Skyrocketing

10 Strategies to Skyrocket Major Gift Fundraising

Skyrocketing“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.” So wrote Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland.

It’s the same with major donor fundraising, except you don’t ever really stop.  You just start up again. You do follow a prescribed path, however.  And here’s what it looks like:

  1. Before
  2. Ground Floor
  3. Explore
  4. Back Door
  5. Adore
  6. Mentor
  7. Ask For
  8. Implore
  9. Rapport
  10. Report

If you do this correctly, it becomes a transformational process for the donor. They want to stay connected and engaged and invested.  Which is why you don’t stop.  You follow up with “Some More.”

But first…

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Broken Heart

Important News about Relationship Fundraising: Stop Losing Donors

Broken Heart
Do you know how you may be breaking your donor’s heart? Keep it up, and they’ll break yours.

This is important.

It’s about a report that may change how you do fundraising.

It should.

Let me explain.

Unless you’ve been asleep at the wheel, by now you should know most nonprofits have been hemorrhaging donors for over a decade.

By tending to focus more on expensive, staff-intensive acquisition strategies like direct mail and special events, charities are bringing in one-time donors who never give to them again. It’s why I focus so much on donor retention strategies and exhort you to make them your priority strategy.

Why? Because otherwise all your acquisition efforts are wasted. The latest Fundraising Effectiveness Project Report  revealed an astounding 81% of first-time donors lapse. [BTW: This isn’t the report that’s going to change your modus operandi; it’s merely the rationale for the release of the report that will. Keep reading.] Of repeat donors, 39% lapse. For every 100 new donors acquired, on average nonprofits lost 96 existing donors.

“Over 70% of people that we recruit into organizations never come back and make another gift, so we’re caught on this treadmill where we have to spend lots of money on acquisition which most nonprofits lose money on anyway, just to stand still.”

– Professor Adrian Sargeant,
Director of the Centre for Sustainable Philanthropy at Plymouth University

This is the proverbial three steps forward, two steps back – only worse!

This burn and churn strategy is killing nonprofits — and burning out the folks who work in them.

Why is it that for profits manage to retain 94% of customers, yet there’s such a huge disparity when it comes to nonprofits?

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Proven 1-2-3 to Nonprofit Fundraising Success

L O V E Sign behind a fenceUnderlying this 1-2-3 formula is a need for balance.

It’s obvious. I know you know it. But… do you do it?

I’m here today, just in case you need a little reminder.

  1. The first step is essential for success in anything.
  2. The second step is essential for success in any consumer-facing business.
  3. The third step is essential for success in reaching a fundraising goal.

When the world seems wildly out of balance, it is incumbent on us to begin with centering actions: for ourselves, others, and our mission.

Balancing Trick: You. Donor. Nonprofit.

I’m talking about balancing self-love with donor-love with mission-love.

You can’t help others unless you first take care of yourself.

This is a truism you should carry with you throughout your life, and not just when the oxygen masks come down on an airplane. It’s never been truer than in the times in which we’re currently living, when there are new things about which to worry seemingly daily.

How do you lead the way forward, helping yourself and others navigate through the tough times?

I’d like to suggest you heed this 3-Step Formula to nonprofit fundraising success.

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Giant gummy bear

The Giant Mid-Level Fundraising Opportunity Your Nonprofit’s Missing

Giant gummy bear escaping from smaller gummies

Bet you’ve got some giants hiding in your midst.

Nonprofits pay a lot of attention to donor acquisition. Then?

They largely ignore these donors, unless…

They become worthy of attention by virtue of being ‘major’ donors. Then?

Nonprofits pay a lot of attention to major donor relationship building. But…

Between new donor acquisition and major donor cultivation, solicitation and stewardship, what happens?

Usually not enough.

This is a BIG missed opportunity.

You’ve likely got great donor prospects hiding inside your own donor base, and you’re essentially treating them like, well, poop.

What if you were to begin to look at your mid-level donors as the transformational fundraising opportunity they are?

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Awesome/Less Awesome Sandwich Board

Key Strategies to Praise, Recognize and Give Meaningful Work Feedback

Awesome/Less Awesome Sandwich BoardI confess this is something I struggled with in my 30 years as a manager.

I had a boss who excelled at pinpointing weaknesses, and I learned a lot from her. [Plus, my mother was pretty good at this too – but we don’t have all day here.]

Ironically, this same boss told me ad infinitum (whenever I wanted to give someone a raise), that money didn’t really motivate people. All sorts of other things mattered more, including work environment.

At the time, I didn’t really believe this. I was constantly advocating for well-deserved raises because I thought it was the best gift I had to offer. And, by golly, it seemed like the right and fair thing to do! She told me resources were limited, and the satisfaction from a raise is fleeting, compared with things like greater authority, autonomy, praise and recognition.

You know what? She was right about what is most meaningful to employees in a workplace.

Because as much as the people who worked for me enjoyed a good raise, they complained a lot more about lack of advancement opportunity, responsibility without authority, a top-down infrastructure, lack of job fit, unrealistically high expectations, shortage of support and an overall stressful work environment.

If money is really bad, of course, it will get in the way.  However, it’s worth noting money is only fourth among the top five reasons people cite for leaving a job. In fact, the preponderance of research into the value of money as a motivator notes it is a motivator up to a certain point; once folks reach that level, more money has a negligible impact on their satisfaction.

[Background: I was fortunate during my career not to work at places where folks were expected to buy into the “starvation cycle” mentality and live below minimum wage. Where I worked, people generally were fairly and well-compensated. Sure, they’d likely tell you they wanted more money.  But this was not the reason they left.]

“In a nutshell: money does not buy engagement.”

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, author, Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? (and How to Fix It)

Employee engagement is a product of overall work environment (culture) and specific management support (feedback, praise and recognition).

Begin with an Engaging Work Environment

A huge part of what employees will describe as “work environment” has to do with meaningful engagement, or lack thereof. And there are two ways to promote this engagement:

  1. Develop a broad, organizational culture of philanthropy [See here, here, here and here.]
  2. Develop a feedback system incorporating authentic praise, recognition and focus on strengths, not weaknesses.

I talk a lot about the former. Today I’d like to hone in on the latter.

Because… for engagement to stick, the two types must go hand-in-hand.

In fact, research reveals

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Money on Table

How to Stop Leaving Money on the Table

Money on TableMoney left on the table is one of my pet peeves. It’s really beyond a peeve.

I can’t stand it when organizations could be serving more people, or doing so more effectively, but they don’t because they’re too smug (“what we’re doing now works just fine, and don’t try to tell me otherwise”) … self-reportedly “too stressed” … or simply not open to the idea of trying out some new strategies.

This “resting on one’s laurels” modus operandi leads to status quo organizations that fail to evolve to meet the moment. They get stuck in the past and, too often, begin to wither and die. Or they become what I call a “boutique charity” appealing to a niche group of insiders, content with the status quo.

That’s “nice,” but if you’re dedicated to solving pressing societal problems, meeting insistent human needs, and creating transformational personal and societal change, you’ll need to connect with donors on a more direct, visceral level.

How to Stop Leaving Money on Your Table

Your best donors have linkage, interest and ability (LIA). Begin with those already linked to you by virtue of having made a previous donation, been a loyal volunteer, served on your staff or board, or been a repeat purchase of services or products. In other words, they’re hiding in plain sight in your database.

Consider how you might learn more about these folks to better connect with them and make the best use of limited resources. You can do this in one of two ways:

  1. Donor Analytics: Find out how wealthy they are (ability)
  2. Supporter Connection Survey: Find out what they care about most (interest)

It’s funny, but too many nonprofits start with the former and often completely ignore the latter. It’s a way to go (and I confess I’ve been there), but is it the best way? I no longer think so – which is why I’m writing this article.

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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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How Do You Keep Former Nonprofit Board Members Engaged?

Heart hands

Sustain the positive energy of love and connection

Are you throwing your former board members out like yesterday’s trash? You are if you don’t continue to build relationships with them and let them know how special they are.

Every single communication with a former board member should let them know you know who they are. 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.”

If you treat former board members 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.

Stop blaming board members for stopping loving you. Instead, focus on not stopping to love them!

8 Strategies to Build a Former Board Member Love and Loyalty Strategy

Former board should be one of your top segments for cultivation! They have a deep understanding of your vision, mission and values. For years, they made your nonprofit one of their top philanthropies. They may even have included you in their estate planning!

Former board have numerous connections to your cause; don’t lose them! They may have relationships with staff or even beneficiaries. They also have connections with each other. At one point you were part of their identity and family. You likely have a special place in their heart.

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.

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