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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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language of love alphabet

How to Supercharge Nonprofit Major Giving Using the Language of Love

language of love alphabetWhat motivates someone to make a major philanthropic gift?

Generally it takes one or more meaningful conversations with a donor who (you hope!) may contemplate a gift to your organization. At some point you’ll be ready to make them an offer you hope they won’t be able to refuse. But how do you develop their interest and passion to the point where they’re willing and ready to enact them?  Today I’m suggesting it’s actually pretty simple, as long as you truly understand the process of what the nonprofit sector has come to call “development.”

To get folks to “YES” you simply need to learn the language of gift planning!

It’s not just about HOW people give, but WHY.

Planning is the operative word. Alas, when many folks talk about ‘planned givingit’s a term that’s come to mean giving vehicles. Often it’s just about deferred giving vehicles. Most donors don’t think this way. Rather, they consider how they want to help. They concern themselves with the best ways to enact their values. This may mean an outright gift today or a deferred gift tomorrow. Or both. Form follows function. So thinking in terms of gift vehicles is a decidedly non-donor-centric way of framing things.

People making bequests or gifts in trust often visit legal and financial advisors. So we think of this more as “planning” mode. And we ask “planned gift officers” to work with these folks. This isn’t wrong, but it’s not as right as it could be if you approached the donor’s giving decision more expansively.

In othe words, major gift officers are also planned giving officers.

Anyone who contemplates a major, or stretch, outright gift plans ahead.

No one gets up one morning and decides spontaneously to give away $100,000.

Or let’s just stipulate it’s relatively rare.

Rather, would-be philanthropists consider how making a particular gift at a particular point in time may match their values and help them accomplish their objectives, personal and philanthropic.

It’s seldom a spur of the moment action.

For purposes of this gift planning article, let’s consider your audience to be prospective major (outright) and legacy (deferred) gift donors.

Let’s try an experiment.

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boy doing head stand

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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Man jumping over mountain

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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Man pointing to ear and hearing aid

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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Big earred deer

4 Strategies to Listen so Others Will Talk

You have two ears and one mouth. Use them in that proportion.

Ever hear that?

It’s the secret to building authentic, lasting relationships. Full stop.

Whether you’re dating, parenting, teaching, attending a conference or hosting a dinner party, the ability to be fully present – in listening mode – will impact so many things. For good or ill.

  • Whether people want to keep talking to you, or don’t.
  • Whether people feel relaxed and open, or anxious and stressed.
  • Whether people want to tear down walls, or build them up.
  • Whether you learn something, or don’t.
  • Whether you’re perceived as compassionate, understanding and helpful, or not.
  • Whether people like you, or don’t.

Donor loyalty and love are earned, and it begins with YOU listening.

If I had to boil down Penelope Burk’s two decades of groundbreaking research in donor-centered fundraising into one thing donors want, it would be this: SHOW ME YOU KNOW ME. There are lots of ways to do this, but we sometimes miss out on the most obvious one.

Become a Donor Coach

Your job – as fundraiser, nonprofit professional and philanthropy coach – is to help your donors see the way to greatness. Think of this as part and parcel of your job as a philanthropy facilitator. In donor coaching mode, you need to listen so you can find “coaching moments” – opportunities to motivate donors to engage with, and act on, their passions in a way that brings them meaning and joy.

“Coaching is a worldview that is driven by the intention to be of service to others.”

— Dianna Andersen, Cyliant

Your job is to guide folks over the river, through the woods, up the mountain and

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Man yelling into phone

How Not to Ask for a Major Gift

Man yelling into phoneTwice in the past month I’ve been asked for a major gift.

Pretty much out of the blue.

Without much preparation, relationship-building or making of an inspiring case for support.

It was clear to me what the charity would get out of it: my money. It was not so clear what I would get out of it. Should I not care?

  • Perhaps not.

  • Perhaps if I were the ideal, perfect donor I would give with no expectation of receiving anything in return.

  • Perhaps if I were less ego-centric, I’d just do it because it was the “right thing to do.”

  • Perhaps if I were not on a quest for personal meaning, I’d give just because the person who asked is someone I know (though, not all that well); it would give them a feeling of success, and that would bring me some happiness.

  • Perhaps if I were not searching for a community of folks who share my values, I’d give without quite understanding the depth and breadth of values enacted by these charities or without having met more of the people involved.

  • Perhaps if I were not examining what it is that sparks joy in my life, I’d give whether or not this cause was currently at the top of my list or I’d been given opportunity for reflection and consideration.

But I’m not perfect.

I’m betting most of your donors aren’t either.

Donors have expectations… egos… personal meaning they’re seeking… communities they’d like to form… and cups of joy that need filling. Otherwise they wouldn’t be human.

And even if you could find a perfect donor prospect, in the instances where I was asked the case for why this was the right thing for me to do wasn’t even made all that well. The ask was about money, not impact.

There was simply an assumption that since I’d shown interest in the past, I would welcome this opportunity to demonstrate my interest even more passionately.

Okay. That’s not a bad starting place. But… you should never assume. You know what they say about the word “assume,” right?

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