If You Think Small, You Get Small: 4 Secrets to Getting Large Gifts
I have to tell you I’m tired of it. I’m tired of hearing from major gifts officers (MGO) who claim they don’t have donors on their caseloads that can give high five-, six- and seven-figure gifts.
If you are an MGO with at least 75 to 100 donors on your caseload (remember, 150 is a full caseload), you have at least five to 10 donors who can give you gifts in the high five- to seven-figure range.
“But, Jeff, you don’t know my caseload. These donors just can’t give that much.”
You know how many times I’ve heard that same line over the years? Too many.
You see, what I’ve come to believe over the years of managing dozens and dozens of MGOs that they create narratives or stories about their donors based on a couple of encounters with their caseloads.
It goes something like this:
I’ve had four or five different conversations with donors on my caseload, and all of them told me that they just couldn’t give much more than they are giving. While they love the organization, they all have told me they are maxed out, so to think that I’m going to get some significant gifts from this caseload is just unrealistic.
I’ve heard this or some version of this from many MGOs to justify why they are not getting large gifts from their portfolios. This is how a “narrative” or “story” develops in your head. You have some experiences from a few of your donors that lead you to believe that the entire caseload will behave the same way.
So, you begin to believe it.
I’m here to tell you that the narrative you may be creating about your caseload is holding you back from truly realizing the potential in your donor’s ability to give large major gifts.
Why? Because Richard and I have witnessed over and over again that once you put those “stories” behind you and really get to know your donors on your caseload, you begin to realize these good people have much more capacity than you ever thought.
In every instance where we have helped manage an MGO who previously has said, “my donors don’t give large gifts” we have cultivated high five-, six- and even seven-figure gifts from that MGO's caseload.
So, what is the secret?
Well, No. 1, stop believing that your donors can’t give those types of gifts. Then, do the following practical steps with your portfolio of donors:
- Research your donors. This is painstaking work, but nothing hard comes easy. If you have run your file through a wealth indicator, that is great and it can be very helpful. I think the best thing about running your donors through some type of wealth indicator is that you realize there really is “wealth” and capacity in your caseload. But it’s only half right. The rest of your research is going to be you doing the hard work of finding out everything you can about your donors. To make it a not-so-daunting task, start with your “A” tier donors first. You’ve spent too much time with anecdotal information about your donors—now it’s time to get facts. As Richard always says, “facts are friendly.”
- Get to know your donors. I know we say this over and over again, but this is the only way you are going to realize large gifts from your donors. They have to be able to trust you and your organization. You have to be able to look your donors in the eyes and listen to their visions and dreams so you can match them up with your mission. This only happens by developing a relationship with your donors. In fact, when Richard and I hear from MGOs that their caseloads just don’t give large gifts, it’s really because they don’t know their donors.
- Don’t make immediate judgments. Many times I see MGOs rush to judgment about donors before really getting to know them. Richard and I have story after story of MGOs who drive by donors' houses and decide that because their houses don’t look as nice as they think they should, they write them off, only to be surprised later that the donors have huge capacities. Or, they get into conversations with donors and because the donors don’t seem “sophisticated,” they write off the donors to be surprised once again when they see a $250,000 check arrive from them. The point is don’t create a judgment so quickly that you immediately think small. Not all major donors are alike. Some major donors don’t live opulent lifestyles. In fact, many of them don’t.
- Ask. One of the major reasons MGOs don’t receive large gifts, besides everything else I’ve pointed out, is that they don’t ask for large gifts. Now, granted, you need projects and programs that have large dollar figures attached to them, but then you need to sit in front of donors and make the asks. Most of the time this has to be done face to face. Yes, I’ve heard of large gifts coming in the mail or through phone calls or emails, but those are rare. You have to be in front of the donors, looking them in the eyes, if you want large gifts. There is no way around it. The old adage, “Don’t ask, don’t get” applies here.
OK, there it is. The four “secrets” that really are just practical advice. Thinking small will only get you small gifts, but actually putting in the hard work and not allowing yourself to make pre-determined judgments about your caseload based on a few donors will allow you to see the possibilities with your donors.
Think big, be positive, do the hard work, get to know your donors and ask. This is the work you have to do.
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.