Connecting with Donors: Appointments or Disappointments?
A major goal in each fundraising shop is generating annual dollars using a variety of tactics. Most programs employ direct mail, special events, Web marketing, social media, telephone initiatives and other techniques to acquire new donors and upgrade existing donors each year.
The good news? These tactics can increase the quantity of donors and dollars, and maintain the psychology of giving each year. However, fundraisers aspiring for major or planned gifts face a challenge: They must build a relationship between the organization and the donor, and follow a process to move the donor from transactional to transformational. Transformational donors are educated, cultivated, committed and emotionally passionate about a cause they will support for life. Moving donors in this direction is where the art and science of fundraising comes into play.
Personal engagement and face-to-face appointments
Ultimately, every fundraising shop should have annual-, major- and planned-gift programs supported by development services. Even if your shop is small and focused primarily on annual gifts, targeting certain individuals for major and planned giving is essential even if your prospect pool is limited. More important than the size of your prospect pool is the need to create opportunities for engagement between your organization and each donor.
While technology is important for generating annual gifts, major-gift development is much different; donors asked to make larger gifts need more education, trust, motivation, and unique ways to interact and engage personally with the organization. Fundraising staff must be ready to create strategies for success in this arena.
To move the transactional donor (who probably gave through "impersonal" means) to a "fired-up" major-gift donor, step one is securing a face-to-face appointment. On paper, this may seem easy; after all, you're not really cold-calling since you're attempting to contact an existing donor. However, in this changing, complex and guarded world, obtaining "the first date" can be far more difficult than you might imagine.
So as you prepare to make an appointment with a prospect, think about your plan to approach this person. There are pros and cons to methods such as e-mail, conventional mail or a phone call; in some cases, all three methods may be used.
The key is creating a strategy around the person you are contacting. Do you know if this contact is the decision maker? What is this person's preferred method of communication for ongoing correspondence? Remember: Your goal is securing a face-to-face meeting that leads to a series of future meetings and significant gifts.
If you choose e-mail, make sure you have the proper authorization to e-mail this person. Some individuals have business addresses while some have home addresses; make sure this information is noted in your fundraising database.
If you're sure you have the prospect's approval, send your meeting request via e-mail from your organization -- on electronic letterhead -- and use whatever means you have to validate that the e-mail is coming from you on behalf of your organization.
E-mail is fast and direct and lets you attach additional information about your organization. Nevertheless, some prospects may consider an e-mail from you to be impersonal and very intrusive. Since the goal of the e-mail is to obtain an appointment, you should use another means of contact if you do not receive a reply within a short time.
A more traditional approach is sending a hard-copy letter to the prospect along with your business card and brief marketing materials. Many older prospects like this approach because they believe it's a personal touch.
Nevertheless, while this approach can be effective, many individuals will not react quickly to your request. Especially in cold-call situations, you may not hear from them unless you follow up via phone or some other means.
An excellent approach, in theory, is to call the prospect directly. However, cold-calling produces limited success because of caller ID and voicemail. While a letter or e-mail in advance of a phone call certainly helps, it doesn't guarantee success. (Based upon personal research, on average, for every 10 cold calls you make to transactional donors, you may reach two contacts; you'll hear six voicemails, and two calls will ring into infinity.)
Even if you finally do reach someone in the home, in most cases you won't connect with the actual prospect. It's difficult for individuals, even donors, to trust you making a cold call over the phone. To increase your chances of success, it's recommended that women call prospects since most organizations have more female donors than male donors.
So what's the lesson?
To obtain an appointment and not be disappointed, you must determine how to contact the prospect and who can link you to that prospect. The key to securing a major gift appointment is connectivity!
You must tap someone connected with your organization to be an advocate and open a door for you. This person might be a volunteer, board member, staff member, friend, donor or even another prospect. Your targeted prospects will respond more positively about meeting with you if the meeting request comes from someone they know and trust.
Ideally, your connector knows your prospect; if not, remember that in most cases, a prospect tends to react more favorably to a volunteer rather than a paid staff member on the first approach for a face-to-face meeting.
Always keep in mind that major- and planned-gift fundraising is relationship-based and very personal and requires touching a donor's heart and soul; after all, you're trying to engage donors in the life of your organization for the rest of their lives. A highly engaged donor once told me, "I am giving my estate to my four 'children' - my three sons and your hospital - in equal shares." Over time, this individual was moved from a direct-mail donor, to a major-gift donor, and finally to a planned-gift transformational donor. The process began during our first face-to-face meeting, and the end result was several years in the making.
It's all about connecting
The bottom line? To secure that important first appointment, first find the right connector. If no connector exists, consider sending a meeting request letter from your organization's president, board chair or key volunteer on his or her stationery.
Since the connector must live the story to tell the story, he or she must have extensive knowledge of your organization and support it financially. The connector also must be your advocate; this validates you as important to the process. Therefore, you may want to consider inviting the connector to join you for that first meeting with the prospect.
You cannot obtain a major gift -- or possibly an eventual planned gift -- until you engage the prospect on a personal level in a face-to-face meeting. Step one is securing the first appointment. If you mishandle this opportunity, you may not get a second chance to make a first impression. It's up to you whether the result of your important activity is an appointment -- or a disappointment!
F. Duke Haddad is a fundraising consultant. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
F. Duke Haddad, EdD, CFRE, is currently associate director of development, director of capital campaigns and director of corporate development for The Salvation Army Indiana Division in Indianapolis, Indiana. In addition, he is also president of Duke Haddad and Associates, LLC, and freelance instructor for Nonprofit Web Advisor.
He has been a contributing author to NonProfit PRO for the past 13 years.
He received his doctorate degree from West Virginia University with an emphasis on education administration, master’s degree from Marshall University with an emphasis in public administration and a bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University in business administration, with an emphasis in marketing/management. He has also done post graduate work at the University of Louisville.