I recently met a senior fundraiser who works in a large organization where he is surrounded by others who don’t share his enjoyment of meeting with donors and prospects. We speculated about why they are sitting in their offices. Some are experienced fundraisers who have lost the fire. Some are young fundraisers who are insecure or don’t realize how fun (and important) it is to meet with the people who write the checks. Some are lost in internal politics. Some are overwhelmed by their in-the-office responsibilities. Some are lazy. Some are uninspired. It can happen to any of us. Don’t let it happen to you. Get out the door.
It is never a good idea to startle a donor by asking for something outrageous without warning him or her first. But if you are asking for something incremental, the fundraiser’s motto above applies. For instance, maybe the donor has offered to send a letter to 20 of his or her friends, asking them to donate to the organization. You know that a letter is not going to accomplish much, but you are grateful for the donor’s willingness to help. You might want to say, “That’s great. I appreciate it. And are there two or three names on that list that you might be willing to invite to come to an open house?”
It’s rude to take a mile when someone offers you an inch. But if you ask for an inch and a quarter, you gradually expand the circle of the donor’s engagement.
For an excellent model of how to tell your organization’s story as if it will have a dramatic, global impact, look at Smith College’s campaign case statement.
This week a client asked me how to squeeze major gifts fundraising into her busy schedule. Here is what I told her. The threshold gifts will of course be different in different organizations. What would you add?
- Personal thanks to donors of $5K+, as well as first time donors of $500 or more beyond usual mail-merged thanks — phone call, email, note.
- Review top donor and prospect list, beginning with (a) prospects for largest gifts and (b) prospects for gifts of $5K+ in the next 3 months. What does it take to move those relationships forward? Write proposals, coordinate with board members and colleagues about contacting prospects, sending notes with recent reports, clippings, etc.
- Review upcoming cultivation events: what do you need to do in the next week to keep plans on track?
- Upward management & building development team: what can you do to celebrate board and staff members investing time in strategic fundraising? What can you do to learn more about the skills and interests of board and staff members in fundraising? How can you make fundraising easier and more rewarding for them?
- Create materials: how can you create or perfect the materials you have for telling the organization’s story in a compelling way?
I am a raging introvert. At a party, I usually look for one person I can talk to. If I have one or two good conversations during that evening, it’s a success. So I have had to develop some strategies for what comes naturally to some people: mingling, schmoozing, working the room, at a fundraising event. Here are some tips.
- Make a list beforehand of the most important people to talk to.
- Think about how you are going to start the conversation. This is the hardest thing for shy people to do. Or, even better, as a mutual friend to introduce you.
- Keep notes for yourself. A few words that will jog your memory when you are writing down what happened and what you need to do next. Your memory is probably not as good as you think it is.
- Say to each person you speak with, “Great things are happening at this organization, and I would love to speak with you about them. Can I call you next week to get a date on the calendar?”
- Don’t forget to contact the people who did not come to the party. Maybe there was a conflict on their calendar. Or maybe, like me, they enjoy one on one conversations more than crowds.
A fundraiser once told me that the Executive Director he worked for was going to LA, and she wanted to meet with donors. She got a couple of appointments, but most of the people she wanted to see were too busy, or uncertain about their schedules, or just unwilling to commit. (Please refrain from making jokes about the flakiness of Southern Californians.) So she did something unique. She wrote to all those indecisive Angelinos, naming a coffee shop in a central location: “I will be there from 9:00 to 11:30. Drop by if you have a minute.”
I never got a chance to follow up with my friend to see if she got any takers. But I thought it was a great way to deal with the difficulty of getting appointments. Have you found any ways of breaking through that barrier? Please share.
No one likes to nag or be nagged. So change your relationship with your non profit’s board members! Here are some tips.
- Board members should hold other board members accountable
- Ask board members to do the things that their skills, networks, and interest equip them to be good at.
- Offer support. If someone is holding back, probe about what the impediments are and how to get past them.
- Thank board members publicly for their work. This creates a positive spiral of engagement — board members will be lining up to tell you of their accomplishments if you do this right.
- Start easy: ask board members to call donors and say “thank you.” And suggest that they add “If you have a minute, I would love to hear why you support this organization.”
- Focus on effective and creative leaders. The others will sort themselves into followers and non players.
Collaboration is much more fun than a
I was recently meeting with the board of an organization that was considering different options for their work to current and potential donors. “Tours!” I proposed cheerfully. A board member responded, “Tours are boring.” I have been thinking the same thing myself. So how do we make them unboring?
The Woolworths store in Greensboro NC, where the first sit-in took place in 1960, is now a museum. The tour starts with a videotape of the four freshmen talking in their dorm room about how to confront segregation. After the video, visitors are lead through a long hall that replicates the walk across campus for the courageous young men. While I was walking through that hall, I had an almost-physical desire to turn back instead of facing the ridicule and harassment of segregationists. How can you create in your event participants the same kind of almost-physical sensation?
“Well, in our country,” said Alice, still panting a little, “you’d generally get to somewhere else – if you run very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.”
“A slow sort of country!” said the Queen. “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
The Queen spoke with derision about “a slow sort of country.” But isn’t that where we would all rather live? And wouldn’t we serve our donors better if we operated in a slow country that allowed us time to treasure each one of them? Here are a few ways you can slow down and work more effectively.
- Keep events simple. Events have a place in the fundraising toolkit, but the fatal temptation is to make each gala more elaborate and time-consuming than last year’s. It doesn’t have to be that way. Find ways to make your mission come alive in your events, and work all other details around that goal.
- Don’t nag board members. Instead, set up agreements with each of them about how they would like to help the organization in the coming year. “How can I help you succeed?” is the beginning of a much more pleasant and fruitful conversation than “We need every board member to sell ten tickets to the gala.” I know a fundraiser who has board members lining up to talk to her after every board meeting. That is because every meeting she brags about how different members have advanced the cause.
- Focus on big donors and big prospects first. Block the time off on your calendar, put a “do not disturb” sign on your door and figure out how to advance your relationships with each of them. Or take your donor list for a walk, and give a few minutes’ attention to each name. You may think of ways to advance the conversation that don’t occur to your sedentary self. I have found a handheld dictating device very useful for this purpose.
- Set aside time for meeting with donors. Quality time. Real listening time. Exquisite attention time. I once suggested to a fundraiser in a one-person office that she meet with the organization’s most generous donors. “That’s the icing on the cake,” she said. Meaning, when I finish the grant proposals, the appeal letters, the database nightmares, the walkathons, then I will have time for getting together with donors. The fact is that relationships are the icing, the cake, and the cakeplate.
Lewis Carroll, who created the Red Queen in 1871, was a shy Oxford math professor. Was he protesting the breakneck pace of academic life in Victorian England? Perhaps. Find ways to slow down and encourage your organization’s relationships with donors to thrive.
It’s a new year, and the Jump Start Growth Blog is being repurposed. Instead of philosophical/inspirational musings about fundraising, 2014 blog posts will contain short, practical suggestions that (I hope) you can implement right away to make your relationships with your donors more vibrant. And my resolution is to deliver them to you, dear reader, every Thursday.
Speaking of resolutions, are there donors or prospects that you have been meaning to reach out to, but simply have not made the time? Have you been hesitating because you don’t know enough about the individual to feel comfortable picking up the phone? Here are three questions to help get over that hurdle:
- Does the prospect have the capacity to make a significant gift if he or she gets excited about our work? (You have to determine what constitutes “significant”) for your organization.
- Does the prospect have a likely interest in your organization’s work?
- Is there someone in your circle who is in the prospect’s circle and can make an introduction?
If the answer to the third question is no, ask around a little bit, and if you still come up with nothing, reach out yourself. The only thing worse than a cold call is no contact at all.
Let me know if you have questions about how to strengthen connections with your donors. And happy new year!