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development director

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.

How to get the 6 figure gift in 3 steps

Imagine yourself with a portfolio of donors that you have taken the time to get to know well.  You’ve zeroed in on your top tier donor.  She’s been giving consistently and has tremendous capacity.    How to you get her to the finish line?

One word: cultivation.

Real estate may be about location but in fundraising cultivation is king.  Cultivation requires a solid plan.  Your goal is to be constantly be learning more about your donor to deepen the relationship while delivering outrageous customer service that exceeds your donor's expectations and delights them.

Ready to move your top tier donor up the giving ladder?

Step one: Identify her interests. 

I’m going to illustrate this process with my own experience with a donor, we’ll call him Mr. Smith.  He loved our mission, empowering girls in math, science engineering and technology and his giving quickly grew from a $1,000 annual gift to $5,000.  Mr. Smith was a millionaire with great capacity.  A capital campaign was a few years into our future, but I knew I wanted him to make a lead gift.  I researched everything I could on Mr. Smith and invited him for a personal tour of our facility to learn more about his interests.  Just his interests - no solicitation.

I planned our visit like a wedding planner plans a wedding.  I wanted Mr. Smith to have such a great time he’d tell everyone.  I produced a fun, engaging and emotional experience to connect him personally to our work.  He met a graduate and did a science experiment extracting DNA from strawberries using alcohol.  He was moved by the testimonial and enjoyed rolling up his sleeves to experience how hands on our work was.  I made sure we had a quiet comfortable space to visit.  I left nothing to chance and you shouldn’t either.  Plan every last detail of your donor’s experience.

Step two: Create a plan to nurture her interests and deepen the relationship.

I learned in our visit that he was a futurist.  I created a high tech advisory council to advise us on building our future computer lab and asked him to chair it.  He filled it with high tech C-level friends, we met over lunch in our space and engaged attendees with in person testimonials from graduates and solicited their advice on cloud computing trends that might impact our technology planning.  I discovered Mr. Smith made giving decisions jointly with his wife so I began cultivating Mrs. Smith and recruited her to chair our capital campaign steering committee.

Step three: Make the ask.

After years of cultivation and increasingly larger gifts we asked and received a 6 figure gift from Mr. And Mrs. Smith.

If you don’t know where you are going any path will take you there.  Set a revenue goal and build a strategic cultivation strategy for your donor and you WILL succeed.  Today is your day.  Your donor is waiting.  So…get on your way!

Stay classy,