Want to Attract Major Gift Donors? You Can’t Fail with These 5 Questions
Heading into a capital campaign? Not sure if you have strong connections to the people who can make those top gifts?
Help Attract Major Gift Donors with These 5 Questions
Here are five questions that will help you build relationships with the people who might become your best donors.
1. Who might be interested in your project?
Make a list of the reasons someone might be interested in your project. Some of the items will be obvious, but many will not. To expand your thinking, pull together a small group and have a real brainstorming session. People might find interest in:
- Your mission
- How your growth will effect their community
- Being part of something exciting
- Having access to community leaders
- Giving back
2. Who has the demonstrated capacity to give major gifts?
Once you know the various reasons people might be interested in your project, look for the people in your community who give really big gifts. Look for people who have wealth and have given significant gifts in the past. Money by itself, without a pattern of generosity, is not a good indicator of a potential donor.
Look at your donor lists and the public lists of other organizations to see who the givers are. Make a list of 20 people who fit into this group. Then, one by one, see if you can identify one or more reasons that they might be interested in your project.
If you can’t find a good reason for them to give, then put the name aside. Focus on the names where you can see a real reason to connect.
3. What advice might you genuinely ask for?
Chances are good that the people on your list who both have money and are generous play a significant role in your community. They may not be directly connected to your organization, but they are probably connected to many other people and organizations. That’s just what happens to people who have lots of money and are generous.
Whether or not they wind up being major donors to your project, they are likely to have good suggestions for you if you ask for them.
While you identified this group of people in part because of their money, now you have to stop thinking about their money! Instead, think about what or who they might know that could be helpful to your project.
4. How might you help your potential donors?
Your conversations with potential large donors will give you a clearer sense of whether or not your project is something they might benefit from. They will give you a sense of whether or how to proceed.
In some cases, they might introduce you to other potential donors. They may have suggestions for how to shape or reshape your project. At the very least, you will learn enough about them to know whether and when you might reach out to them in the future.
Keep in mind that the most positive result of these connections will be when someone asks you how they might help. And that the right answer to that question will factor in three key things:
Who that person is
What they enjoy doing
How helping you will give them something back
Asking someone for help—financial or otherwise—is a two-way street. Both you and the other person must benefit.
5. Who might your potential donors introduce you to?
Finally, be sure to ask the potential donors you speak with for suggestions about who else you should be talking to. If you’ve done a good job of building trust and creating an authentic relationship, they will be willing—even happy—to introduce you to other people they know who might be interested in your project.
When someone opens a door for you to meet with one of their contacts, be sure report back to the original contact about what happened when you met with the contact they suggested. That kind of follow-up will further strengthen your relationship with the person who opened the door.
Here’s a summary of the important lessons from the five questions above.
Just because people have lots of money doesn’t mean they’re likely to be major donors for you. They must have an interest in your mission, and they must also be generous.
Every relationship with a potential major donor must be a two-way street! They are doing something for you, and you are doing something for them. Focus as much on what you can do for them as what they can do for you.
Only ask people for advice that you are genuinely looking for. Real relationships must be authentic and if you are asking for advice simply to manipulate a potential donor, you will lose their trust rather than build the relationship.
Always be asking people who else you might talk to. If you do that, you will develop an ongoing spiral of new contacts that will seed your major gift fundraising.
If you get beyond worrying about the money part of major gift fundraising and simply build real relationships with generous people—specifically people who have a reason to be interested in your cause and also happen to be wealthy—you’ll find that major gift fundraising is fun, satisfying and exciting.
Your Capital Campaign Seeds Fundraising for the Future
Building relationships with people who have the capacity to give large gifts requires patience. It takes time—sometimes lots of time—to get to know other people and to build a bond of understanding and trust.
A capital campaign will push you to focus on building the relationships you should be working on year in and year out. That work will likely lead to some campaign success, but if you keep at it long after your campaign is over, you’ll build relationships with people who can strengthen your organization for decades to come.
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Andrea Kihlstedt is an innovative leader and expert in capital campaign fundraising. She wrote "Capital Campaigns: Strategies That Work (4th ed)," often referred to as the “bible” of capital campaign fundraising. She founded Capital Campaign Masters and co-founded Capital Campaign Toolkit, an online capital campaign resource and platform.