelope?

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