If you’re a small to medium-sized organization or movement, especially if you’re local, you’ve got an unfair advantage over your larger compatriots in the social benefit sector. Perhaps you’ve never loed at it this way. Perhaps you fret about not being able to compete with the behemoths. Perhaps you’ve been waiting to hire a major…Details
A couple of years ago I 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.
Today we’ll explore how to draw your donor out so you truly hear their voice and sense their emotions, not your own.
10 Tools to Connect and Co-Create with Donors
1. Economy of language.
This is something I value, as an outsider looking in.
I’m not good at it.Details
How can I make the biggest impact on the future?
Have you ever wondered how major donors think about philanthropy?
To a large extent, they think about it the same way as anyone else. They just have more money.
It’s good to remember major donors are, first and foremost, just people.
And like all human beings, they are on a continual quest for meaning. It’s the existential search to be all that one can be.
And you can help them!
You (as executive management, development staff or board member) are a facilitator of philanthropy. Your organization exists, in part, to facilitate your donor’s quest for meaning and teach the joy of giving. To do this effectively, you must be attuned to your donors. And, since the wealthy have the ability to make a larger impact when it comes to furthering your mission, you especially must be attuned to these folks.
NOTE: I am not suggesting you eschew small gift fundraising. All gifts are important, and some of your smaller donors will likely engage in other critically important ways as well. They may become ambassadors, advocates, inlfuencers, volunteers and even legacy donors. You never want to put all your eggs in one basket. At the same time, it’s smart to develop a strategy to unlock giving from those who have potential to make transformative gifts.
6 Things that May Trigger Major Gift Philanthropy
In the past I’ve looked at six major donor philanthropic triggers. You need to know about these things, because if you can key into any of them you’ll have a strong basis for pursuing a major gift from the prospect whom you’re approaching:
- They feel economically secure.
- They are in a reflective phase of life.
- They’ve demonstrated a desire to build a closer connection with your cause and community.
- They are looking for meaning and a sense of purpose.
- They are seeking autonomy.
- They are seeking to identify themselves as the person they want to see reflected in the mirror.
Today I’d like to review six more things you should be on the lookout for; then I’ll suggest four strategies to help you enter into your prospective donors’ worlds so you can make a win/win match – one that will help your major donors simultaneously help your cause and themselves.
Coincidentally, I found a back issue of Lifestyles Magazine from 2008 (yes, I’m a bit of a hoarder) and was struck by some of what the publication had to say—a veritable peek inside the minds of major donors. There’s a clue right in the way Lifestyles (now out of publication) describes their mission (highlights are mine):Details
Here 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 fundraising campaign thank you email.
It’s very simple, which is why I’ve selected it. Because simple can be deceptive. So much so, in fact, that putting it together may seem unworthy of a strategic approach. Gosh darn it — we had a successful campaign and now we’re simply closing the loop and letting our community know it was a success. How much time investment is merited here, really? Come on! Just the fact we’re sending this is good, right?
Wrong. Alas, as the old adage goes, anything worth doing is worth doing well. Otherwise, you might inadvertently create an unintended consequence.
You may think I’m picking nits. Perhaps. But if you’ve got nits, they’re pretty uncomfortable. And that’s how this email made me feel. Except… for the parts that didn’t make me feel that way. This email is a melange of do’s and don’ts.
We’ll take a look at the various elements; then assess what works/doesn’t work.
There’s (1) a subject line, (2) the email itself, and (3) what happens if/when you click through and are transported to the donation landing page.
I’ll ask you some questions.
- Would you open this email?
- If yes, why?
- If no, why?
- What looks good about the email?
- What looks not so good about the email?
- Would it inspire you to click through?
- If yes, why?
- If no, why not?
- Once you click through, would you be inspired to take action?
- If yes, why?
- If no, why not?
First, I’d like you to think about your answers and jot them down.
Second, I’ll tell you what I think.
Third, if you disagree with me please let me know in the comments below.
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.
“We did it!”
This may help: Take three minutes and jot down your answers to the first three questions on a piece of paper or your screen. I want to know if what was in the subject headline would have caused you to open the email or hit ‘delete.’ If you’d open it, why?
Okay. Ready to learn what I think thus far, and also see what else we’re working with?
Does this Email Say “Open Me?”Details
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll This is actually a paraphrase of an exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I use it often to encourage people to develop and stick to a plan. Lewis Carroll, on the other hand,…Details
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:
- You’re in the room together.
- You smile. They smile back.
- 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?
- 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:Details
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?Details
Sustain the positive energy of love and connection
Are you throwing your former board members out like yesterday’s trash?
This may not be your intention, but you’re kind of guilty of this if you don’t continue to (1) let them know how special they are, and (2) build personal relationships with them. After all, 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.”
Are You Showing Former Board you Know, Love and Feel Specially Connected to Them?
- As board members, they got used to being treated as “insiders.”
- Now that they’ve stepped off the board, you’re treating them as if they mean less to you.
Every single communication with a former board member should let them know you know who they are.
If you treat them 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. And facilitating philanthropy (the word literally means “love of humankind”) is a very human endeavor.
Don’t stop loving your former board members.
Stop blaming them for stopping to love you. Blaming is a cop out. Instead, look in the mirror and see what part you may be playing in their changed behavior.
SPECIAL TIP: You can apply much of the suggestions in this article to former staff as well. I often marvel at the hands-off way I’m treated by some of the places where I once worked, sometimes for many years. Places where I donated too, because I believed in the mission. Now I’m just a “prospect” or “lapsed donor” to them, and the communications I receive come across a bit infantalizing. After all, I know this stuff. I wrote a lot of this stuff! It just feels like they’re telling me “since you don’t work here any more, you mean nothing to us.”
Why Former Board Merit Their Own Engagement Strategy
Former board should be one of your top segments for cultivation!
IN A NUTSHELL:
- They have a deep understanding of your vision, mission and values.
- For years, they made your nonprofit one of their top philanthropies.
- They have numerous connections with your cause, including relationships with staff, each other, and even beneficiaries.
- At one point you were part of their identity and family.
- You likely have a special place in their heart.
- They may even have included you in their estate planning!
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.
8 Strategies to Build a Former Board Member Love and Loyalty StrategyDetails
There’s a lot of potential legacy giving out there in the universe. Per Giving USA 2022, giving by bequest was an estimated $46 billion, (an increase of $5 billion from just two years previous). What are you doing to assure some of it will flow to your cause?
First, Identify Your Audience for Legacy Gifts
I cover this subject in depth in Where Are Our Nonprofit’s Legacy Donors? Contrary to the way most nonprofits behave, legacy gifts don’t simply fall from the sky. They’re not delivered by storks carrying baskets filled with wills, trusts and beneficiary designations. You need to do something proactive.
You can’t simply rest on your reputation, however solid it may be. You could be raising tons and tons of money annually, and it won’t necessarily translate to bequests. It’s not because your donors aren’t the will-writing kind. That may be true for some of them, but there are other simple ways to leave a legacy accessible to all. Donor willingness is not the problem.
Key: Your Willingness to Prioritize Building a Legacy Giving Program
No charity succeeds simply waiting by the phone for folks to call. You’ll receive a bequest or two, perhaps. But nowhere near what you could receive if you took the bull by the horns and created a program that speaks to why people make legacy gifts.
There are two main reasons: (1) they’re asked, and (2) it feels meaningful to do so. So, given this, what do you incorporate into your program? What if I told you there’s a way to take charge of your own destiny, as you simultaneously help donors take charge of theirs?
STEP #1: Figure out a strategy to get folks thinking of you as a recipient of their philanthropic largess after death. There are elements to include in a full-fledged legacy giving program, and I’ve written about that plenty (e.g., see here and here).
STEP # 2: Help donors connect their giving to their personal identity and meaning. People may believe you’re awesome. But when it comes to distributing the hard-earned income accrued over a lifetime, they just don’t think of you that way. As an extension of their family, deepest values and essential identity. This is where many nonprofits fall down on the job, and it’s what I want to discuss today.Details
Are 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.
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.Details