Viewing entries tagged
major gifts

How to Make Your Donors Feel like Heroes

 This blog post originally appeared November 20th, 2013 on Bloomerang.   As we approach the peak of end of year fundraising and the beginning of a new year I encourage you to take a short break to call your major gift donors and congratulate them on how they are making an impact.  If you are doing a double take its true, I did not say call them to say thank you!  I said call and congratulate your donors on how they are making an impact.  Your donors made a difference, let them know!  Your donors are the hero of your story.  Tell them how their giving has made an impact.  Schedule a power hour of calls on your calendar and start dialing.  You will likely get voice mails but be surprised how quickly it takes and what a meaningful impact it can have on end of year giving and donor retention.

As fundraisers it’s easy to feel overwhelmed.  We never have enough time to tackle everything on our task list (and I just heaped yet another thing to it).  The fundraising options around us are positively dizzying.  In the midst of juggling everything we’re doing to raise money I invite you to take a moment to get clarity around what inspires donors to give.

First and foremost to secure any major gift you have to understand your donor’s interests.  You must know what they are passionate about. Giving is about the giver, not about the organization or the cause. The organization is the conduit through which donors live their interests and aspirations.  You should know your major donors passions and interests – if you don’t ask them!  Call them and let them know you want to get better acquainted with them as a part of serving their needs and letting them know how they are making an impact.  This is a critical step in portfolio assessment that allows you to determine how to best focus your energy on donors who want to have a deeper relationship with you and maximize your major gift giving.

Let’s assume you’ve taken that step and know what they care about.  Donors want to feel like their gift can make a difference.  Describing a litany of needs on behalf of your organization or the unquenchable challenges of population you serve can make a donor can feel overwhelmed.  They can feel like their gift won’t matter and worse, like the problem may not be solvable.  Give them a bold creative clear cut solution to an issue they cared about and detail the positive outcomes of the change they will bring about.  It’s easier to wrap your hands around a dream with a clear solution.  A laundry list of needs and feel defeating and overwhelming quickly.

Did you notice I said the change they will bring about?  Major gifts and planned gifts are about making your dream their dream.  It is not about you or your needs.  It’s about them – your job is to help them do good.

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,


Are you cultivating the right donors?

This blog post originally appeared on the Greenlights blog on August 5, 2013. Fundraising has only gotten harder.  We have more channels than ever before to communicate with our donors.  We’re still slowly climbing out the recession.  Finally, we are inundated with a huge array of strategies, tools and options for fundraising – galas, grants, direct mail, major gifts,  peer to peer, online fundraising, crowdsourcing, social enterprise, text to give, and planned giving just to name a few!

In all this noise it’s easy to get distracted by bright and shiny new toys.  Far too many times that bright shiny toy could be a prospect who may never give.  In fundraising, there is no silver bullet or magic formula. It comes down to knowing and nurturing the donors you have. The secret is to love the one you’re with. In reality we can spend far too much time chasing the bright shiny new prospects and not cultivating the donors we should be.


When I was running Girlstart people encouraged me endlessly to pursue a certain local billionaire.  Luckily both his corporate foundation and his private foundation were aligned with our mission and they supported us.  But pursuit of that funder might not have made sense for an organization serving multicultural refugees or providing vaccines in Africa since those causes were not part of their mission.  Organizations need to invest their time where it can yield the greatest fruit and not spin their wheels pursuing people with the capacity to give, but not the inclination.

How do I know who the right donors are?

There is a real economic cost associated with cultivating each donor on your caseload.  Many fundraisers can invest time and energy cultivating the wrong donors.  They might be individuals who are extremely well connected and influential but do not donate to you or they may be people with infinite capacity and no affinity for your cause.  To determine who should be on our portfolio you need to look at their passion for your cause and their capacity to give.

Take a moment to think about the donors in your portfolio. When I say portfolio, I’m talking about the numbers of donors (individuals, foundations and corporations) you are actively cultivating.  How well do you know them?  Do you know what your donors are passionate about?  What makes them give?  How they prefer you communicate with them?

If you don’t know these facts about your donors you must find out.  You have to reach out to your donors to find out more about their interests and determine how to best cultivate them.  Not every donor wants to have a more intimate relationship with your organization.  Some simply want to make a year-end gift and aren't interested in being treated as a VIP or insider.  Your challenge is to know your donors well enough to know their preferences and then execute on them with a revenue goal and cultivation strategy for each donor who makes it into your portfolio.  Knowing what your donors care about, why they give to you and what their larger interests are helps you determine your strategy for cultivating them.