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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.

21 Discovery Questions to Ask Now

This blog post originally appeared on Guidestar. Outdoor business meeting

Great discovery is the key to retain and upgrade our donors.  If we want donors to understand us we have to start by understanding them.  Discovery centers on humans favorite subject – ourselves!  Statistically people spend 60% of conversations talking about themselves.

To help you maximize the most out of every moment with your donors steal this cheat sheet on how to approach discovery, the best discovery questions you can ask, and tips to encourage open-ended dialogue.

How to approach discovery

Make sure that isn’t you talking AT the donor about how great the organization is!  Aim to talk 25% and listen 75% of the time.  Find a topic that is interesting to them, build rapport and start probing.

Use these soft skills to make your donor feel at ease 

Exude positive energy.  Smile throughout the conversation, whether you are on the phone or in person.  Maintain eye contact.  Express a genuine interest in them.  Share sincere compliments.  Begin with small talk, i.e. “Have you had a chance to take some time off this year? If so, where did you go? If not, where would you like to go?”

Ask permission to ask sensitive questions

This isn’t the Spanish Inquisition.  First, ask the donor permission to ask questions.  This shows respect for the donor, the topic and how you are using their time.  i.e. ”Do you mind if I ask you a question?”  “I’d love to get to know you better and learn more about your interests.  Would you mind telling me more about the causes important to you?”

What if the donor seems surprised to hear from me? 

Truth bomb - they may not even recall our organizations name or remember when they made a gift.  They may think it’s a telemarketing call.  That’s ok!  Reassure them you are only calling to thank them for their gift, learn more about what inspired them to give so generously to your organization and find out if they have any feedback, thoughts or ideas on how you can make their experience more positive.

21 Killer Discovery Questions

  1. Tell me about your life.
  2. What inspired your first gift?
  3. What causes are you most passionate about?
  4. What do you hope to achieve with your philanthropy?
  5. How do you like to be invited to make a gift?
  6. Why does our cause matter to you?
  7. What do you love about what you do?
  8. What was the best gift you ever gave and why?
  9. Do you have any feedback for us?
  10. Is there any way we can make your experience more positive?
  11. How can we get you more involved?
  12. May I invite you to ___ ?
  13. Can I introduce you to _____?
  14. What values do you hold most dear?
  15. How does one make a difference in the world?
  16. What legacy do you want to have? Can you finish it alone?
  17. Which of the organizations that you support does the best job of keeping you involved? How?
  18. What is most important to you?
  19. Are there particular programs or areas that interest you?
  20. As you think about the future of our work, what are some of your worries?
  21. What are your hopes?

Are there any questions that are off limits?

Avoid yes/no questions.  Ask open-ended questions.  Don’t ask anything you already know, like when they gave or how much they gave.

What should I do with all the insight I gleamed from my donor(s)?

You spent a lot of time and thought finding out more about your donors.  Make sure others can access these insights too!  Record the details of your conversation in your donor database or CRM.

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?