On June 4th, Jay Love and Kent Stroman presented a webinar entitled “10 NPO Communications and Asking Techniques for Fundraising Success.” Kent presented his ten tips for better nonprofit communication, and Jay tied his strategies to the health of your donor database.

You can view the slides here, or watch a replay of the full webinar below:

Webinar transcript:

Jay: Take it away.

Kent: Well, Jay you’ve got much more encouragement at home that I did.  My wife told me, she said Kent don’t try to be smart. Don’t try to be funny. Just be yourself.

Jay: There you go.

Kent: I just might make reference that a lot of things that we are talking about really build on the concepts that are presented in my book, “Asking about Asking”.  It’s been a lot of fun to do some exciting things, based on that. In fact, I’ll just give kind of a sneak preview and that is that later this year the publisher will be releasing the second edition of “Asking about Asking” with some new material that focuses on some research that we’ve done over the last couple of years in terms of the obstacles that people like us run into whether full time professionals or volunteers but those obstacles that people encounter and really doing asking for major gifts. That’s coming up soon.

For today we’re going to focus on 10 Proven Asking Techniques. This certainly isn’t exhaustive but I want to start with tip number one and it may seem obvious but to decide who to ask.  I wanted to underscore really the prospect identification is really a big deal. One of the big mistakes that we see with lots of fundraising efforts is that we’re talking to the wrong person. It’s somebody who may have passion for the mission but they don’t have the resources to support that or vice versa. Maybe somebody with enormous resources but simply have no interest in the particular cause.

So the decision on who to talk, first of all, is a question about which funder.  Typically we want to look for a high rating on three different factors. Number one, does this prospect care about what we care about? That’s the affinity connection. The second point is capacity. Do they have the financial capacity that they can give at a level that would be impactful if they were so inclined. The third element is generosity and that is do they have a track record of actually being philanthropic or generous?

I know later on Jay is going to touch on some of technical aspect of the decide who. Before the rest of our 10 tips make any sense, we really need to have in our mind a picture of who it is we are going to approach because there will be some very personal characteristics and considerations that we will want to use in implementing the next nine strategies.

So tip number two is start with why.  It’s so important that we know exactly what it is we’re asking somebody to contribute towards and I want to just say up front, it’s not rent, it’s not salaries, it’s not supplies, equipment, computers and as important as it is, we’re really not asking them to give so that they can buy that new computer software. Even if it’s Bloomerang.  That’s the tool. But the essence is really the why.  What is the purpose of our not for profit organization? What is it that would be accomplished if the contribution were to be made?

So what we want to say is that you want to put a face on your mission. I love listening to stories of those organization that truly do change people’s lives. I’ll tell you recently, I was doing a board retreat. This was with a higher education foundation and there were about 25 people in the room and I asked a question.  Who would care if we no longer were in business? If the foundation simply folded, who would care?

The common theme that ran through the room was students would care.  So I just said name one.  As obvious as that seems, there was only one person in the room that was ready to do that.  She gave a name and it happened to be a young lady. I said tell me her story.  I want to tell, as that story was told, it was just two or three paragraphs, but as the story was told it was so moving that it moved me to tears. Essentially it did put a face on the mission.

So if we can start with why, tell the story of somebody whose life has been impacted by our mission or somebody that has been prevented from participating with our mission, that makes it very real and personal.  Once we do that, then we can talk about the numbers. So we say, use words if you must.

Next, I just want to show you. I think this is such a powerful image. It does a great job of conveying the urgency, the passion, the mission, and this is for the University of Wisconsin Foundation.  It says, your legacy, their future.  Whoever staged that photograph I think must be a genius.  But to me that’s an example of starting with why and if you read none of the words, you still get the idea.

So that’s tip number two. Jay and Steven, what I am wanting to do today is really to move kind of quickly through these 10 tips in hopes that we can save time for interaction and be able to respond to questions of any of those who may have them in the chat room.

Steven: I totally agree. I’ll be following the same modus operandi.

Kent: Great. Plus, I don’t know about presenter number two but presenter number one isn’t all that great. I’ve heard him before so we’ll just kind of speed through this as much as possible.  But here’s tip number three. Speaking of our prospective donors. Show them the price tag. I mean how much does the solution cost? We identify the problem, we come up with a solution, and whatever it is in our case statement, we need to have an idea of what does it cost to deliver the solution.

If, for example, as you see here if it’s $12.5 million. We may think that is a big number.  How could we ever go to the market place with that? Whatever the cost is is what the cost is.  People aren’t going to fund it if we’re not comfortable owning and getting real with it. Once we figure out what the answer is, be up front with it.  Show them the price tag. This is how much the solution costs and until we have that in place, we’re really not in a position to follow our next tip which is show them how we get there also known as the gift chart.

In his introduction, Steve mentioned that dirty, dark secret about me. I am an accountant.  Please don’t tell anybody that. Numbers matter. They are certainly not the most important thing but one of the reasons that I love numbers is that numbers tell me a lot about things that aren’t numbers. If you look on the screen, we have a sample gift chart there and using the example of a 10 million dollar project. If we’re going to have to raise $10 million, it is not going to be the result of a million people who each make a $10 gift.

Now, we might be able to raise $10 million  for a disaster recovery like is happening in Moore, Oklahoma right now.  You might be able to raise 10 million by a million people each giving $10.  But in terms of the day in day out of fundraising efforts that you and I are going to be involved in, I would not want to risk my career, my reputation on simple arithmetic.

Realistically, and if you look at this example, there is about a dozen decisions that are going to make or break this campaign. This is based on the idea that 11 gifts are going to total $5.5 million. Realistically, if we’re going to raise $10 million, we’re going to have to have a gift someplace in the range of a 1.5 to $2 millions.  The gift chart does a great job of communicating to our audience our prospective donors. This is what the solution looks like. Don’t keep it a secret. It does take big gifts. We may as well be up front with ourselves first and then with others in the marketplace.

One of the things I love to do with this particular tool is ask people to identify where they might see themselves and ideally to look for a range of giving.  I was having a conversation along these lines and the person I was talking to, these aren’t the exact numbers but just use this as an illustration. Her response was we would probably give in between a half million and a $1 million.

Well that’s a range. I wasn’t prepared for the importance of the follow-up question that I asked but I’ll share it with you and encourage you to use it and that is well first of all I said, that sounds extremely generous but it’s also a big difference.  When it comes to it, how will you decide, how will you choose between giving a $.5 million or 1 million? She went on to explain exactly what the factor would be as they made that decision. That became some extremely important feedback that we could use to equip her to make the gift that she wanted to make.

Design, develop a gift chart for your particular campaign and by the way you are in a campaign. It might not be a multi-year capital campaign. Even if it’s just this years campaign for scholarships, it’s a campaign. So find the bottom line, decide what the price tag is, come up with a sample gift chart, and don’t keep it a secret.  Tell them what it takes to get there.

Tip number five is to define the ask.  I don’t know about you but I know for much of my career it was easy for me to get choked around asking for the gift. Part of the reason for that is it’s poorly defined. To make it simple, I want to introduce a written proposal. As you can see, this is very compact. It’s one page. It could be on an index card if need be.  There are really about seven different elements here that really go into a formal ask.

Our recommendation is that every ask that is worth one on one contact, that you would formalize it and put it in the form of a proposal. So we want to start with identifying who is it that we’re making the proposal too.  In the example here we are addressing it to a couple, Katie and Jason Rutherford. Identify specifically who the request is coming from. Aren’t you impressed with my ability to draw straight lines? Yeah, me too.

Jay: Very good.

Kent: But specifically, what is the date and then what is the amount.  I wish we had time to go into more depth but all of these factors are things that do not come from us as the fundraiser or the charitable organization but rather it’s input that we receive from the prospect. So, if the Rutherford’s are inclined to give in the $1.5 million range, let’s be specific and feed that back to them when it’s time to make the request.  What is the purpose of the gift? Is there naming involved and if so what’s it like?

Then there is this thing we call the fine print.  Our recommendation is you always make the fine print the same size as the other print. We have nothing to hide and want to make it easy to stay on this same page. If there are specific considerations that go into it, let’s be upfront with that but ultimately then we have a very simple proposal that we can put in front of the prospect, the donor, so that we’re all talking about the same thing.  So tip number five is to define the ask.  Define the ask.

Tip number six. We’re climbing the 10 step staircase.  Now, you don’t have to use our approach but we certainly would recommend that you use proven process. Let me share by way of illustration.  Think of the fundraising endeavor as if you’re standing at the bottom of a tall staircase.  Where we would like to get is through this door at the top that is marked yes.  That is our ideal.

I don’t know about you. I do have long legs. I can’t get from here to there in one step. So, this process of asking strategic questions, understanding the donors wishes, and helping them get to the right yes for them, that proven process is something that has been extremely helpful throughout the years. Again, we would certainly recommend. Whether it’s our process or another one, find a process that works for you, a methodology that you can rely on. Share with your contributors so that they can be a key part of the solution.

Tip number seven is to define success. Everybody seems to have his own definition for success. I want to share with you two perspectives.  One we want to find success from the perspective of the nonprofit organization.  The other is from the donors perspective. First of all, we define success at the nonprofit level as reaching the fundraising goal.  Going back to the earlier example, if we have a $10 million goal and we raise $9.5 million dollars. That’s a lot of money but we fell just $.5 million short of the goal. Success, we can’t declare success until we reach or exceed that goal. That makes all the sense in the world to the not for profit organization.

When it comes to the individual donor however that definition isn’t valuable. It’s not useful. From the donor viewpoint, success means making a well informed decision and so rather than coming to the marketplace and telling the donor, this is what you have to do or we’ve decided this is what you should do but what we want to do is find out what their inclination is. What might they do if they were to fully achieve their objectives and then help them make a decision as well informed that’s the right decision for them at this time for this project at this place in their own circumstances.

Once we understand what success is that positions us to tip number eight and this is what I call the twin risks. The risks of early rejection and the risks of early acceptance. Let me give you an example. The risk of early rejection. We show up without much cultivation, ask for a major gift, and we get prompt no. What happened? Why did the prospects say no? It’s because they weren’t prepared to say yes and to say yes at the right level. So we just encountered that early rejection.

Early acceptance is the opposite.  We show up and we’ve got much cultivation, make an ask, would you give a gift? And they say yes, we would. And they write a check for $100. The good news is we have $100. The bad news is they are done and we’re done. We want to manage our interaction in such a way that we’re only asking for responses for questions that we’re ready to hear and for answers that the prospect is actually well positioned to give. So, I don’t make a request for a gift until we get to the top of that 10 step staircase that allows us to avoid that, those twin risks.

Tip number nine is to make a plan. Now, one of the things that Steven didn’t tell you, the majority of our work is in about four areas. We do a lot of work in major capital campaigns, in major gift solicitation, strategic planning, and board development and governance.  So, in strategic planning, it’s laborious work, it’s important work but it’s so very valuable. Our experience is that the results are rarely better than the plan.  So whether that’s at the organizational level or the strategic plan or at the individual donor level with a solicitation plan, if we don’t have a good plan we cannot expect to get good results.

Here is one example of what a cultivation or a solicitation plan looks like. We need to start off by knowing who we are talking to and exactly what is the purpose of this call.  That purpose may differ from one donor to the next and from one call to the next with a given donor but if it’s to ask for a gift let’s plan to make an ask. If it’s to cultivate a gift, that’s a very different purpose. Let’s know what specifically what cultivation questions that we want to ask. What do we want to be the outcome from this meeting?

Once we know that, we’ll know who needs to go, what materials need to go on with this, and when the call is over we can ask questions. Was the purpose achieved? If yes, what needs to happen next? If no, what needs to happen next?  Develop a plan and then stick to the plan. Afterwards you evaluate the results.

Tip number ten. I think you’ve probably heard this from your mother but it’s practice. Practice, practice.  Our best recommendation is that the practice does not begin with live call. Work in the call team. Include the staff person, whether it be the CEO, the development director, whomever. But along with a peer, someone who is in a peer role and relationship with the donor. Before you make those donor calls, practice. What is our conversation going to be like?  Who is carrying which part of it? What things do we want to explore? Are there some things that we want to stay away from? So that’s the first form of practice.

The second practice is actually conducting the call. The third part of that practice is the evaluation after the fact.  Then let’s go out and repeat the process again.  These are kind of simple and fairly straight forward but at this point I want to hand it off to Jay and Jay if you can kind of pick it up and talk to us about how a database supports a major gift solicitation.

Jay: I would be glad to Kent. Thank you so much for sharing all that advice with me. In fact, I thought I might comment on one area. My wife and I have been privileged and honored to make a few major gifts over the last four or five years and I’ve had a couple situations where the nonprofit used the proposal format, that you talked about Kent, and the results and how we felt about it and how it quickly consummated, it was the difference of literally night and day compared to places that did not. I can give you first hand testimony Kent that that works and raise my hand and say that’s the case.

Well, I am going to tie in to some of Kent’s steps here. The first slide that you see there says step one, decide who to ask. I really feel that the database has to be that tool, Kent said it right, referring to it as a tool. It’s got to literally be the right arm for everybody that is involved in the fundraising process and that requires it to be something that everybody can use. I am going to ask sort of a rhetorical question here that I am going venture to say that probably 90 percent of you are using some sort of donor database out there.

Recently, at the AFP conference in San Diego, the National Association of Fundraising and Professional Conference, we did an informal survey there with all the people that came by our booth and we asked them, of the folks that are using a donor database, what percentage of your product do you use? Ironically, the number that we found more times than not was right around 20 percent.  The people felt that they were using 20 percent of the product or the functionality of that.  Yet, most of the people told me that they made their buying decision based upon how many features and functions they felt could be jammed into that product.

So, ironically those work against each other as you can see from my bullet point next to the bottom there. Large amounts of features and functionality usually equal complexity and complexity keeps the fundraisers out. That’s very, very scary to think that the people that are on the front lines and the people that are involving board members and other connectors to make things happen.  None of that information in some cases is making it into the database so you run the risk of that all walking out the door when change over occurs which it inevitably will over some time period. I think it needs a revolution.

I borrowed this from Les Mis the musical to talk about there. Revolutionary change usually comes from game changing ideas and those ideas usually are ideas whose time has come.  I think you’ve got to combine that to make a revolution come to life with relentless execution so let me time those points together there and talk a little bit about that and see. The game changing ideas that we see here and I am going to date myself a little bit. I started working with, someone likes to refer to Les Mis. Thanks, Valerie.

But one of the things that I’ve seen over my 30 years. I started being involved with this marketplace in 1983 when a product called[FundMaster]. We always had to package in several days if not weeks of training. I kept asking my partners as we were building the Bloomerang product why is it that I can use this smartphone that I have in my hand, I wish I had the camera like Kent has but I can show you the smartphone.

I’ve got an iPhone in my hand right now and that iPhone does about 10 times more than the FundMaster product ever thought about doing and I’ve never had a single minute of training but yet I use, I fully believe, at least a third or more of the functionality of that product every single day. I challenge our development team to see if we could make that happen.  Hopefully that will allow anyone to be able to use and feel comfortable with using the product so those are the game changing ideas.

What was also a game changer here was bringing best practices to life. You’ll see me allude to a couple individuals whose reputations are just like Kent’s.  They’ve been involved in the market for many, many years but in this case they were actually conducting the proper research in that it can be documented on what were the best practices that could come to life so they sort of came out of the academia front more so than the day to day work like Kent and I and others are involved in. You’ll see that in just a second too.

What we’ve decided to do is focus on core functions only which allows all fundraisers to use the database and that’s the biggest change I’ve seen since here recently is the fact that we now have all of the people that are on the front lines using the database, putting their notes in, figuring out who is engaged and not engaged and believe it or not that’s quite revolutionary. In fact, everybody using the database enables true donor engagement and true donor record keeping and we believe the really results in fundraising success, making the step that Kent was talking about in the asking process truly come to life.

The Bloomerang database, just to give you a little bit of background, is built upon on these four key principles here. Enabling best practices, bringing donor retention and donor communications to life and we’ll talk about my two experts that really focus in on each of those two areas.  Making it extremely easy to use and focusing in on results not features for that.

As we’re showing the product, if someone is doing the old spreadsheets where they are putting check marks in for the features there, I always tell them we are probably not going to fair to well but if you go in and play with the package for awhile, I think you’ll be hooked on what it can mean for you on a day to day basis.

As I alluded to, we’ve been involved with other products such as FundMaster, eTapestry.  I headed up the Altru product for Blackbaud.  Each time, those products got better and better and better, I really believe that we finally have got it right or close to right now and we’ll leave that for all of your to be the judge of as we take a look at it here.

Well the two experts I am talking to are Dr. Adrian Sargeant on the right, a professor of philanthropy at the School on Philanthropy at IU and really has done years and years of research on donor retention, donor loyalty. Many of you out there have probably had the privilege of listening to Adrian speak or being able to read one or two of his publications.

Then on the left you’ll see Mr. Tom Ahern.  Sort of the guru of donor communications and both of them were kind enough to throw in and say I believe in your project and I think we can make a difference and I would like to allow my intellectual property to be a part of what we built in to the best practices here.

I always remember sitting down and having lunch with Adrian and I asked him. Geez, you’ve been doing this through many different books and publications. You speak at every national conference. Are you really making a difference? Are we improving donor retention? There was this long pause. It was long enough for me to actually have one or two bites of food in between but I thought well, I better not say anything. He came back and he goes, not really.

I explained the project and I said would you like to lend your expertise and your intellectual property to that and literally within two seconds Dr. Sargeant said, I’m in.  I knew we were off to something there and it makes such a big difference when you have information and best practices coming from individuals like these two.  If you haven’t read any of their publications or you haven’t subscribed to Tom’s newsletters, I highly recommend both of them. They literally are something that you will gain a lot of knowledge from.

So if I’m talking about the Bloomerang product, it’s a web-based product. I just want to give you a couple tidbits of information here but this is how you log into the product. When you log in it brings up the information here about your constituents. As you can see, the product only has these basic icons that you see here with those four icons there.  Those allow to go into the various aspects of the process.

The first thing that I wanted to talk about was what Kent was referring to, the prospect identification. We think a key part of that being able to figure out the affinity is the engagement level. As you can see, this engagement level moves into one of five categories. If I was able to go live there, people can go from a cold to cool to warm to hot to on fire here. Those are based on these parameters that you see listed here.

These are what we call our engagement factors and the secret recipe that is behind all this, the secret sauce is actually Dr. Sargeant exactly how much waiting each one of these factors will have and we stored the recipe with the Coca Cola recipe down in Atlanta in some bank down there for that.  So we got that.

The first question that people ask me is can I modify that recipe? We may at some point allow that to be the case but for right now we’ve got what we’ve think is really dialed in based upon their recency and pattern of giving, whether or not they are a cash [inaudible 30:18] donor versus a sustaining donor such as someone that is a reoccurring transaction or a multi-year pledge.  Obviously the number of years of giving makes a big difference there. Whether or not they are upgrading or downgrading lapsed.

Then we fall into two areas of their involvement with you, their attendance at events and their volunteer activities. Both of those are very, very important and as that information comes over from your website, if they are registering for an event or inviting other people to an event or they are volunteering and you have a volunteer sign in or registration. All of that flows directly over and it moves this engagement needle up or down based upon their involvement.

The next several items concentrate in on their communication. If you send out any email, are they one of the 20 or 25 or 30 percent that actually opens the email? We think people opening and reading and clicking through the email maybe forwarding it on to other people is a very good sign of engagement as well as obviously unsubscribing moves the needle down. If we have their communication preferences on file, we can give a lot of weight into that.

Then one that I think is very, very important here. I’ll try to put a star here. That’s not a good star. Kent you would have done much better.  This is inbound interaction. We all know that if someone is reaching out to you it makes all the difference in the world. So if they’ve called you or if they, nice job there Kent.  If they’ve called you or if they’ve emailed you or if they’ve stopped by your office, we give almost twice the waiting to people who have inbound interaction.

I always remember a good friend of mine is Chuck [Longfield]. One of the tidbits that when I was involved with the Team [inaudible 32:06] project, he always told me if someone reaches out and tells you that their address has changed, put a big goal star besides that person’s name in your database because that person is a plan giving or legacy gift prospect that is going to happen down the road. You’ve got four or five times the chance of that because they care enough to let you know that they are involved and that they want you to compete and keep communicating with you.

Then one we find that is often overlooked, if people have soft credits, that means that they’ve brought in matching gifts from their corporation. If they’ve got a family foundation or a legacy fund or donor advice fund or they just bring people in to sponsor them in an event participation, those are soft credits which equate to stewardship.

Stewardship is, I don’t know where that is on Kent’s staircase but it’s got to be up there near the top. Someone that’s a good steward makes all the difference in the world.  Then we’ve got the social media and that will be in the talk later. So if anyone talks about you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. We know that’s not as powerful as making a gift but it’s the next step towards that so we give credit for that.

All of those come to life here so that this engagement level is moving up or down as all times.  I always tell people, think about how much fun it would be to be able to come in on a Monday morning and get a report waiting on your desk saying, these are all the people in my database that moved up or down one full engagement level in the last seven days.

I honestly think that might affect who you reach out with for telephone calls and appointments and follow ups during the coming week based upon that especially if you have someone classified as a major donor and they’ve dropped an engagement level or two. They are about to become a donor attrition statistic that you can do something about.

This is what we do as far as showing donor engagement over time. This is their time line and we can see every touch point that we’ve had with the person and this is where Kent was talking about whether or not you’re doing a solicitation or an ask, you can see all of the cultivation that is happening here. The highlights over on the right here show what’s moved the engagement needle the largest percentage of basis points on that engagement graph for you.

So when we go into the Moves Management area we leave this up to the organization. Some organizations want to attract more information than others.  But as you can see here with this sample organization, we’ve got an assigned solicitor so that maybe a volunteer or a board member or it maybe a member of your staff to do that.

What stage they are in and most organizations we’ve had the privilege of working with so far have a four or five step staging process that they go through. The ask amount, the action, the last action date that we have and next action date.  Those are all there for you to make this come to life and practically in some of the reports here.

This is a sample of one of the Moves Management reports. This is where you can edit it and move it around. As you adjust this, this is what comes to life so in this particular place we’ve got a volunteer by the name of Anna who has the privilege of working with both Larry Bird and Sponge Bob Squarepants. You can see their ask and what stage they are in and their year to date amount raised that they have with our foundation.  All of that is at your fingertips and what is beautiful about this is I can drop this right in and print it out. I can click through and go right to that person’s record. I can make all of those items come to life very quickly and very easily.

Last but not least, this is the dashboard as you come into the system that shows the donor retention every single day. In fact if you log into the morning, do some things, leave for an appointment, come back in the afternoon, you’ll see that. This is figured going back exactly 365 days and it’s showing you in that 365 days how many donors from the previous 365 actually stayed with you. So that retention rate can change from day to day and from week to week.

You can really see whether or not you are making a positive effect on that because if you start to see it go down over several weeks in row, there is obviously some action to be take and the nice thing about it. You can pull out exactly who are the people that are falling off to cause that to be the case and then you can go back and rescue them instead of waiting for your next annual PO or some other type of solicitation to take place.

So with that in mind Kent and Steven, I want to throw it back there so we’ve got a good full 20 minutes here of question and answer period to see.  Steven, do we have any questions that have come in to us so far and if you wouldn’t mind directing them to Kent or myself or both?  We’ll probably find we’re both commenting on most of them but feel free to start us with one or the other.

Steven: Sure. We collected a few questions from people when they registered so we’ve got a few here that we can throw out.  Again, for those of you who are listening, feel free to send any questions over and we’ll get to those as well. Jay, it looks like we’ve got a couple very software specific questions. Sam was wondering how Bloomerang compares to Altru in terms of general admission organization? Maybe you could speak to that for Sam really quickly.

Jay: Okay, we don’t really have a ticketing module or ticketing functionality built into that. We do have some organizations that sell tickets as part of their special event. We create, what we call a ticketing or event widget on their websites, so their website is their entry place where they can bring that information in and populate the appropriate fields in the database from that, from the website.

We’ve also explored working with a couple web based ticketing software programs so that people can issue tickets and be able have the donor or the members print out tickets with the appropriate information to get you into the event or into the performance, to do that.  Bloomerang has some very easy to use API’s, application programming interfaces. If there is someone out there that has that need, let us know. We’ll be glad to explore it with you. We may or may not be able to do it but if it’s pretty basic ticketing needs, usually we can make that come to life.

Steven: What about planned gifts, Jay? Looks like Jonathan was curious about planned gift?

Jay: Find that all the time.  Within the gift entry area, it’s got the ability to record all the details for a planned gift and of course a big part of the reason of tracking engagement and all the other key factors that we were looking at there and I’ll defer to Kent to take this a step further is it lets you know who are the idea plan giving prospects so you know where to spend your valuable time being able to do that.

One of the things I always love is if you send out your monthly or quarterly newsletter and you’ve got a plan giving article and the software tracks for you. Who clicked on that article and wanted to know a little bit more about it? Wow, I think might be somebody you might want to have a planned giving call with. If they clicked on the article and read something about that, that really gives you a good hint. What do you think Kent?

Kent: I agree entirely. The power of software, in particular Bloomerang, to track what people’s interest in goes back to that very donor-centric approach that we’ve had so much success with across all kinds of organizations.

Steven: Great. Well Kent, there is a question here from Gloria. You probably saw it and I thought you could speak to this.  She is working with an organization that is in need of some sponsors and inquiries from other cities but it looks like they don’t really have the funds to move forward on that. What advice would you give Gloria for an organization that maybe doesn’t have the funds to expand but definitely wants to?

Kent: Well first of all. Hi, Gloria. Thank you for your question. We would go back to the whole relationship thing and that is we want to be able to identify somebody in that geography, in the locale, that is interested in what we’re interested in and then begin with the primary qualification and that is that an asker must a giver be. Before we can engage somebody in leading this to another donor, we need to help them make a donation decision themselves.

If I don’t know somebody. Let’s say I am going to be in Dallas and they are reached out there. If I don’t know the person, I want to find somebody who does know the prospect so they can serve as linkage for us. Begin with your research tools. Again with Bloomerang, we’re going to be able to identify those in our constituents whether they contributed or not who geographically are connected.  Let that tool track the relationships and work those relationships so we can bring people to a point of making their decision.

Steve: Great, great.  Kent, since you showed all those great forms for the ask and proposals there, we got an interesting question here. The question is we’re not asking our donors for millions for dollars. Is a written proposal really necessary? What would you say to that person who is maybe questioning using a written proposal?

Kent: I always think it’s interesting to know what the reluctance is. Sometimes somebody says well that’s really too [inaudible 42:04]. But here’s what I want to say is the more specific we can be with our requests, the easier it is for the person we are approaching to say yes. So think in terms of impact in using a proposal is to elevate the gift. If we know people have a tendency to give more to a more formal request, that is going to provide the encouragement. But again, it allows us to zero in on where do we have points of agreement and where is there a gap if any.

Jay: Kent, if I might add too.  I’ve seen that successfully used down to the 5,000 level for a transaction. What I think is really wonderful about it and I’m talking to Tom Ahern about this, the details that are there, if you can store those, whether it’s in a database or a paper file or whatever, what a wonderful way to know what to report on and communicate to that donor down the road of what the effect of their transaction has had on their missions and on the project, etc. because people are dying out to find out what their money was used for and how successful it was and whether you need more to make success happen.

Kent: Absolutely. When you made reference earlier Jay to donor stewardship, I will tell you when I was in higher education one of my favorite things to do in any given day was reach out to those who were a long way aways from campus, who couldn’t be there, and just reach out to them by phone and say I wanted to thank you for your gift and just give you a glimpse of what that gift is accomplishing on campus today. Like you said, knowing what they specifically targeted their investment towards makes it easy for us to give a return on investment report that’s meaningful to them.

Jay: One of Dr. Sargeant’s tenets is that it should be very easy for you to figure out what your average gift is for your organization. If a new donor comes in, that’s above the average gift level, please don’t send out the same thank you letter. Either send out a personalized letter or better yet pick up the phone and call them or figure out a way to get a face to face meeting. The difference in the renewal rate of the latter versus the former is literally 50 to 60 percentage points difference.

Kent: It’s breathtaking.

Jay: It’s really not that difficult so that’s one of the things that we’re building into the best practices. If something comes in above the average gift level, try not to use the same thank you letter and ironically for a lot of non profits the person that is responsible for the thank you letter is the person that is the database administrator. They’re really not a fundraiser and they don’t think about those things. To them, it’s a task daily or weekly to get those letters out.

A case in point. I went back to one of my eTapestry customers about seven or eight years later after I had helped them set the system up. Kent, you’re not going to believe this but they were still using the exact same thank you letter that I put in seven years ago and they were sending it to every single donor every time they donated. No one had changed it at all because they just assumed that the database would take care of that. As you can imagine, if I was a donor and I gave twice a year, by the 14th time I got that letter, I might be wondering is anybody watching the ship back there.

Kent: Well pity the poor monthly donor.

Jay: That’s true.

Kent: Oh wow. Well Jay, you wrote the letter. It had to be good.  How could they replace it?

Jay: I didn’t write it. I actually helped them get it into the system. They wrote it.

Steven: Well Jay, we got a couple questions specific to our software. Deborah is wondering how it compares to the sales force product? Of course Salesforce was in the news today here in Indianapolis. Maybe it’s appropriate to speak to that difference there if you could.

Jay: Salesforce is a wonderful product. I’ve used it in some commercial businesses. Steven and I actually worked with a search engine optimization firm here in Indianapolis and that’s the product that we used. Unfortunately it was designed for commercial businesses and particularly the key thing I like to point out is what happens with a gift transaction?

Kent, feel free for the CTA to jump right out here and talk about this. There is a big difference between a commercial invoice and a gift transaction. Let me just tell you a few things. Is it tax deductible? Is it not tax deductible? Is there a soft credit and a hard credit involved? Does it involve a memorial or a tribute? Do I need to split it between multiple funding categories? Is it the result of multiple appeals?

All of those underlying factors that make a gift transaction so special and so wonderful. An invoice object can’t really handle it.  That’s what most of the sales forces solutions try to do and then unfortunately the Salesforce product is not really supported directly in the non-profit world by Salesforce itself. It’s through a third-party group of providers.  Some of them are excellent. But if you happen to get to somebody that doesn’t stay in that business or doesn’t really know what they are doing, you could be a little bit at their mercy on how well you customize the product to make that come to life.

Then the old adage, the last thing I’ll mention, anytime you customize something you have to be aware of in future releases, does something that’s in the general release change anything that you did in the customization and the customized version.  It’s a couple things to keep in mind for that. It’s an outstanding product but it is a big product. Be aware. There is a lot to it. When you open it up, I don’t know how many tabs are on that screen but there is a large number of them. Be aware it’s going to cover all the bases but you want to be aware that you have to understand what those bases are.

Kent: Let me jump in here because I over the years have just become a huge advocate for choosing the right tool for the job.  I grew up in rural America and we used to say you know if I had a pair of pliers and a piece of bailing wire, I could fix just about anything. I could. The fix wasn’t all that great but when it comes to philanthropy and fundraising, you can work with a deck of index cards but there are some built in limitations to that tool.

I guess one of the things that I’ve loved so much over the years about Bloomerang, is this is designed to do exactly what fundraisers need. Salesforce is designed to do exactly what a traditional sales force needs.  In the same token that it would be a mistake to adapt Bloomerang to drive my commercial sales efforts. It’s a mistake to try adapt something that is designed for a difference purpose to do what Bloomerang can do. One of the keys I would say, in any selection process, ask yourself the question, does this tool work for me or do I work for it. If the answer it the latter, run the other direction.

Steven: Yeah, definitely. Jay, while we are talking about it, Kelly and Karen were interested in migrating data so converting data from one tool to another.  Maybe you could explain how we handle that process?

Jay: Well that’s the magic. That’s the pulling the rabbit out of the hat as the old saying goes.  Fortunately, the person that, they key architect of the Bloomerang product, a gentleman by the name of Rob Signorelli had done this for many years and he decided that we wanted to make a product that was just as easy to get data in and out of as it was to use on a day to day basis. We make it very straight forward to bring the data in and we’ve had a lot of experience in doing that.

It depends on the product that you’re coming from. Obviously if someone has information in a spreadsheet or in Microsoft Word or something basic like that where you’ve got primarily a one to one relationship of information. That’s very simple. As we get into more sophisticated products, some of the commercially available products can very nicely be done.

What we usually find, it’s not the transfer of what was contained in this field over here in product A and product B. But many times we find as people using the system changed over the years because most of the older, commercially available packages, there was usually only one or two people at the non-profits that knew how to run it.  If there was a change over and the first person didn’t really hand off the baton with enough time to train them, we find the same fields and the same screens of information being used for two or three different purposes.

That’s where it gets to be a little fun to do that. It’s an ideal time. It’s a real cleansing process. It’s just like, I don’t know if any of you have done this recently but you go in and you clean that closet out and you take some stuff to the nearest thrift shop and you feel better that it’s a nice clean organized closet. That’s really what the conversion process is for doing that.

The nice thing about it because it’s pretty straightforward to bring the tools we’re bringing in, it can be done in a much shorter period of time than what people have been used to in the past.  That’s usually a very easy and a good way to learn the product too because as we discussed the mapping of the fields, you really know all about the product as you are finishing that up.

Steven: Great. Great. We go back in time with your data. We don’t limit it to one year or five years or anything. We go all the way back, correct?

Jay: Yes. If they’ve got information going back 20 years and that’s worthwhile for some of our educational institutions. We know that they want to know all the information about the alums because those going back 20 years may be the ones that are the best major gift planned giving prospects. Right, Kent?

Kent: Absolutely.

Steven: Well we’ve got about five minute remaining and I want to be respectful of everyone’s time. We did say we would finish up here around 2:00.  So if folks haven’t had lunch yet, we don’t want to keep them from their lunch. Kent, in just a few moments we have remaining, do you want to say a few words about where people can find out more about you and maybe get some more of your resources?

Kent: Yes. In fact in just a moment there is a contact slide coming up. What you’re looking at right now is just a brief introduction to the Institute For Conversational Fundraising. One of the things that we are at work doing on a large scale is really equipping nonprofit leaders to not just improve their fundraising but rather to dramatically transform. We do a lot of work in seminars, board retreats, workshops with teams and executive coaching whether it’s in the CEO office or the development office.

The Asking Academy is a dynamic, new product program that is available. I would just encourage anybody if they are interested in really taking a big step forward to go to conversationalfundraising.com.  If you see something there that is of interest, we’d love to visit with you further.  Feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to connect.

Steven: Great. Jay, how about you? You’re pretty active on Twitter and LinkedIn. I wonder if some folks could reach out to you there if they have any additional questions.

Jay: Oh, very much so. If you’ll just go to our website, thebloomerang.co and Steven has made it really easy for people to connect to us in a multitude of different ways. We in fact have a couple linked in groups for a Bloomerang users group. But more importantly we have a donor retention one that has some good topics that people were discussing. But would love to reach out to anybody at anytime. Of course if there is someone that would like to find out a little bit more, just let us know by coming to the website and we will be glad to do that.

One of the things that our sales team loves to do is to give people a chance to get their hands on and actually play with the new application. Something I never dreamed I would ever think about saying to anybody, even as little as four or five years ago, but now we have literally every customer we present the product to, we leave a sandbox area so they can play in it and have some time taking a look around it and see what they think about it.

Steven: Absolutely.  Yeah, anyone who wants to we’ll share that with them. Well thanks again Kent. Thanks for taking an hour to share all your knowledge. Jay, thank you for also taking the time and thanks to you listeners who took an hour out of your busy day to listen to us, yak here.

For everyone listening I will be sending out slides of the presentation so if there was something that maybe you wanted to refresh or saw some forms that Kent showed, I will be sending that out this afternoon. So look for that. Thanks again for joining us and have a great rest of your day.  Bye now.

Kent: Thank you, Steven.

Jay: Thanks, Kent.

Kent: See you, Jay.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

Marketing Manager at Bloomerang
Kristen Hay is the Marketing Manager at Bloomerang. From 2018 - 2020, she served as the Director of Communications for the Public Relations Society of America's local Hoosier chapter. Prior to that she served on several different committees and in committee chair roles.