Any Nonprofit Can Rock Major Gifts With These 9 Secrets (Part 2)
Every nonprofit should have a major gifts program. Because that’s where the lion’s share of the money is. It’s rare an organization has a mailing list large enough to raise $1 million from a million different $1 donors, but most nonprofits do have major-donor prospects hiding in plain sight. It’s up to you to find them; then move them along a cultivation path that prepares them—and you—to make an ask that results in a win-win values-based exchange.
Let’s review the full panoply of secrets that will guarantee your major gifts program is a success, whatever your size. We previously covered the first four. Today we’ll cover the final five.
Nine Secrets to Major Gift Fundraising Success
- The Right Prospects for You
- The Best Case for Support for This Campaign
- A Gift Chart Tied to Your Fundraising Goal
- A Cultivation Plan for Each Prospect
- The Right Solicitor(s)
- The Right Decision-Maker(s)
- The Prepared Solicitor(s)
- Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Organization
- Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Donor
5. The Right Solicitor(s)
There is no one right solicitor for every prospect. Ask yourself a series of questions from the perspective of your targeted prospect. Does the prospect know who the "asker" is? Will the "asker" be perceived as important, authoritative, credible, friendly or, otherwise, persuasive?
Should more than one solicitor be involved? Sometimes you have one person serving as the “educator” and the other as the “asker.” The former may be a knowledgeable staff member (e.g., doctor, teacher, researcher, program manager, executive director, development director) while the latter may be a volunteer leader or peer with a relationship to the prospect.
Secret: There are no hard and fast rules on who should play these various solicitor roles. You just want to know, going in, who is playing which role. Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving the room without ever getting to the solicitation.
6. The Right Decision-Maker(s)
Are all the necessary people in the room? Should you include a spouse, adult child or significant other? What about a legal, financial or philanthropic adviser? You may as well have everyone there who ultimately will influence the donor’s decision. Otherwise, you’re counting on the person with whom you meet to convey what you said to someone else. This is a bit like the game of telephone. Something gets lost in translation.
SECRET: You put a lot of work into preparing your “dog and pony show.” Make sure you’ve extended invitations to everyone who should be in attendance.
7. The Prepared Solicitor(s)
Are you (or is your volunteer or staff member) psyched? Are you prepared physically, mentally and emotionally to put your organization’s best foot forward? Do you have all the information you need about your prospect? About the project for which you’re asking? Have you practiced what you’re going to say? If you’re doing a team solicitation, have you practiced together? Do you feel like you’ve got a super good chance of success? Years ago, when I trained to be a lawyer, I took a trial litigation course. Rule No. 1: Don’t ask any question to which you don’t already know the answer. You should know your prospect is ready to give you a “yes.” It may be a conditional or provisional "yes." It may not be for the amount you ask. But you want to be confident when you go in that you’ve done absolutely everything within your power to prepare for the question you’re about to ask.
Secret: One of the main reasons board members won’t ask for gifts is they’re afraid. It’s the job of staff to help board members overcome their fears of fundraising. Show them it’s not about asking for money; it’s about what the gift makes possible.
8. Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Organization
You need a gift that is enough to meet the need. If you don’t raise enough, you’re not going to reach your goal. You’ll help less people than need help. You may even have to close down programs or shut your doors. Asking for and accepting “any amount you can give” is a wing-and-a-prayer strategy. That’s not what you want.
Going into the ask, you must be crystal clear what a successful outcome will look like. Sometimes you may have 25 prospects and need only 10 gifts at a particular level. So if one prospect gives less than what you’d hoped for, you may be OK. Other times, especially at the top of the gift chart, you may not be able to be so sanguine.
Secret: Gentle persistence works wonders. Ask questions to find out why your donors are saying "no" or coming in lower than expected. I overcome resistance with empathy. I find out why they feel the way they do. Maybe I can relate. Maybe I can share my feelings, and suggest an alternative way to handle that feeling. I know we’re trained to be grateful, no matter what. But think of it this way: If your kid comes home from school with a grade of "F," I’m guessing you won’t be telling him or her how proud you are, yet, too often, we’ll walk out of a donor solicitation meeting and pat ourselves on the backs for having elicited a $25,000 pledge when we asked for $50,000. That’s 50 percent. That’s an "F." Persist, folks! You don’t have to acquiesce. Learn to probe for the reasons your donor may have objections. Sometimes you can turn them around.
9. Honest Assessment of What Success Will Look Like for Your Donor
This question is important because all effective fundraising is donor-centered. Each individual has different values and motivations. The more you understand them, the better able you are to shape an offer that will provide the donors with the value they seek. The entire process, after all, is a value-for-value exchange.
The donor offers monetary support in return for something, usually intangible, from you. It may be his or her name in lights, or it may be simply knowing that he or she has given back or fulfilled a moral obligation. Or it may be giving at a level that puts the donor with his or her peers (or those the donor would like to become his or her peers).
Secret: Cultivation, in part, is your opportunity to figure out what has meaning for your prospective supporters. Find out what would incline them to give. Then find out what would incline them to give more. Incorporate what you’ve learned into your ask.
Ready to shake that piñata now? Just remember to do so gently. Your goal is not to beat gifts out of donors that they don’t want to give. Just the opposite, in fact. Your goal is to coax them to unravel the crepe paper themselves and give freely of their goodies. And this happens more than you might imagine.
Never forget that philanthropy translated means “love of humankind.” Your donors yearn to make a difference—to be more than they could be on their own. They need you to facilitate this. They need you to describe the problem their philanthropy will address in glowing colors—colors so bright that they’re impossible to ignore. They compel the donor to gaze upon them in all their vividness.
When you paint a vivid picture of the problem, you’ll trigger the intense emotions that drive passionate philanthropy. The vivid story you tell becomes the foundation of a compelling fundraising offer:
- Donor clearly sees the burning problem.
- Donor yearns to end the pain; extinguish the problem.
- Donor makes passionate gift, enacting his or her passion to bring about healing and hope.
- Problem gets fixed; calm and peace is restored.
Happy ending for everyone.
If you like craft fairs, baseball games, art openings, vocal and guitar, and political conversation, you’ll like to hang out with Claire Axelrad. Claire, J.D., CFRE, will inspire you through her philosophy of philanthropy, not fundraising. After a 30-year development career that earned her the AFP “Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year” award, Claire left the trenches to begin her coaching/teaching practice, Clairification. Claire is also a featured expert and chief fundraising coach for Bloomerang, She’ll be your guide, so you can be your donor’s guide on their philanthropic journey. A member of the California State Bar and graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco.