How to Put Emotion in Your Major Gift Fundraising
I was sitting across the desk of a highly respected nonprofit CEO. He was discussing how he felt his organization would only be able to raise money from government, foundations and corporations because his organization didn’t “feed starving kids with flies in their eyes.”
I was trying to convince him that, while that may be the case, what they did was actually quite emotional, and that while not everyone will support their mission, there will be wealthy people who will, and we need to find them.
Then he said, “You know, Jeff, even with the few wealthy individual donors we do have, these people are hard-nosed business and policy people. Our major donors don’t need to get emotional about what we do.”
I looked the CEO in the eye and said, “I want to challenge you with that last statement. Your donors do get emotional about what you do. I don’t care if they are hardened politicians, savvy business people or what—everyone gives out of emotionally connecting to something. Even millionaires and billionaires.”
The problem is, many organizations don’t give the emotion to the major donor. We hide it, or we somehow think it’s not professional to bring up. Like this CEO, they conjure up a story in their heads that donors who have the capacity to give large amounts only want to see the business plan and the budget.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Richard and I believe that no matter what you do, there are people out there who will connect with your mission on an emotional level—even if you don’t think so. By accepting that, and by using emotion in how you talk about what you do, not only will you attract those new donors to your cause, but those you do have will become connected in a much deeper way and will give more.
We have countless stories at Veritus Group of supposedly hardened donors who would literally weep uncontrollably (to the surprise of the CEO or executive director) when hearing a heartfelt story about an organization’s mission. Or stories of donors deemed too business-oriented to care about “heart matters” who would watch a video about someone's life changing thanks to the nonprofit, and without thinking write a big check.
If you or your organization struggles with using emotion with your major donors because "it just doesn’t feel right” or it’s “not professional, Richard and I implore you to change this way of thinking.
Here are some tips in how you can get emotional and put emotion into your major gift fundraising:
1. You need to feel it. If you can’t get emotional about the work your organization does, neither will your donors. Richard has written about this quite a bit. You have to “go to the scene” of the need. You want to have your heart broken. If your heart is not broken about the work that you do, you will raise less money, because you won’t be able to inspire your own donors.
2. Go to the need. As I said earlier, you will want to put yourself at the scene of the need. In all my experiences with MGOs or executive directors, once you experience the need yourself it changes how you talk about it with others. It becomes personal. When it becomes personal, it’s becomes real.
3. Write about it. One way to convey the need is to start writing about it. Start journaling at first. Don’t worry about who is going to see what you wrote. Start putting everything you do into emotional terms. Eventually, through the practice of writing about it and seeking out stories that touch people's hearts, you will know how to communicate it to your donors.
4. Start talking to others you trust about what your organization does. Tell them stories. Talk about the need with them. Then, ask them to give you their thoughts and impressions about it. Let them critique how you talk about what you do. Does it stir emotion in them? Does it make them want to whip out their checkbook and write you a big check if they had the money?
I recently heard someone practice their pitch for an upcoming donor solicitation. After she was done, if I had the money, I would have written a check for $1 million. I was just amazed how she wove all the facts, budget, etc., with the emotion of the offer. I was sold.
Your donors will be, too, once you bring to them the emotion of what your organization does everyday. Don’t get fooled into thinking that emotion only works for someone who gives you $10 or $25. Everyone gives with their emotions. It’s in our DNA.
The other day, I got a call from that CEO I mentioned earlier. Turns out, his most hardened donor sent in a check for $100,000 after seeing a touching video about the organization.
He said, “Jeff, I have to apologize. I was wrong. I get it now.”
I love calls like that.
What will you do today to get emotional about your mission?
Jeff Schreifels is the principal owner of Veritus Group — an agency that partners with nonprofits to create, build and manage mid-level fundraising, major gifts and planned giving programs. In his 32-plus year career, Jeff has worked with hundreds of nonprofits, helping to raise more than $400 million in revenue.