Viewing entries in

5 Secrets of Great Fundraisers

This originally appeared as a guest blog post on Guidestar.

You know who they are.  The fundraiser who makes it look easy.  She nails the big gifts.  Loves her job.  He always seems to be grinning ear to ear.  At the cocktail party they’re surrounded by all the donors you want to get to know.  What’s their secret?

Truth be told, great fundraisers do things differently.   Here’s 5 things that set them apart:

  1. They know exactly where they can turn the greatest fundraising profit and are laser focused on it. Great fundraisers know that the highest ROI comes from major gift fundraising.   They keep their eyes on the prize.  They don’t let themselves get distracted.  They’d never compromise a larger ask for a short term gain, such as a table sponsorship at an event.
  2. They set ask goals for the major donors in their portfolio. If you don’t know where you’re going any road will get you there.  A great fundraiser has thought critically to determine the  right ask goal for each donor in their portfolio and when the right time is to make the ask. This may be their single greatest strength because in doing this simple task they can push back should unrealistic goals be forced upon them.
  3. They constantly mine their file. A great fundraiser knows the value of donors already giving to their organization and they make them feel it with fantastic stewardship.
  4. They are intensely curious. They are endlessly fascinated by others.  They want to learn what your greatest passion is and what makes you tick.  This is what inspires them to ask amazing discovery questions.  Call them the last hopeless romantics but make no mistake - they’ll remember the smallest detail of your life and it’s that one detail that will one day win you over.
  5. They are profoundly grateful.    For truly great fundraisers the glass is always half full.  They can’t see it any other way.  They are grateful to work for the cause they believe in and even more grateful for the opportunity to bring people closer to it.

My Worst Fundraising Moment

This blog post originally appeared as a guest blog post for Guidestar. Woman who suffers from anxiety

I sat down for lunch with a generous donor.

Two years earlier over lunch she and her husband asked me every fundraisers dream question:  “Where do you need help the most?”  I had to think fast on my feet.  My mind scanned their giving history.  Their interests.  I thought of a stretch amount for a project in their sweet spot.  I asked for a six figure gift to build a computer lab.  They wrote me a check on the spot.  Fast forward to today.   They’re divorced.  She got a huge settlement.  She’s starting a foundation.  We nosh on our salads.  The mood is relaxed.  That is, until I dive in and ask her to consider a gift 5 times bigger than her last to create a technology center for girls.

Her face turned as white as a sheet.

She peppered me with questions.  Who else had come in at the level?  Who was on our campaign cabinet?  Who was the chair?  Where were the other lead gifts from?  All excellent questions.  Only I didn’t have the answers.

I asked too early for too much without the proper cultivation.  I confused capacity with interest.  I didn’t take the time to prepare her.  I could have shown her the technology lab with students crammed two to a chair.  The waiting lists of students who couldn’t get a spot.  I could have taken her on a tour of new spaces.  Let her talk to parents on the waiting list or chat with graduates.

I lost that gift but it’s still my favorite mistake.  Why?  It forever changed me as a fundraiser.  It taught me how to cultivate donors and secure major gifts.

Last month I shared 21 of the best discovery questions you can ask a donor.  (hyperlink: My advice?  Use them!  But not all at once.  This is a relationship, not the Spanish inquisition.  When a new neighbor moves in next door you don’t ask them to go on vacation with you for a week.  You invite them to dinner.  Building relationships is a healthy give and take of disclosure.  Remember that donor’s give through us, not to us.  They are supporting the cause.  We help them reach it.  How rewarded do you make your donors feel for supporting it?

5 New Year’s Resolutions for Fundraisers

We have a brand new year in front of us.   A clean slate.  The chance to make it our best year ever.  Are you ready to say goodbye to what isn't working and supercharge your fundraising efforts to make it your most profitable year ever?  

  1. Get clarity on where you can turn the greatest fundraising profit – retaining your current donors

The best source for your next gift comes from your last gift.  Not events.  Not even acquisition, although most people would probably say their strategy for raising more money in 2014 is by getting new donors.  Every year the Fundraising Effectiveness Project gives us more bad news on donor attrition.  The money we make from new donors barely covers the donors we lost.  We make a profit in fundraising three ways: 1) extending donor loyalty 2) increasingly generous giving and 3) realizing higher gift values sooner.  Follow steps 2-5 to achieve these profit drivers.

2.  Evaluate your portfolio of donors

Occasionally clients hire me to searches for them and I am always surprised by the number of major gift officers I interview who boast about portfolios of 300 – 500 donors.  One major gift officer working full time cannot possible manage 500 donors, there is not enough time in the day.  While all donors deserve meaningful thank you’s, touches and updates you have to invest the time in understanding which donors want to have a deeper closer relationship with a major gift officer.  Typically 30% will, which means you have to get to know your donors and their interests, capacity, and communications preferences to determine if they belong in your major gift portfolio.  Roll out the red carpet to your donors this year! Call on them to formally introduce your role as their representative who lets them know how their giving is making an impact.  Find out why they are giving and what they are passionate about.  You’ll gleam critical data to determine what donors should be on your portfolio.   Once you know who should be on your caseload you are ready for step #3…

3.  Set a revenue goal and cultivation plan for every donor on your caseload

Lewis Carroll said “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”  If you don’t have a revenue goal and a plan for each donor you’re working in the dark.  You are also not alone, according to a recent donor retention study by Sage, now Abila, a whopping 69% of nonprofits lack a formal strategy for managing donor loyalty.  Now that you know which donors want to have a relationship with you and more about their interests and capacity you can apply your relationship fundraising goals to a calendar with dates for each touches and your ask.

4.  Thank meaningfully, early and often

Properly thanking your donor by being prompt and meaningful determines if that donor will give again.  With 8 out of 10 donors not making a second gift, don’t underestimate everything that is riding on your thank you.  A good thank you sets up the next gift!  Knock it out of the park with some of these fantastic tips on crafting a killer thank you letter from Gail Perry.  Thank within 48 hours, make it personal, have a board member call to say thanks, and always make the donor the hero of the story.  Congratulate them on what THEY will make happen because of THEIR generosity.

5.  Manage up

I talk to a lot of frustrated development directors.  They may feel unsupported because their CEO or board, or worse, both are not engaged in fundraising.  Several complain their CEO or board approving a budget that includes a blanket increase in funding without a strategy or additional investment in resources.  Discussing these issues with leadership requires delicacy and diplomacy but it’s critical that development directors confidently make the case to their CEO to invest in a donor centered strategy and maintain realistic expectations.

Your clean slate is waiting, time to get on your way!

Happy New Year,