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3 Secrets of Great Fundraisers

You know who they are.  

The fundraiser who makes it look easy.  Getting the big gifts.  Loving their job.  Always smiling.  At the cocktail party they’re surrounded by all the donors you want to know.  From across the room it almost looks like donors are rushing them like shoppers at a black Friday sale.  What’s their secret?  

Today is your lucky day.  Buckle up, buttercup!  I’m spilling the beans.  I’m ALSO giving you 10 rapport-building discovery questions to turn you into a great conversationalist AND reap you unforgettable nuggets of wisdom about your donors that if used properly can deepen your relationship with them in a matter of minutes.  Too good to be true?  Try me!

3 Things The Best Fundraisers Do Differently

#1 They know it’s not about them (or the organization).  It’s about the donor.  
They don’t start a conversation with “I have important updates!”  They don’t dominate a conversation by talking about themselves or the organization.  In real life we get sidetracked with all the great things we want to tell our donors and it’s easy to forget that the heart of our communication should be the exact opposite.  Donors give for their reasons, not ours and the more you find out about their passions and interests the better you can craft an ask.  

#2 They are intensely curious people who genuinely care.
They have a knack for remembering seemingly innocuous details about a person’s life.  They are genuinely curious about what matters most to their donors and they don’t hesitate to celebrate and honor it.   

#3 They ask the great questions and quickly build rapport.
Great fundraisers recognize that time with donors is a precious commodity and they make every second count by being prepared with great questions to build rapport and deepen the relationship.  I could talk all day (and sometimes do when people hire me to lead a custom training or board retreat!)  about how to do great discovery with a donor.  Here’s a few of my favorite discovery questions PLUS some “depth charge” bonus questions to quickly build rapport.   

1.    What motivated you to make your first gift to us?
2.   What is the most satisfying philanthropic gift you ever made and why?
3.   Of all the great agencies you’re involved with, who does the best job of keeping you involved?  How?
4.   What legacy do you most want your giving to have in the world?
5.   What do you love about what you do?

Bonus questions “depth charge” questions
6.    Which do you wish you had more of…time or money?  What would you do with it if you got it?  
7.     What makes you happy despite anything?
8.    What is something new you’d like to try or learn?  
9.    What mistake or failure in your life taught you the most?
10.   What was the hardest choice you ever had to make?  
These discovery tips are a SNEAK PEEK of the goodies my students will be getting in my new course, coming soon, Makeover My Fundraising.  Join the VIP waitlist and you'll get 20% off if you  decide to sign up.  Want more help with discovery?  I got your back.  This discovery guide is loaded with all the soft skills, tips and scripts you need to nail discovery.  

Stay classy,

Cheat Sheet to Get Your Board Fundraising

Most organizations I meet are frustrated with their board.  Hey, I hear you.  I was frustrated with my board too. How can you make it better?  Here’s 6 tips to give your board a fundraising makeover:  

#1 Remember they’re volunteers.  You are paid to do this work.  And you’re an expert at it.  But your board members are busy people with full time jobs and family obligations.  This means they’ll never be the expert you are.  They’re going to need your help and guidance.  Moreover, they need you to keep them motivated.  Do you know what motivates them?

#2 Set the right expectations.  You wouldn’t hire someone to work for you without explaining the job and how their performance will be evaluated.  What do you do if your whole board has the wrong expectations?  Can they be saved?  Yes.  You’ll need the board chair on board.  Hiring outside expertise for some board training will also work wonders.   

#3 Frame fundraising correctly.  I often see resentment between staff and boards over the board’s lack of participation in fundraising.  My advice?  Start with the need and case for support.  Don’t lead with the task you want them to do, i.e. sell tables, or name the prospects they know on our list.       

#4 Offer different ways to support fundraising.  You likely have some board members who are introverts and others who are extroverts.  Different activities will appeal to each of them.  Approaching everyone with a “one size fits all” expectation will frustrate some of your board members.  This can frustrate other board members and most certainly staff.  Get 10 ways board members can support fundraising in this guide, The Board Member’s Guide to Fundraising.

#5 Remember that fundraising is staff led.  Your board members are not going to wake up tomorrow and start soliciting donors.  You have to mobilize them, coach them and provide  support.   

#6 Manage up.  Supporting and leading a group of volunteers is seriously tricky business.  You need to excel at leading without authority, also known as “managing up”.  This means flexing your communication style, putting yourself in another person’s shoes, and being a proactive communicator. 

Want more help?  Enjoy this free webinar, "The One Hour Board Makeover".

Stay classy,



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?