HOW TO: Create a Major Gifts Program & Find Major Donors
Join Ryan Woroniecki from DonorSearch and nonprofit consultant Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, as they show you how to find the diamonds hidden in your database. Major donors can help create matching gift challenges and inspire others to give generously at year-end. You don’t want to miss these opportunities! Get the companion handout here!
Categories: How To, Strategy, Year End Campaign
HOW TO: Create a Major Gifts Program & Find Major Donors TranscriptPrint Transcript
Sam Stortz: Everyone, thank you for joining us today for our webinar, How to Create a Major Gifts Program and Find Major Donors. My name is Sam Stortz. I will be your host today with DonorPerfect. We have a full agenda today, so I’m just going to Read More
Sam Stortz: Everyone, thank you for joining us today for our webinar, How to Create a Major Gifts Program and Find Major Donors. My name is Sam Stortz. I will be your host today with DonorPerfect. We have a full agenda today, so I’m just going to jump right into it. First, as always, we have to go over a couple of housekeeping things just to let you know how to participate today. On the screen here, you should see the image of your GoToWebinar panel. You should see something like that.
For any questions you have throughout the webinar, please feel free to submit them in your question box. We’ve tried to block off some time at the end to go over the questions. At any point, feel free to submit them there. Also if you’re having any audio or visual trouble, you can submit those in the question box as well and I’ll do my best to help you out there. The second thing is the webinar and the presentation slides will both be shared out via email, after hopefully by tomorrow. Don’t worry, all of this will be recorded and sent to you, so if you miss something, it’s no problem.
Okay. With that, before I introduce our two experts today, I just want to launch a quick poll question, related to the webinar to set the tone and see where everyone is at. On your screen, you should see now the poll question being asked of, what do you consider a major gift? Please, just as I introduce the two experts, just submit your answers there. First, Amy Eisenstein is one of our experts today. She’s an author, speaker, and trainer and she became an AFP-certified master trainer in 2009 and recently completed her service as the president of the Board of AFP New Jersey Chapter.
You can check out her website for more best tips or best practices, fundraising tips, et cetera. It’s just www.amyeisenstein.com. We’re excited to have Amy today. Then our other guest is Ryan Woroniecki of DonorSearch. DonorSearch is an integrated partner of DonorPerfect. Ryan has seven years of experience in assisting hundreds of non-profits with their research efforts to identify the best prospects for capital campaigns, major gifts, plan giving, et cetera. That’s really why you’re all here. It was good to bring in Ryan on this topic. He’s also a lifelong suffering Buffalo Sports fan, so hopefully, that– That’s okay though, Ryan.
I’m actually going to hand it over to Ryan now and close the poll question. I will share these results on the screen. Ryan, are you there?
Ryan Woroniecki: Yes, I am here and I am still suffering as my teams have still won not.
Sam: That’s okay. All right. I just handed over the presenter to you, Ryan. There we go. I’m going to go ahead and show the poll results now, just so everyone has an idea of what we consider a major gift. Ryan, you want to get started here?
Ryan: Yes, just really quickly, it’s probably user error. I cannot find the poll results. I don’t see them anywhere. Oh, could you just read them out?
Sam: Yes, sure. Sorry about that. They’re displaying on my screen here. The poll results, the question was, what do you consider a major gift? The highest answer was $1,000 or more with a third of the votes. Second was $5,000, which was 30%, $10,000 was 23% and $25,000 was 15%. Those were the answers to that poll question.
Ryan: Okay. Thanks, Sam. That’s a nice diverse results and it makes sense. A lot of organizations define a major gift as smaller because they have less robust major gifts programs since they haven’t been doing it as well. One of the awesome parts about this is we can help you find those different kinds of opportunities with some of the education that we’ll learn about in just a minute. Let me go ahead.
As Sam said, that’s Ryan, that’s me there although I had a little more hair then. Our mission as an organization at DonorSearch is to make high-quality prospect research affordable for every nonprofit and make it proactive so that as an organization, you can fundraise with a high level of operational efficiency as an understanding when somebody makes a gift, whether or not they’re a good opportunity then, so that if somebody makes a $25 gift, you can be informed that they’re, let’s say a $50,000 opportunity or even $1,000 opportunity as a third of you to find a major gift.
You might follow up with a thank you phone call instead of just the standard thank you letter that goes out shortly thereafter. Then at that point, you’re less likely to have a positive response from them because the longer you wait, the less they remember the good feelings about the gift. Anyway, let me take it away here. What I’m going to do is I’m going to start with the Giving USA annual report to try and set the scene. For those of you that don’t know, the Giving USA report started in 1956.
It’s currently researched and written at the IU Lilly School of Philanthropy. What they do is they look at tax information, it’s anonymized and then they make projections about giving in the following year based on previous year’s giving and what’s going on in the economy. What I’d really like to highlight is that this is the breakdown of giving by interest or giving by vehicles you would say. You’re looking here at, of the money that was donated in the past year, 72% of it or $281 billion came from individuals. Whereas all the other vehicles, foundations, corporations, and giving by bequest, all of that made up not quite a third of giving.
Almost three-quarters come from individuals which is really just to identify there is great value in spending more time cultivating relationships to get major gifts just because that’s where most of the opportunity exists. That said, what we’re looking at now is the 80/20 rule and I actually sat in on an educational session today led by a guy named Erik Daubert. Erik Daubert is with the Fundraising Effectiveness Project. That’s something where DonorPerfect and a number of others are actually sharing anonymized giving information. You can learn all these really interesting facts about how your organization compares to every other organization. Things like donor retention, donor retention after the first year.
At any rate, Erik actually shared something with me that this is called the Pareto principle. I went off and I researched it. This information, the 80/20 rule, it comes from a pea farm. There was an Italian economist by the name of Vilfredo Pareto and in 1984, he observed that 20% of the pea plants were responsible for 80% of all the peas. What that led him to do is a bunch of research and he found out, “Hey, this applies to almost everything.” It applies to people owning land in Italy. As we know, it applies to donors at nonprofits.
These two numbers are actually a little more disparate at this point. It’s probably closer to the 90/10 rule. Again, we can attribute this really interesting rule to an Italian guy and his peas. The next part is, if you’re going to get major gifts and figure out who that 20% or the 10% is, that’s responsible for the greatest amount of money, these are a few of the different ways that you can try and identify potential donors. I’m not going to spend a lot of time here because Amy’s going to cover it, but the thought is if they have similar interests, if they are in your own backyard, they’re good opportunities. That said, that’s doing the same thing.
One of the last things I want to identify here, explain about how do you figure out your best major gift prospect. When I’ve worked with many of the different organizations that I’ve worked with, one of the initial starting points that everyone wants to go to is focusing on the new donors, people that have yet to give trying to do acquisition and say, “We’re going to get the major gifts from there.” That’s very true. To set the scene to mention Erik Daubert again, he reported some findings of a study he did with a very large higher ed organization. At that organization, what he learned is, for them, a major gift is $50,000.
Keep in mind that the context is a little different, but the lessons are applicable. For that organization to get a $50,000 gift from somebody, there had to be a 13-year relationship of giving, which goes to say, as you’re doing major gifts, these relationships, you’re not going to get big gifts overnight. You certainly can’t expect it. That can happen, but you have to temper your expectations. It’s going to take a while.
On top of that, based on somebody’s giving to you in the past, you won’t always be able to tell the best opportunities based on their first few gifts. In that instance, most of the donors that gave ultimately at a $50,000 level were giving well below $500 towards the beginning of the process. That just goes to highlight it takes a long time, and value the people that are giving to you now instead of thinking all your major gifts will come from people that have yet to start a relationship with you.
To that end, there’s a number of different ways to do it starting with your donors. We’re actually going to start by going through the five markers of philanthropy. The five markers of philanthropy, it’s a back study that we did. As a company, we review records to try and identify philanthropic opportunity, and there’s a few ways we do that. The standard way that people have done it in the past is trying to figure out how wealthy somebody is. It’s one of the easiest ways to do that because of public information. In the United States is, how big is somebody’s house? How much money is that worth?
We’ve done things a little differently. We look at that data, but we also have the largest database charitable giving. We collect donor recognition documents, there’s 200 million records where we can actually say these are gifts people made. We’ve built a searching methodology or a matching logic where we can take names and gift ranges from donor honor rolls and send that information to name and an address and say, “Yes, your donor is likely to have made this gift over here at this organization.”
What we wanted to do is we wanted to see, well, how predictive is the real estate of knowing giving, how predictive is to giving elsewhere, how predictive is somebody’s political giving. What we did was we looked at data from 400 of our clients, and collectively those 400 organizations, they told us about two million people that collectively gave them $5 billion. The thought was, what can we do to identify the smallest group of two million individuals responsible for the largest amount of $5 billion, trying to figure out as it relates to the data? We can add what would the Pareto principle be.
If you look at this, the first thing is a no-brainer, it’s giving to your organization. The people that have given to you in the past are most likely to give to you again in the future. Thought here is we use this in our reviews, and it’s something simple, you don’t need us to do for you if you’re so inclined. It’s a basic affinity score and it stands for recency, frequency, and money. All you’re doing is you’re looking to see, is this person a recent donor or a lapsed donor. If they’re a recent donor, they’re a better opportunity. Has this person given a lot of gifts to you? If they’ve given 10 gifts to you, they’re a lot better of a major gift opportunity than if they’ve given one gift to you.
Lastly, how much money has somebody given to you? If somebody’s given a lot, it’s better than a little. It’s pretty straightforward here, but the thought is, you could just pull all of this gift information, each one of those fields out of your donor database, your DonorPerfect database, and just run a very simple Excel formula. That’ll tell you, “Hey, this person that gave to you last week, they’re in the 100th percentile,” or, “This person that gave to you using this example a month ago, they’re in the 82nd percentile,” they’ve given more recently than 82% of the file.
You do the same thing for the other variables and you just end up adding the three 0 to 100 scores. If the person has a number close to 300, they’re one of your better major gift opportunities. If a person has a 0, well, based on their relationship with you, they don’t look like the best possible opportunity. If you have very limited resources and you’re new to major gifts, a simple way is to simply looking at this information right here, assigning everyone a relative ranking, and then going for it. That said, that’s only half the picture.
From there, you want to try and find externally what’s going on, what kind of opportunity is there. Just because somebody gave you a gift of $1,000 in the past, well, that doesn’t mean that they might be able to give any more than $1,000. That might have maxed it out for them. That’s where the next data sets come in to identify the opportunity. It also helps statistically, if you can find some of these markers, it means they’re more likely to make a large gift in addition just it than having the assets or means to do so.
The next best marker, as we identified, is when people give elsewhere. If you’re looking at this, the thought is when we can find people making large gifts elsewhere, if you go through an annual report or a playbill, and you see the name of one of your donors, and you’re pretty sure, it’s them, they’ve made a large gift. That means, statistically, they’re one of your better opportunities, again, assuming they’re one of your donors.
When we did the study, if you look at it, the largest gifts that shows the range of gifts, let me go back there. Here we go, the range of gifts. Down at the bottom, this is what I’m saying, this group of people, the single largest gifts, we could find them making elsewhere was somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. That represented a little over 1% of the two million individuals, and a little over 5% of that $5 billion.
When you do the math, the predicted strength is just under 5%. What that means is if you look at all of your donors and treat them equally, somebody that’s made a gift of $5,000 or more elsewhere is five times more likely to make a major gift to you if you act on that information. In all likelihood, they won’t just give you a large gift. I was talking to a very, very large faith-based organization yesterday and they were pretty much complaining about how a peer institution got a million-dollar gift from one of their donors.
When they went and they spoke to the person because the person said, “I can’t give you a gift. I just gave $1 million to this organization,” what they ended up realizing is they didn’t get that million dollar gift because they didn’t ask. Just keep in mind throughout all of this, at the end of this information, what Amy is going to touch on and bring a lot of value to is asking is how this happens at the end of the day. That said, the real magic number, if you can find somebody who’s giving gifts at or above the $50,000 range elsewhere, then they’re 25 times more likely to be a good candidate for you.
Anyway, the thought is, if you can find them making large gifts elsewhere, they should be among the first group of individuals you reach out to because statistically, it makes sense, but also, from your perspective, you don’t have to be shy about the ask. It doesn’t mean that you can just go ask them for a $50,000 gift if they’ve only ever given you $100. They have been asked for that amount of money before, they’ve said yes. You can be very confident in that ask when you get the relationship to the right level.
The next marker then is when people are foundation trustees. First, again, we’re talking with your donors, and then from there, if you can find them making gifts elsewhere, that after that, again, it makes a lot of sense, just really simple. If these people sit on the board of a grant-giving foundation, it either means they volunteer their time to help give away money and they have a much more philanthropic mindset, or it’s their foundation and it’s their money that they’re giving away. It just happens to be through a different vehicle.
Very easy ways to find this. In the Google, you can type in a person’s name and foundation, you can check on GuideStar. That’s a great way, it’s an easy source. GuideStar is a wonderful nonprofit organization that takes the 990 data and the 990-PF data from the IRS, and they’ve indexed it and it’s all searchable. That is a wonderful way to try and identify A, is somebody a foundation trustee, and then, of course, electronic screening services like ours. Search against that information when you review folks.
That said, the next best marker is political giving, and it doesn’t matter which side of the aisle you give to, people that give politically, they’re just a lot more likely to give charitably. One of the interesting things, if you think about it, so a full third of you said that $1,000 is a major gift and then 15% of you said that $25,000 is a major gift, which means for you all, that gifts of $25,000 or more because that’s the philanthropic culture among your donors. $1,000 gift might not seem like a really large gift, but as it turns out, that’s something that 99.9% of the country never does, which starts to sound like a major gift opportunity.
What we found was that if your lifetime political giving is $15,000 or more, statistically speaking, you’ve made a five, six, seven-figure charitable gift somewhere else. Political donors, almost always are large philanthropic donors. To that end, if you look at this line up here at the top, when we did that study, and again, we’re trying to identify for this group of two million people that have given $5 billion, what’s the Pareto principle? How can we land on numbers like 80/20? What we found was if people’s lifetime political giving and their charitable giving elsewhere added up to $2,500 or more, that represents under 4% of the two million individuals responsible for over 50% of the $5 billion.
The long and the short of it is anytime you find people giving elsewhere to any cause, they are wonderful opportunities for you. There’s one more slide, and this is your classic real estate. If you think about it, real estate is a great way to try and find these very, very good major gifts opportunities. Statistically speaking, it’s not until you look for the philanthropists elsewhere, those that have or sit on the board of foundations and those that make large political gifts, that you actually get to the numbers saying, “Yes, real estate is really predictive.” Just real estate, there are some very good benefits to that. It’s easy to find.
You can just go to Zillow, type in a donor’s address, and get an estimated property value, and then very quickly you’ll know, are they wealthy? It would appear so, but on top of that, it could statistically be predictive of giving. The same thing is true for the political gifts. I should mentioned this before, but if you go onto Google and you type in political gifts, someone’s name you will get the data right there. The wonderful thing about this information is that it is free.
If you have the time, you can go out and you can check all these public states and data sets at no charge to try to figure out, is this donor that just gave me $100, are they a good opportunity? Are they a good investment of my time to try and cultivate as a major donor? The last part and I believe right after this, I’m going to kick it over to Amy because she’s the one that’s going to be able to tell you what to do once you find this stuff is data is the starting point. You have to make sure it’s correct. You have to reach out to the individual, interact with them, try and qualify as much as you can.
Really at that point, once you have the research data, you start with, the best information is going to be what these donors, prospective donors tell you. Sam, Amy, I’m going to kick it over to the two of you, and thanks for the opportunity to present everybody.
Amy Eisenstein: Well, thanks, Ryan. That was really great. Let me just put my slides up now and we are going to get into the nitty-gritty and I think it’s a perfect segue. I’m glad, Ryan did the poll of, how big is major. Sometimes I find when groups are asked that question, unfortunately, they’re not even sure. I just want to emphasize that it means something different at every organization. A major gift, as you saw from this group alone, ranges from $1,000 to $25,000 plus. I think that that is the norm in organizations, and it is sometimes organizations I think that are just getting started compare themselves to bigger organizations and institutions. There’s no reason to do that.
If you get a handful of $1,000 to $5,000 gifts, that is what the vast majority of small to mid-size nonprofits do consider major gifts in this country. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s no reason that you should be comparing yourself to a university or maybe a big hospital. Anyways, we’re going to talk about the fundraising cycle today. With regards to major gifts, Ryan covered a lot in terms of how to identify good major gift donors. I’m going to actually take it even down a level, assuming that some of you don’t have the research, but then we’re going to get into step two, cultivation. We’re going to talk about how to build relationships once you’ve identified who your best major gift prospects are.
Step three is solicitation, of course, that’s the ask itself. Then step four, stewardship. Let’s get into it. We’re going to start off just quickly going over identification. I’m really glad that Ryan mentioned so many calls I get about, help us find new donors. I’m constantly receiving calls from executive directors, development directors, please help us find new donors. That really isn’t where your best major gift prospects are. They’re your existing donors, just as Ryan said. We actually use a handy little acronym in the field to figure out who are going to be your best major gift prospects.
A stands for access, B stands for belief, and C stands for capacity. I want you to actually remember it. ABC works well because it remember it in that order. A is for, who do you have access to? When you’re looking for new donors, at this point, they don’t know who you are. You don’t know who they are, you don’t have access to them. By looking first in your database of your current donors, you have access to all those people. You have their name, you have their address, maybe you have their email or their phone number but you have connected with them in the past. They’ve reached out to you as donors.
B is for belief in the cause, the mission, the organization and again, if they’ve donated to you in the past and they’re in your donor database, you’ve got this one covered too. They already believe in the cause at least enough to have made an initial gift. This is much better than looking for new donors. People who are out there who you’d have to start the process from the beginning with. Then C, of course, is for capacity. Do they have the ability to make a major gift at your organization? The reality is for the vast majority of you, a major gift is probably $10,000 or less. Many, many people have the capacity to make that gift.
You don’t have to be looking for people with a capacity of Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates because your major gift level is $5,000, $10,000, maybe $25,000. We’re not talking as you get started raising major gifts of million-dollar gifts. The reason that it’s important also to go in this order is frequently when I’m talking to boards facilitating board retreats, people start with the wrong question first. They ask the question, who’s rich? When you start with the question, who’s rich, the capacity question, then you get answers like Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, and those people don’t have access or belief because they don’t even know about the organization. That’s why this is really important.
If you don’t have a product yet, like DonorSearch, which hopefully you will soon, we’re going to go back to basics and identify people in your database who you’re going to work with for the year, using more elementary skills. We’re going to go back to basics. Basically, you do want to run lists out of your database of people who are your largest donors and your most loyal donors. Exactly what Ryan said. You’re going to run reports out of your database of people who have given you the most money in the last year or two, so cumulatively look for people who have given $1,000 and up, maybe $5,000 and up. Look for your largest donors and you’re going to run lists of people who have given frequently or loyally.
Anybody who’s given more than four gifts in the last five years, something like that. Those were Ryan’s indicators of people who would give you major gifts as well. We’re going to take those lists and we’re going to score them using our ABC acronym on a scale of one to five. Now, people at the center of the circle, are the people who are most likely to give you major gifts. Board members, large donors, they’re going to get a five for affinity, for access and belief. You have access to them, they strongly believe in the cause. As you work your way out to the outer rings of the circle, you’re going to get to your ones and twos.
Anybody in the innermost circle that you have strong connection with and strongly believe in the cause, they’re going to get scores of four and five, I’m sorry. The middle ring, your volunteers, donors, clients, might get scores of threes and fours, and then community members would get ones and twos. Then we’re going to score for capacity and that’s assuming that you haven’t done a wealth screening and you don’t have the– Well, even if you have done a wealth screening, you’re going to give every video score based on capacity. What do you think they could give your organization?
Anybody that you think you have reason to believe, based on what you know about them whether it’s from their political giving or from their real estate values and what they give to other organizations, we’re going to score these folks on your list, your largest donors and your most loyal donors, we’re going to give them a second score of one to five. Fives, you might give people five if you think they can give $25,000 or more, a four if they can give $10,000 to $25,000 et cetera.
Once you have given people who have already made gifts to your organization, your largest donors and your most loyal donors, we’re going to start with two scores, we’re going to add them up. Anybody with a total score of 8, 9 and 10, are going to be your best prospect. You’re going to take people from your list and you’re going to have given them two scores, let’s say Jane Doe, you gave her a four for affinity because she is a board member and she’s a fairly large donor so you gave her a four. Then for capacity you also gave her a four based on what you think she could give. Her total score is an eight.
Anybody with probably a 7, 8, 9, and 10, they are going to be the people that you want to put on your major gift prospect list for this year or in your donor portfolio for major gifts this year. If you are at an organization where you are responsible for everything all types of fundraising, not just major gifts but maybe grant-writing, event-planning, direct mail, I want you to think about starting with a portfolio of 20 people. Because I think that is a manageable number that you can work with over the course of the year as you’re getting started to raise major gifts.
Now, if you’re a major gift officer, and your primary responsibility is working with major gift donors and you don’t have a whole bunch of other responsibilities, then you may have a portfolio of a hundred people. What I’ve found is that organizations that assigned too many prospects to people who have many responsibilities, they wind up not doing anything with any of them. I’d rather you start with a manageable number that you can actually work with.
We’ve talked so far, Ryan and now me a little bit, have talked about how to identify the best major gift prospects. Now we’re going to step two to cultivation which is the relationship building. Now that you’ve identified your best prospective donors, what are you going to do with them? What’s really important is that we want to cultivate or build relationships with our donors and the best way to do this, is by asking their advice. We want to figure out how can we build relationships with the people, with these top 20 people or whoever’s in your major gift donor portfolio and as many donors as you can quite frankly. We’re going to focus in on let’s say 20 at a time.
As we’re working with these 20 people, the goal is to get to know them better, to have them get to know our organization better, to build relationships with them. One of the things that we want to do is sit down and have a conversation with them. Unfortunately, I frequently hear that development directors have a hard time getting meetings with prospective donors, that prospective donors don’t want to meet. I actually got a call from somebody recently and she said, “Amy, I can’t get any donors to meet with me, I can’t get any meeting so what should I do?”
I asked her, “Tell me what you’re saying when you’re calling people.” She was working at a small college and so she was calling alumni and telling them that the dean of the college wanted to come meet with them and tell them what was going on on campus. Well, they didn’t need, these alumni who were busy probably with their own careers, their own families, they didn’t need the dean coming to tell them what was going on on campus or giving them an update because they could read about that on the web or read the newsletter of the college if they wanted to and that was boring.
When we turned it around and said, “Okay the dean would like to come here about your experience at the college.” That totally shifted the conversation to the donor, the alumni, in this case, and that was something that they were willing to share and to spend time doing. You may have heard, what’s the number one thing that people like to talk about? The answer is, of course, themselves. If you show an interest in your donor, not just you talking about the organization, you’re much more likely to get a meeting. Same thing here, you need to remember to listen to your donors not to do the majority of the talking.
When I was a new development director, I used to think it was my job to tell the donor or the person sitting across from me every single thing I knew about the organization. What do you think they were doing after I would Yammer on for 5, 10, 20, 30 minutes about an organization, telling them facts, figures, statistics, stories, everything I knew about the organization, the donor was bored to death.
If I had asked them some good open-ended questions like, “Tell me about your experience with this organization. Tell me what motivated you to give in the first place and what motivates you to continue to give? What do you like most about our organization? What do you like least about our organization? What change would you like to see in the world?” Then you’re really engaging your donor and having them open up and start to engage with you and you’re learning about them.
For every single one of your major gift prospects, I hope that you will create a cultivation plan, and here’s a really simple example of a basic cultivation plan. It’s a one-page sheet, and down the left-hand column, we have the months. In January you might offer to give them a tour as the development director bring them in, engage them that way. In February, I have coffee that represents a one-on-one meeting. When are you going to sit down with them and get to know them, get to know why they care about your organization. What might motivate them to give more? How would they like to get involved? That might be the executive director and a board member who takes them to coffee.
In March, I have newsletter here, that doesn’t mean you should just send them your newsletter. These are your 20 top prospective donors for major gifts. You pull their newsletter from the mailing and add a personal note, add a post-it that says, “I hope you will check out the article on page 2, I thought you might be interested.” Talk to them these are the best friends of the organization. Same thing for the April, your gala invite or whatever your event is, don’t just send them an event invite but put a note on it, “I hope to see you there,” or, “I’d love to sit at your table. I hope you buy a table,” or, “We’re comping you a ticket,” whatever you want to tell them but just talk to them.
These are people that you want a relationship with, you’re going to have to communicate with them frequently. In May, you might see them hopefully at your gala. In September again, in September, you’ll have a one-on-one meeting that’s what I have coffee down for, with the executive director board member. Maybe that’s your ask meeting, but you want to be meeting with these people multiple times a year, one on one if possible. This is just a sample cultivation plan that you should have for every single donor on your list of how you will engage with them throughout the year, and ultimately lead towards an ask.
Now there’s no reason to identify donors or cultivate them and build relationships with them if you’re not going to get to the ask. This really is what fundraising is all about. As Ryan mentioned, donors say all the time, “The reason that I don’t give is because I wasn’t asked. The reason that I do give is because I am asked.” We need to get to solicitation which is step three. I like to call this the critical conversation, because everything you’ve done up until this point, it doesn’t matter if you do it or not if you’re not going to get to the ask. Here’s some example of ask language. We would like to ask you to consider a gift in the range of $10,000 to support our afterschool program.
Let me unpack that sentence a little bit. We, who’s at the ask? It could be the executive director and a board member, that’s actually the dream team. If this is a major gift for your organization we want the visionary of the organization, the executive director, the lead staff member, and a volunteer, hopefully, a board member there. Listen, if you don’t have an executive director who’s willing or able to ask, you don’t have a board member who’s available to go along or capable of going along, whatever, you as the development director or the executive director will need to do this by yourself.
We would like to ask you to consider a gift in the range of, you may have noticed I used the word in the range of but then I didn’t actually give a range. I just gave one number. If I said $1,000 to $10,000 I would get $1,000 every time. We’re going to ask them to consider something. I want them to think about it, hopefully, a large amount like $10,000 to support our afterschool programs. Now you can ask for unrestricted operating money if you’ve discussed it during cultivation, just make sure your donor’s open to considering that. If they are only willing to give to a specific program or to bricks and mortar you want to know that before you make the official ask, if possible.
I want you to remember that this ask is not for money. Let me say that again. This ask is not about money. This ask is about curing cancer. It’s about feeding the hungry. It’s about housing the homeless. It’s about curing the sick. Try and focus on that throughout your conversations. When you fundraise really really well you get to the end of the conversation and the donor will say something like, “How can I help?” Or, “Yes, I want to cure cancer or help one sick person. How much does that cost? I want to help one child go to school. How much does that cost?” Then you’ve done fundraising really well.
I’m not saying that you don’t have to ask for a dollar amount. You absolutely do. Remember, the focus isn’t on the money. It’s on the mission. Once you’ve asked your question, you’ve asked for your donation then it’s your turn to sit back and be quiet and wait for the donor to respond. The good news is that there’s only three possible responses that they could have, and that is yes, no, and maybe, and you should be prepared for all of them. It always disappoints me when I hear that people are shocked by an answer that a donor give because you should be prepared for all of these as you go into an ask.
A yes is a wonderful answer. Of course, if they say yes that’s great, thank them on the spot. Find out how they want to make the gift and get out of wherever you are. Do a little dance in the parking lot if you want to because you’ve done a great job. Then of course make a note that they said yes pretty easily and maybe you can ask for more next time. Maybe to me is a wonderful answer, but it does take some follow-up. If they say maybe, I have to think about it- maybe can come in a lot of different forms. I’m not sure. I don’t know. Let me think about it. Wow, that’s a lot of money. Those are all maybes.
You want to do some detective work and follow up and ask what they need to know to make their decision. If you get a maybe your job is to ask open-ended follow-up questions to make sure that they get to some sort of a gift. Do they need additional information before making a decision? Do they have any outstanding questions, and can you follow up next week? When will they have made their decision? A no of course is disappointing. A no simply means not today. It doesn’t mean not ever. You do want to continue the conversation and follow up.
Usually, I just ask, “Tell me more about what you’d like to do, tell me more about what you were thinking.” Hopefully, that gives you an opportunity to continue the conversation. I know we’re going quickly today. It’s a short webinar. We’re at step number four. We’re at the stewardship, the thank you, and the follow-up process. This is one of the most important parts of the fundraising process, the thank you and the follow up because this will indicate whether or not you get another gift from this donor. Two of the main reasons that people state for not making another gift when they are asked is that they weren’t thanked and that they don’t know how their money was used.
Your job as a major gift fundraiser is to make sure that you do extraordinarily well at this because you don’t want them to say no next year. You don’t want to have a major gift donor leave because you didn’t do a good job following up with them. Also, I hear sometimes donors say that they don’t feel thanked, that they weren’t thanked. A donor will say that they weren’t thanked and then a development director will tell me, “I did thank them.” You know what? It doesn’t matter if you thanked them or not. It only matters if the donor feels thanked.
There’s a big, important distinction there. You want to find out what will be the most meaningful thank you for them. Do they want to be thanked in person? Do they want a board member to call them? Will they value a handwritten note from the executive director? You may want to try a combination of several of these things. If you ask for somebody- a gift for somebody in person a few months later you also in addition to the other thank you’s, you want to go sit down with them in person, thank them again, and let them know how their money was used.
Then you want to do a follow-up mail to them, to thank them for that meeting and just reiterate how their money was used, so there’s no question in their mind that they were thanked multiple times hopefully by multiple people, by a board member, by the executive director, by the development director and that they know how their money was used. Now we’re going to get into a little bit of accountability and how to stay on track, because this is the number one reason that I see organizations not doing well at raising major gifts, because they don’t put in the time and the effort and the consistency necessary to raise major gifts.
Now you know how to identify your prospective donors, your best prospective donors, you know how to set a cultivation schedule and hopefully, you’ve had a little taste about how to ask them. Really what you need to do is put all of these pieces into place and be consistent about it. I like to declare Major Gift Mondays, and hopefully encourage you to block out a few hours every single Monday [inaudible 00:49:38] to make sure you have cultivation plans and work those cultivation plans, to get out and ask them and then to follow up and thank them.
This needs to be consistently done. Major gifts is really hard because there are no deadlines. Unlike grant writing and event planning, there are no solid deadlines. No donor is sitting there waiting for you to call. You have got to be consistent and keep this going on your own. This reminds me of a book named Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy. Basically, it’s an anti-procrastination book. If you leave major gift work for the last thing on Friday afternoon, it’s not going to get done. Basically, the idea is if major gifts is your frog or the worst task that you have on your plate, get it over with first, Monday morning, every Monday is Major Gift Monday. Do it, and then you can get on with the rest of your week.
That is what the Major Gifts Challenge is about. Basically, several years ago I was really concerned that small and midsize organizations were not getting their fair share of major gift money. I issued a challenge on my website, and I actually have it going on now. You can check it out at amyeisenstein.com/challenge and join the challenge. Every single week I send an email, usually in video format, with one single task for organizations to do to help them raise more major gifts. If you want to join the Major Gifts Challenge in a step-by-step process, just check it out at amyeisenstein.com/challenge.
I will send you a weekly email, encouraging you to take the next step towards raising major gifts. I think now we have a few minutes for questions and I will turn it back over to Sam to see if we have any.
Sam: Yes, thank you, Amy. Thank you, Ryan, both of you. Great job. We do have a number of questions. I’m just going to jump right in. I’ll also encourage anyone listening, if you have a question that you haven’t entered into the question box, go ahead and submit those now, and we’ll do our best to get to them. The first question, and Amy or Ryan, feel free to take this. Amy, you just touched on this, but someone wrote in saying that they basically just started less than a year ago- or their nonprofit started less than a year ago, should they work on establishing a major gifts program now or should they put that off for a little bit and focus more on building their donor database in the meantime?
Amy: I’ll go first, and then Ryan can jump in. I think that a big mistake that organizations make is waiting too long and thinking that major gifts are too hard. If you are able to raise major gifts even from your top 10 supporters, basically start with your board members and ask them each for one friend’s name, not who will necessarily give a major gift because you don’t know what their capacity is.
To start cultivating, your board members and ask them to identify one person that might be interested in your mission or your cause that you can start to cultivate this year and ask for a gift, maybe not a major gift, but a gift, and practice that individual solicitation style. You will grow your fundraising significantly faster and more effectively than if you start going down the roads with lots of events and lots of grant writing. The money, as Ryan mentioned at the beginning of the call, is with individuals. Go strong and start there.
Ryan: Thanks, Amy. I agree entirely with what you said, that the quicker you start a major gift program, the quicker you will see results because you’ll be involved in the process. One of the other things is as a new organization, what you’re trying to do is build a culture of philanthropy in the organization itself. The longer you wait, the more difficult that can become. Quite frankly, as people give, as people start to show engagement, you want to run with that. People give to you because they like what you do and they want to help.
If they have the opportunity to give in a big way and they’ve done it before somewhere else, they’re looking for those opportunities. The longer you wait to reach out to those people, the less likely they are to remain engaged and the less likely you are to retain them as donors, much less get major gifts from them. Everything Amy said, I’m just jumping right on the bandwagon. You don’t start with everyone, do what you can, but don’t put it off.
Sam: Good answers both of you. Another question. Related to both of you talked about different ways to- I’ll use the word that is used in the question, profile a donor to try and identify them as a major donor. There’s, I guess, some concern about maybe the way a donor would take it if it becomes obvious to them that you’ve profiled them as a major donor.
Is there a good way, I guess, to disguise that or handle- you’re not openly going to say, “We’ve identified you as a potential major donor,” so is there a good way to disguise the fact that you’ve identified them?
Amy: I think that’s a great question. You need to be really careful and not assume that you know anything about your donors until they tell you. As wonderful as donors search and lots of different companies are, I’ve seen it where mistakes happen and you’re looking at a Jane Smith and you have some wrong information about her. Donor research and wealth screening is a starting place, but basically, you are going to go to them and start asking open-ended questions, and you shouldn’t assume that you know anything about them that they don’t tell you.
The background information that you have is just a starting place for you to go and approach them and say, “Listen, you’ve been a wonderful donor, or we’re reaching out and doing a listening tour of our donors, and I’d like to get to know you better,” but don’t assume anything’s right until you can confirm it with them. Not, “I researched you and I heard you have a $2 million house,” but during cultivation, say, “I’d love to meet you at your home, at your convenience. Could I stop by for 20 minutes?” Then you can see their home. You have their address, you don’t have to tell them, “I know what your assets are.” Ryan, what would you say to that?
Ryan: Again, I’m going to follow your lead on that and say that you definitely don’t say, “Oh, I saw in donor search or in this profile that you’ve made a gift of this size,” or something along those lines. If you ask open-ended leading questions, you can get them to confirm the kinds of things that you started with. Then going back to it, if you want to categorize your donors as major donors or major prospects or use Amy’s one, two, three, four, five ranking in the database, that’s fine. According to the AFP Code of Ethics, if at some point the donor wants to see their record, you should be able to show it to them. Definitely don’t lead with, “I saw you were a major donor, you look like a big operator.”
That never is something that you should say. We’re also not going to get everything right at a wealth screen. We’re a starting point. In fact, there’s a really good book by a lady named Cecilia Hogan. She’s a very well-known researcher, and it’s called Prospect Research, a Primer for Nonprofits. It’s the starting place. You don’t assume it’s correct but you let that inform the direction of who you talk to and perhaps the kinds of conversations that you may have. Again, nothing wrong with categorizing somebody as a major donor in the database, because that’s the threshold that you’ve set. You just don’t lead with that when you talk to them.
Amy: Can I just add one more thing, Sam, before we move on to the next question? I think Ryan made an important point about, assume that the donor does have access to their file and that they can read anything that you’ve written about them. When you are taking notes on people in your donor database, I always say, “Just the facts.” Think about this. Somebody’s going through a nasty divorce. You don’t put, “Jane said Tom is a total jerk.” You say they’re going through a divorce. That’s a fact. Not that someone’s a jerk. Just assume that your donors are going to read or could read your donor notes, and you want to make sure that you stick to what’s a fact, not an opinion.
Ryan: Got it. Great advice. Real quick, Sam, I know you want to end this, but I have a burning question. I’m going to take a liberty since I have the opportunity to talk. Thank you, Sam. [unintelligible 01:00:01] thank you again for hosting this session. Amy, when you were talking about the ways to thank your donor. This is something that’s come up many times, and I’d really like to hear your opinion. After somebody has given or after you’ve made an ask for a major gift or somebody’s given a major gift.
These are two different scenarios and answer the one that makes the most sense, before you’ve gone through the full cultivation and thank you process, do you continue soliciting them as usual in the annual funds, or do you intentionally slow some of that down?
Amy: Great question. I always like to say that people should be left in the annual fund, even when they’re being cultivated and stewarded for a major gift. The problem that I see is that a major gift officer goes into the annual fund and pulls their 20 or 50 or 100 names out of the annual fund, and then they don’t get that ask meeting or the meeting gets rescheduled or canceled, and then some of your biggest donors are never asked, even in the mail or online by email during the year.
Unless you have a mailing going out the same week you’re going to ask somebody for a major gift, that is the only time you should be pulling them. You don’t want them to get the letter the same week that you’re asking, but honestly, if you ask them and then the letter shows up in the mail a week or two later that’s maybe how they’ll send in their gift. I would keep everybody in your mail and your annual fund and your event cycle. You want them to get your organization’s stuff.
Ryan: Thanks, Amy.
Sam: Thank you. There’s some bonus material there. We are a couple minutes after the hour. Unfortunately, we’re going to have to go ahead and end the webinar here. Just a reminder to everyone who’s still on we will be sending out the slides and recordings. That should hopefully be done by tomorrow. Just again, I’d like to thank Amy and Ryan. There was a lot of great information. Thank you, guys.
Amy: Sam, if you want to send me the rest of the questions, I will do my best to answer them on my blog in the coming weeks, so if people want to check in, I would be happy to do that.
Sam: Sure. That’s a great idea. I’ll make a point of including a link to that in the follow-up email, along with the recording and slides. Again, thank you. You too, and have a good day everyone.
Ryan: Thanks.Read Less
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