Philanthropists make the world a better place. They take their own money – money that they could spend on traveling, or eating, or shoe shopping or anything they want – and they invest it to solve the community’s and the world’s problems. How cool is that?!?!
It’s our job to match up their passion with our programs; to demonstrate the need, and later the impact and to well represent both our organization and our profession!
I once got a call from a guy who grew up near the neighborhood in which my organization was located. He wanted to donate $5,000 for a small capital venture – basketball court, outdoor activity – something he could name in honor of his parents. My agency was in a housing development owned by the housing authority. We didn’t have the land to build something – but we needed a new tech center. I shared our needs and submitted a proposal. He and I played phone tag for a while and at some point he called me in the evening while I was driving my 2 year old daughter home from day care. While he and I talked, she screamed. I thought I lost the gift! Not only did I not lose the gift, he funded the entire $13,000 project and gave me a compliment that I still treasure to this day. He said he’d been talking to a variety of nonprofit leaders (news to me!) and I was the most professional (even with a screaming 2 year old!) with the best presentation and follow through. Woo Hoo!
Sometimes the calls will come to you. Those will be very good days. Sometimes you will have to work to meet major donors. You will have to figure out who they are and what you need to do to get in front of them; who you know that knows them and what piece of your organization will be interesting and inspiring to them. Then, once you meet them, the real fun begins! You will need to cultivate and engage them in your future plans.
Ask each member of the Board of Directors to identify new people to introduce to the organization. When they do, communicate with every introduction, friend, prospect & donor regarding the impact of your organization. Obviously, a goal of any fund raising program is to build strong relationships with donors that will, over time, lead to increased engagement and increased giving. Trustees and the senior staff should each have cultivation goals based on their spheres of influence. Focus on friend raising as well as fund raising.
Fund raising is an art not a science. At some point, depending on the donor’s level of engagement and your experience, it will be time to request a specific (to their circumstances) donation. The asker should be assigned based on the likelihood of getting a yes. It may be a board officer; it may be a different board member; it may be the executive director; or a member of the development committee. Regardless of ego, you send the person who is most likely to get a yes.
Train askers to thank potential donor for their interest and past support, as appropriate, explain and present the written case for support, and request consideration for a suggested specific donation. Then, train them to be quiet until the potential donor has spoken. At which point, askers should answer questions, and either say “thank you” for the donor’s pledge/gift or their consideration while requesting an appointment to follow up.
Some consultants will tell you to never leave without a pledge form signed but that always felt much too aggressive to me. I prefer the gentler approach to donor engagement.
Once the donor has made a gift, it is imperative that you continue to engage them, which is called stewardship. Stewardship happens after a gift has been made and is an activity in which the donor is not being asked for a contribution, but is being informed/ updated of organizational activities of interest to her.
This should happen 3-4 times after a significant gift is received before another gift is solicited. Donors should not only hear from you when you want money.
I encourage you, at a minimum, to follow the four touch approach after you have received a major gift. Let’s pretend the gift was received in January.
1. Thank the donor for the gift.
The day your organization receives the gift, the CEO or Board member should call to say thank you. Two days later, the donor should have a formal thank you note in their hand that includes the proper IRS language. Within the week, they should receive a personal hand written thank you note from whoever solicited the gift. Whatever else your giving opportunities afford for a gift at that level should happen.
2. Tell them what you did with their gift.
In April, call and tell them about the program that their gift supported, in whole or in part. Share the expected impact of that program.
3. Tell them the impact of their gift.
In August, call and share the actual impact of the program their gift supported.
4. Then- and only then – you can ask for another, slightly larger, gift.
In December, call and ask for a meeting to share the successes of the year and discuss their participation in the current annual campaign.
Throughout the year, donors should also receive newsletters, marketing and email blasts as well as invitations to program events and special events. If you see their name in the paper, send a note. If you see an article in which they might be interested, send a copy. Include them; check in with them; and keep your major donors updated.
Major Donors make the world a better place! Don’t be afraid to meet them, meet with them, engage them and, if there’s match between your mission and their passion, solicit a gift. The worst thing they could say is no and even if they do, they’ll respect you for asking. I once had a philanthropist laugh – out loud for a not insignificant period of time – when a Board member and I asked for $100,000. She gave a major gift but the time between when she laughed and offered her pledge seemed to go on forever.
Do you have a similar story? What’s been your experience with major donors? As always, I welcome your insight, feedback and experience. If you have other ideas or suggestions for blog topics, please share. A rising tide raises all boats.