Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she explained how to find the hidden wealth already hiding in your database, discover the do’s and don’ts of getting a first meeting with your best donors and identify the right metrics to measure your progress and help you raise more money.

In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Amy. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?

Amy:I’m ready.

Steven: All right. Cool. Good afternoon, everyone, if you are on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “3 Secrets to Raising Major Gifts That You Cannot Survive Without.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin, just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation. If you perhaps have to leave early or want to review the content, you’ll receive that recording from me a little later on this afternoon, so have no fear about leaving if you need to. You’ll get all those goodies from me a little bit after we conclude here today. As you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box. I know a lot of you already have. That’s awesome. We love to keep these webinars interactive. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q&A, so don’t be shy about sending your questions and comments our way. We’re going to try to answer just as many of those as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour.

If you’re a Twitter person, you can follow along on Twitter, as well. Send us your Tweets. Use the #bloomerang and our user name is @bloomerangtech. Just one final reminder, these webinars are usually only as good as your own Internet connection. If you’re listening via your computer speakers and if you have any trouble or perhaps lose audio at any time, try dialing in by phone. The phone quality, we have found, is usually a little bit better than listening via your computer. If you have a phone handy and you don’t mind doing that, just use the phone number and the email from ReadyTalk that went out just about an hour ago today.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I want to say an extra special hello to you folks. We do these webinars just about every Thursday. We have a great speaker on who gives a really fantastic educational presentation. We’ve got lots of webinars scheduled throughout the rest of the year, but if you’re unknown to Bloomerang, if you don’t know about us, we offer donor management software. If you’re interested in that or perhaps want to check out our offerings, you can go to our website. You could even download a quick video demo and get a glimpse of the software. Don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. We would love for you to check that out if you are interested.

But for now, I am super excited to welcome back one of our favorites. Amy Eisenstein has been on our webinar series, I think, every year since we initiated it. I always look forward to January because that means we have Amy with us. Hey, Amy. How’s it going?

Amy:Hey, Steven. So glad to be here. Thanks for having me back.

Steven: Oh, yeah. I wouldn’t dream of not having you. If you guys don’t know Amy, I just want to brag on her a little bit. She really is one of our favorites. She is our go-to expert for all things major gifts. If you are interested in major gifts, she is the first name that you should look up on Google, for sure. She’s an author, a speaker, a trainer, and a consultant. You can find her keynoting several major conferences every year. In fact, she was telling me about her busy travel schedule a little earlier on today. She is an AFP Certified Master Trainer. She has her ACFRE designation. Not a lot of people have that. I think only about 100 people in the world have that. It’s a big deal.

She is the author of three really awesome books, one of them specifically about raising major gifts for small shops, and she’s also the coauthor of, I think, the definitive major gift fundraising study that was completed in 2015, “Mastering Major Gifts.” I think she’s going to tell you a little bit about that today. You got to download that survey, that study. It is the best, I think, scientific research that exists today on major gift fundraising. Bloomerang played a small role in sponsoring that, but Amy was kind of the mastermind there. Amy, I’m going to pipe down. I’ve already taken up way too much of your time to tell us all about major gifts, so take it away, my friend.

Amy:Excellent. Thanks so much, Steven. It’s always a pleasure to partner with Bloomerang. You really downplayed your role in this research study that I’ll tell folks briefly about, which we couldn’t have done it without you. Anyway, but today we’re going to talk about “3 Secrets to Raising Major Gifts That You Can’t Survive Without.” I’ve called it “Developing More Than Friends and Followers,” but let’s dive right in.

I have this slide about me, which you don’t need to see. I’ve worked in fundraising for a long time, basically, but the research project that Steven referenced, which Bloomerang was a major sponsor of, was called “Major Gifts for Small Shops.” We did research on how small and mid-size organizations raised major gifts. The research results can be found at If you want to grab that research study, we have both the executive summary and the full research project that will come your way.

Basically, I just want to start out when you learn to raise major gifts in a real way, you will get freedom from sprinting from one grant deadline to the next and one event to the next. You’re going to become an expert in the field and an in-demand fundraising professional. To me, this is one of the most important things. I know a lot of consultants who constantly are doing searches for development directors. There’s a real shortage of people with serious major gift skills in the field. They’re the highest-paid professionals in our field and they’re the most in demand. If you are a competent and successful major gifts fundraiser, your career is going to really take off.

When you learn to raise major gifts, you really overcome your fear of raising gifts and any fear that you have of asking. I know it sounds crazy to say that development directors or people in our field are afraid of asking, but it is really common. It’s not something to be ashamed of. It’s just something to say “Hey it makes me a little queasy in the stomach and I need to figure out how to get past this and get the confidence that I need and the skills that I need so that I can ask without fear and with confidence and raise more major gifts.”

I want you to think about for a minute just what your life would be like if you were able to surpass your fundraising goals by 10%, 50%, or even 100%, because that really is what major gifts is all about. Hopefully you’ll never have to stress about deadlines related to grant writing and events. That’s the beauty, also, of major gifts. You’ll overcome your fear of asking, like I said, you’ll be qualified for any job in the philanthropic sector, and you’ll have donors who will make a real difference to your mission and your nonprofit. That’s the goal.

I just wanted to give you three quick examples of case studies of organizations we’ve worked with. Cynthia was at a small community theater. After a few tips, honestly, she asked for and received her first gift of $10,000 that she had ever asked for and the theater’s first gift. She’s gone on to ask for several more. What a difference it made in the experience that that theater had. Hilary, raising money for children with disabilities, raised two $50,000 gifts after some of these tips in one year. Prior to that, her largest gift had been $20,000, so that was amazing. Sue, at a mentoring program, is raising major gifts for the first time from every board member. Just really cool examples.

I want to just preface this, results are not typical. I’m going to walk you through the secrets, but I want to say that our results aren’t typical only because the average person who attends any training gets zero results because they don’t apply what’s in the training. I really hope that you’ll take notes, take two or three key takeaways, and change what you’re doing starting next week or tomorrow so that you can really raise major gifts for your nonprofit. You deserve it, your mission and your cause deserve this.

Okay. Enough of that. We’re going to get into it. Here are the secrets. Number one, your best prospective donors are hiding in plain sight. Secret number two, if you get a meeting, you’re going to get a gift. Secret number three, your board is focused on the wrong metric, but when you focus on the right metrics, your results are going to skyrocket. That is what we’re going to cover today.

Secret number one, most development directors that I interact with, that I talk to in the field, they don’t think they have any good prospects, but your best prospects, your best prospective major gift donors are truly hiding in plain sight. I do get calls all the time from folks looking, wanting new donors. They’ll call me and say, “Amy, can you help us find new donors?” Those aren’t your best donors. I’m sure that you’ve heard Steven and the folks at Bloomerang talk about retention, donor retention, being so much more important than acquisitions and finding new donors, but it’s even more true in major gifts fundraising. It’s important to start with some of the donors that you have.

Focus on major donors. Really, you only need a few major donors to raise significantly more money than you are right now. I think that one of the reasons that major gift fundraising is so intimidating, because it seems like so much work, it is a lot of work, but I think that really, you only need a few to make a huge difference in your bottom line. That’s what I want you to focus on. Stop trying to focus on hundreds of donors and focus on 4, 5, 10 people at a time.

You’ve probably heard this before, but if not, you can make more money from your top 10% of donors than with the other 90% combined. Now, you may have heard this as the Pareto Principle. Basically, it’s the 80/20 rule. You’ve heard that, that 20% of your donors give 80% of your dollars. But with lots of campaigns, annual or capital, but certainly with a lot of major gifts programs, this is even more true. Ten percent of your donors might be giving 90% of your dollars. I want you to think about it and figure out what it is at your organization so that you know that you should be spending the vast majority of your time focused on that top 10% of donors.

I’ll also say that one major donor can increase your fundraising revenue by 10% or more with one gift. I want you to think about it. We just finished year-end giving, right? At year end, I don’t know how much you brought in. Maybe $100,000 was your goal at year end. It may be a million dollars was your goal. But if your goal at year end for that campaign was $100,000, then one $10,000 gift gets you an additional 10%. If your goal was a million dollars, one $100,000 gift gets you to 10% or more. That’s, of your whole campaign, that might be hundreds of donors made up that whole campaign, and yet one, two, or three donors can totally radically change what you raise.

If this is true for one donor, I want you to just imagine what would happen if you have 5 or even 10 major donors. Like I said, we’re not talking about hundreds and hundreds of people. I really want you to focus, depending on what your role is at the organization, if you’re a development director doing everything, if you’re the executive director, I want you to focus on a few key people at a time as opposed to having a huge list. That’s some of the important takeaways that we got out of the research project, actually, that Steven and I were talking about earlier, is to focus on some of your key people as opposed to focusing on a huge list, which is a mistake that we see in nonprofits all the time.

Now, that being said, if you are a full-time major gift officer and your primary responsibility is for raising major gifts, then of course you’ll have a bigger list. But I’m guessing that most of you on the call have multiple responsibilities and wear multiple hats at your organization. I’m going to argue, for the sake of today, that you don’t need new donors. You don’t need any new donors to get started because your best prospective donors are already in your database. If you’re using Bloomerang, hopefully you know how to access them. If you’re not using Bloomerang, hopefully you also know how to access them, but regardless, if you don’t know how to bring up some of your best donors, which are your biggest donors, your most loyal donors, your repeat donors over the years, then Bloomerang will for sure help you figure that out.

Let’s talk about ABCs of donor identification, your best prospective donor identification. A stands for access. That means who do you have access to? This is just an acronym for helping you remember and figure out who are your best major gift prospects, so those people that you already have access to. Those are people in your database, probably people you know or people who have given to your organization.

B, of course, is for belief, those who believe in your cause or your mission, and C, for capacity, comes last. That is do they have the ability to make a major gift level is at your organization? It might be $5,000, it might be $10,000, it might be $50,000, it might be $100,000, but that actually is the last thing I want you to think about because frequently, when I am in a board training, I facilitate a lot of board trainings, the board members and even the staff sometimes think about this backwards.

The first question that I’ll see board members or even development staff members ask themselves is who do we know that’s rich? Right? Who do we know that’s wealthy? Or, who is wealthy? I shouldn’t even say who do we know because access is the key. Then names come up like Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, right? And people will be, like, “Oh, yeah. They would be great because they’re so wealthy.” But we don’t have access to them and they don’t believe in the cause. It really doesn’t matter how wealthy they are. They’re not great prospects for our nonprofit.

First, we need to look in our database because those are the people we have access to. In theory, if they’ve given a gift, they already believe at least a little bit in the cause. Then we can figure out do they have the capacity to make a major gift? That’s how we’re going to approach them first.

Okay. I also want to say it’s really important to ask for more because most people aren’t giving you nearly as much as they could. I want you to think about it. A great example is at the year end, right? We just got through year end and I’m sure you got dozens or maybe more solicitations from all sorts of various nonprofits.

Now, I send in to lots and lots of nonprofits $50, $100, just because I like them, I like their mission, they’re good organizations, and I want to support them. But $100 isn’t nearly what I could give if I was solicited, encouraged, motivated, educated more about the organization. If anybody came and sat down with me and said, “Here are the reasons that we’re going to ask you for $1,000,” it wouldn’t really be a stretch for me to do that. Now, that’s 10 times more than I’m giving to most nonprofits that send me a solicitation in the mail.

I just want you to think about your own giving because most people aren’t really that different. With their first solicitation, whether it’s to your event or for direct mail or email or whatever it is, until you sit down and have a conversation with them, they probably are not giving you what they could. So key, key, ask for more.

Okay. On to secret number two, if you get a meeting, you’ll get a gift. Now, I know that that’s a tall order and you might be like, “All right, Amy. What are you talking about here? I’ve had plenty of meetings. I didn’t get a gift.” But stick with me for a minute. Let’s see. First is get out from behind your desk. Too many development directors get stuck at their desks. I think that this is a real key that successful major gift officers know, that 70% to 80% of their time is spent out meeting with donors. The money is out there. It’s not in here. You are never going to get a major gift from your desk, or very rarely.

I think it’s really important to remember that even though the grants are piling up and the event is coming, those are deadline-driven fundraising events. You’re never going to raise major gifts unless you get out there and meet with people. What is your goal to get out there and meet with donors? Are you meeting with donors once a week? Are you meeting with them twice a month? Three times a week? What is your goal to sit down and have a conversation with a donor in their home or office?

Okay. Meetings are pretty powerful. To me, if you get someone to take the time to meet with you, they’re much more likely to get to make a gift. Now, there’s a couple of things I’d like to say about that. One is frequently, people ask me, “Do you tell people the truth about why you’re coming to talk to them?” Right? I would definitely say yes. Obviously, we are building relationships with our donors, with these folks, and so the goal is to get them, if they agree to a meeting and they know what we’re coming to talk to them about, then the likelihood increases significantly that if we get someone to meet with us, they’re going to make a gift. I’ll say more about that in a minute because I know you might be skeptical.

If you don’t tell somebody when you’re coming to certainly ask them for a major gift, this is at more of an initial meeting, but when you’re asking them for a major gift, if they have no idea what you’re talking about or why you’re coming to meet them, what is the chance that they will actually give you a major gift? I want them thinking about what they want to do before I get there so that we can have a thoughtful and meaningful and realistic conversation. I don’t want them being shocked by the topic of conversation because if they’re shocked, there’s really almost no chance.

If they know what the topic of conversation is and they agree to meet with you, you’re significantly more likely to get a gift. The reality is, you don’t want to waste your time or theirs meeting with people that don’t have any interest in giving you a gift of any kind. First, the don’ts of first meetings. This is not when you’re asking for a gift. This is when you’re getting to know somebody. This is the initial meeting.

Whether it’s a board member who you know actually pretty well or someone who you don’t know well, you still need to have sort of a first, pre-ask meeting because even though you’ve seen your board member every month or quarter for years at a board meeting, you still want to talk to them, sit down and talk about how it’s going, how their experience has been, what they’d like to see happen with the organization. You can’t do that at a board meeting. You need to sit down.

First meetings, I would say do not offer to give them an update about the program. Do not offer to thank them in person and do not offer to tell them about your organization. Now, this may come as a shock and lots of people, that is the go-to thing. I actually had a woman call me a couple of weeks ago and she said, “Amy, I’m really having a hard time getting meetings with people. Nobody will meet with me.” I said, “Okay. Tell me a little bit about what you say. Pretend I’m somebody that you want to meet with. You’re going to call me.”

She said, “Okay. I call, I say ‘Hi. I’m calling from this college and the Dean,'” or Provost, whoever it was, I can’t remember, “‘would like to come tell you about all the exciting things that are going on on campus.'” And that’s what she was saying to people to try and get them to meet with her and this dean. I thought, “Oh, well, okay. It’s so obvious to me why people aren’t meeting with you. That’s so boring. Just send them an update. If they care about what’s going on on campus or what’s new, then they’re reading your newsletter, they’re on your website. But that’s boring to people. Why are they going to waste their time when they’re busy, they have lots of other responsibilities and other things to do, let this dean come sit in their living room or in their office for 30 minutes and tell them about what’s going on on campus when they can look at the website or look at the newsletter in five minutes?”

You know, what’s the number one thing that people love to talk about? I don’t even need to say it. You’re all saying it in your heads. It’s themselves, right? That’s the number one thing that people like to talk about. By you going to them and saying, “I want to talk to you about the organization,” that’s boring. What they really want to do is talk about themselves.

I’ll tell you another quick story, and that is when I first started fundraising, I thought my job, I really thought my job was to go out and tell people all about this battered women’s shelter I was working for. I thought that that was my job, that my job was to educate people all about the battered women’s shelter. I would go around and I would talk for an hour. As you can tell, I am a chatterbox and I can easily talk for an hour. But what do you think the person across from me was doing? They were so bored. It was such a snooze-fest because even though I was telling stories and statistics and telling all sorts of interesting things about this battered women’s shelter, really I wasn’t engaging them in conversation. That’s what you want to do to get people to meet with you and in a first meeting.

The dos of a first meeting. If you’re having trouble getting a first meeting with someone, have a connection make an introduction. If you want to meet with someone but either they’re not responding to you or you think they won’t respond to you, see if there’s a board member or a volunteer at your organization who knows that person who can say, “Okay, please meet with this person from XYZ organization.” Second, when you call them up or send them an email, you want to tell them you’d like to meet to ask their advice and opinion, right? That goes back to the heart of people love to talk about themselves.

If you say, “Listen. I’d love to come get your perspective on how we’re doing as an organization. I’d love to come ask your advice about where we’re going with programs and services or a campaign.” People love to be asked advice, right? It’s very flattering. It’s very honoring. You want to discuss their goals and passions. “So tell me why did you decide to get involved with this organization in the first place? Can you tell me a little bit about what drew you to us? Why did you give the first time and why do you continue to give? Why do you think this organization is important?” You can ask their advice on, “How are we perceived in the community? As a community leader, what should we be doing differently to get the word out?” You know, whatever advice you need.

But of course, you want it to be genuine and authentic and real. You’re not making up nonsense to ask them about. This is really important stuff. You need donor feedback in order to improve, right? You know, “Why do you as a donor give to us? What should we be doing better? What’s your donor experience like with us and how can we improve that?”

You also want to keep it short and convenient. Let people know, “Listen. This doesn’t have to be over lunch. This doesn’t have to take an hour. It can be 20 minutes, 30 minutes. I’d like to sit down and ask you a couple of questions. I’m going to make it as convenient as possible. You don’t have to schlep to our organization. I’m happy to come to you and meet with you in your home or office,” so really working to get a first meeting.

During the meeting, ask open-ended questions, I went through a lot of them, to learn about their interests and motivations. “Why do you give to charity? Why do you think people give to charity? What makes you decide to give to one charity over another?” Of course, you’re going to answer their questions and provide brief updates about the organization and, of course, on my do not, what not to do slide is tell them that you’re going to come thank them, but if they’re a donor, of course you’re going to thank them, but that’s not enough of a reason for them to meet with you.

That’s sort of the bottom line, is that if you say, “I’d like to come thank you in person,” they can say, “No. That’s okay. I got your thank-you note. You just thanked me. Please don’t come thank me in person.” The same thing, you’re not going to tell them you want to come give them updates about the organization, but you can ask during the meeting, “What area of our organization is of most interest to you?” or “What program or service are you most interested in this?” Tell them a little bit about that or even ask them “What do you know about our programs and services? Do you have any questions?” so you can provide very brief updates. And then, of course, you want to engage them, so invite them to take a tour or volunteer or get more engaged.

Now, of course, sometimes you might get bad advice during your meeting. You might get feedback that doesn’t align with your organization. Let’s say you’re asking advice. I have development directors who are sometimes, like, “I don’t want to ask my donor’s advice. What if I hate their advice or it’s bad advice or we’re not going to do it?”

I’ll never forget, I had this coaching client and she was asking for marketing advice, and from a donor who was in marketing. He wanted her to put up billboards all over the city, which was, of course, very, very expensive, but also just not what they were planning to do. He was, like, “Oh, let’s design billboards. It’s going to be so exciting.” She’s, like, “Oh my God. How do I get out of this? Because my biggest donor now is telling me to put billboards up all over the city. What am I going to do?”

I think always, always, you want to tell them that you’ll think about it. First of all, buy yourself some time. Just say, “That’s an interesting idea. I hadn’t thought about billboards all over the city. I need to talk about it with the rest of the team and I’m going to get back to you.” Just sort of validate their idea, acknowledge it, and then within a week, follow up. Call him back. Say, “Hey, listen. I was really thinking about that idea for billboards all over the city. I discussed it with the board, key board members, the leadership team, and unfortunately it’s not in the strategic plan for the next three to five years. It’s not something we’re going to do, but can we discuss these other ideas?” or “What else have you got?” type of thing.

You’re following up, you’re acknowledging your idea. You need to be careful because they might offer to pay for it. It’s possible that that big donor would have said, “Oh, well I’ll fund all these billboards,” but you still need to be able to come back with confidence and say, “Listen. We’ve really decided to go in a different direction and we hope that you’ll help with funding,” you know, “X, Y, or Z.” But buy yourself some time by just saying, “That’s so interesting. I need to think about it. I need to toss that around. You know, it’s not just up to me. I need to discuss it with the team. I need some time to think about it in the context of what else we’re doing, and I will follow up with you,” and then do follow up.

Okay. Then, of course the secret number two was if you get a meeting, you’ll get a gift, and so of course, you have to ask. Not at the first meeting, but you need to transition to the ask. You need to move that relationship to an ask meeting, so taking the relationship to the next level, asking for deeper engagement, that’s volunteerism, taking a tour, joining a committee, whatever it is, and then asking for a gift because of course, if you don’t ask for the gift, you won’t get the gift, not in most cases, anyways. Getting that first meeting does lead to a gift most of the time.

It doesn’t mean you’ll get every gift you ask for. It doesn’t mean that you’ll always, 100% of the time, get a gift, and it doesn’t mean that you’ll get exactly what you were hoping for, but the chance is once you get a meeting, once you are able to sit down with the person, you can say to them, “Listen,” especially on the first meeting. When they have an objection on the phone, they don’t want to meet, they say, “Listen. I am not going to ask you for money at this meeting, but I do want to explore ways that you might be interested in supporting the organization in bigger ways.”

You’re telling them “I’m not going to ask for a gift this time, but I’m not taking it off the table for the future,” and that way they know that it’s on the table and that’s part of the discussion, and then the people that really are not going to give or give more will just not meet with you, and that’s fine. That saves you time and trouble and it saves them time and trouble.

Okay. Moving on to secret number three, your board is focused on the wrong metric. Once you focus on the right metrics, your results are going to skyrocket, hopefully. What you measure improves, and you know this from lots of examples in life. When you eat, when you count calories, you eat less calories. I have my Fitbit on today. I’m not doing that well, but I’m counting steps, so I’m aware of it. I’m going to make an extra effort to take more steps today and exercise more because I’m paying attention.

Really, really, truly, what you measure improves. You can raise more major gifts, I’m going to argue, by simply changing what you measure. I also want to say that it’s not just about dollars raised, because that is the number one metric that everybody measures. Of course you’re going to measure dollars raised, but I don’t want that to be the number one thing or certainly the only thing that you focus on because it really can be a false indicator of success. Let me give you a quick example.

Let’s say your major gift goal, if you’re just getting started, is $100,000, and you raise in the first year, because you’re really good at what you do, 10 gifts of $10,000 each. Ten gifts at $10,000, you raised $100,000. Your board is thrilled with you. Your executive director thinks you’re a fundraising genius. You’ve raised $100,000. Well, the very next year, nine of your donors do not make major gifts again, but one of them actually bumps their gift up to $100,000. Now, if you’re just reporting on major gifts raised, you are going to be able to report that you raised $100,000 in major gifts again in year two, same as year one.

But, if you’re not paying attention to who’s giving and how many people are giving and gift size and repeat donors and retention, then you’re not going to be paying attention to the fact that 9 out of your 10 major gift donors left and nobody on your board knows that your major gift program is headed towards down the drain as opposed to they think everything’s fine because you’re just focused on dollars raised. We have to measure lots of things and we have to focus on lots of different metrics.

Some of the metrics to focus on is repeat gifts, so returning donors. We have to look at this. Retention rates are all the rage for the past few years. The folks at Bloomerang talk about them with good reason and hopefully, you are paying very close attention to retention, returning donors, and repeat gifts, but even more so with your major donors. If you have hundreds or thousands of donors in your database, who are your major gift donors and how are you going to track that retention rate, which should actually be significantly higher than your overall retention rate for your annual fund program? We really want to keep especially our major gift donors, so we need to pay attention. Are our major gift donors giving us gifts year after year or are they leaving? Are we scrambling for new major gift donors every year?

An increase in gift size, of course, will tell us that our major gift program, whether it’s growing or not. Are we able to move some of these major gift donors up the ladder? Our $1,000 donors, are we moving them up to $2,500 or $5,000 or $10,000? Our $10,000 donors, have they been giving $10,000 for 10 years in a row or are we able to move them up? Measuring stewardship efforts, that is the thank you and follow-up. I think this actually is measured the least well, if you will, but this actually plays a role in whether or not your retention rates are good, whether your donors come back.

I want you to start paying attention to, for each major donor that you have, how many times and in what ways are you saying thank you and how are you communicating how that gift was used and the importance of that gift? Because it doesn’t really matter if, well, it doesn’t really matter . . . what I was going to say was it doesn’t really matter if you thank your donors. It only matters if your donors feel thanked. Right? Think about the distinction there.

I have lots of organizations that tell me, “Oh, we’ve sent our donors thank you letters.” Okay. Do your donors feel thanked? What are you going to do differently? Is the message going to come from a variety of people in a variety of formats? Are you going to send an email? Are you going to make a thank you call? Are you going to sit down and thank them in person? Are board members going to do a thank you, if the executive director is going to do a thank you? These are for your major gift donors. How are you stewarding your major gift donors, and so that you’re sure that they’re going to come back for the following year? Do they know how their gift was used and the impact that it had, and so that they feel that they want to do that again? How are you going to measure that?

A few more metrics to measure, meaningful visits. This is about getting out of the office and sitting down in front of your donors. When I was at one organization, there were a lot of development directors and we got sort of scored or judged on our visits. Lots of people tried to get around this in the system and they were able to because they would say, “Oh, well, I bumped into so-and-so on campus,” or “I bumped into them at an event the university was hosting,” or “I bumped into them at the gala and I’m going to put down that I had a two-minute talk with them, that I had a conversation with them.”

Well, that’s not what I’m talking about for a meaningful visit. A meaningful visit is when you schedule a time to sit down and have a one-on-one conversation or a small group conversation in their home or office, maybe at your office or in a coffee shop if you need to, but when it’s a planned meeting so that they know that they’ve met with you, it’s not just that you bumped into them at your gala or at an event.

I want you to measure the number of asks made and the number of gifts received. This is really, really important and I don’t think a lot of organizations do this because if you are asking 10 times a year for a major gift and you’re getting zero of those gifts, we know there’s a problem, right? You’re not doing enough cultivation. You’re not identifying your prospects well. If you are measuring the number of asks you make and the number of gifts you received and you are making a fair amount of asks or whatever number of asks and you’re getting very few gifts, we can say, “Okay. Hold on. There’s a problem here. Maybe you’re asking prematurely. Maybe there’s an issue.”

On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re asking 10 times a year for 10 major gifts and you get all 10, you might say, “Hey, I’m doing great,” but I would say “You know what? I don’t think you’re being aggressive enough. I think you’re waiting so long, until you’re 100% sure that that person is going to say yes, and I want you to be a little more aggressive. I actually want you to get between 50% and 80% of the asks that you make or the gifts that you ask for.” Right?

The same thing with dollars raised. I only have right on here number of asks made and gifts received, but also I would measure amount of asks made, not the number of asks made, but the amount of dollars that you’ve asked for over the course of the year. Let’s say you ask 10 people for $10,000 each. You’ve asked for $100,000. I want to know how many of those $100,000 that you’ve asked for you’ve actually gotten.

If you’ve gotten $80,000 out of the $100,000 you’ve asked for, I would say, “Good job. You were a little aggressive on the ask side. I want you to be. But you did get the vast majority of what you asked for, so great job.” If you’re asking for $100,000 and getting $100,000, I would say, “You should have been more aggressive. You should have asked for more.” We don’t know this unless we pay attention to this. This is why the metrics are so important.

Of course, I have dollars raised on here. Of course, because you have to pay attention to that. That’s the bottom line. That’s what your board’s interested in. But to me, there’s so many other indicators and metrics which are going to tell me that your major gift program is growing or shrinking and it just is not about dollars raised.

As a reward, sort of, for sticking with me on this potentially long and boring webinar, as webinars tend to be sometimes, I’m going to give you my free metrics worksheet on how to evaluate your major gift program. It’s at and you will get all of the metrics that I like to look at. The bottom, you’ll see, is a little survey to send your donors, as well.

That is there for you for the taking. Let me just ask you a question. Chat in. Are you enjoying the webinar? Are you ready to raise major gifts? Awesome. Yay. We’re getting some yays. Okay. Oh, we’ve got lots of hands raised. That’s so exciting. All right, awesome. We’re ready to raise major gifts. We are just about ready for questions, so I want you to start typing in your questions. I’m just going to tell you a little bit about an opportunity that I’ve put together that I’m really, really excited about. Send your questions to Steven in the chat box and I’ll just tell you about what we’ve covered and a little opportunity that I have for you, and then we’ll get back right into questions.

What we’ve covered so far, secret number one, your best prospects are hiding in plain sight. I know it sounds obvious, but too many people call me and tell me “We need new donors. We don’t have any donors,” and it’s simply not true. You’ve got to start with the ones that you have. Secret number two, if you get a meeting, you’ll get a gift, and secret number three, focus on the right metrics. Hopefully we’ve fulfilled all of those promises today.

I just want to tell you a little bit about a course that I’ve put together that is a result of the research project that Steven brought up at the beginning of the call that I am so proud of and so honored to bring you. I’ve put together this seven-week online course, “Mastering Major Gifts,” and it’s about increasing fundraising revenue by 10%, 50%, or more at your organization. Like I said, it’s about getting off the never-ending treadmill of grants and event deadlines. It’s about career advancement, becoming an in-demand fundraising professional, and it’s really about overcoming the fear of raising major gifts and raising significantly more funding in less than one year. That’s sort of why I put together this course.

I just want to tell you a little bit about it. It’s seven weeks of videos. The topics are introduction to major gifts, how to determine what a major gift is at your organization, how to build your case for support, it’s about working with board members and getting them on board and engaged and in the process of raising major gifts and what to do with board members who won’t. It’s about identifying your best prospects. We talked a little bit about it here, but we go into a lot of detail about how to put together your portfolio or pipeline of major gift donors.

It’s about creating cultivation plans for each of those donors, solicitation scripts, role play, the who, what, when, where, how much of asking. It’s about stewardship and follow-up, capital campaigns and staying on track and time management, which is such an important part of raising major gifts, especially in a small shop. The course has been awarded 35 hours of CFRE credits. There’s live Q&A sessions with me to answer your questions, worksheets, checklists, private Facebook community, 200 wealth screening of your donors, an hour of free tech consult thanks to Bloomerang, a capital campaign readiness assessment, and bonus materials.

I’m so proud of this course that we put together. It’s about to start on February 7 and it’ll last for seven weeks. You can take it from your home or office, on your computer, on any device, on your iPad, on your phone. If you miss a week, it’s no big deal because you can just go back and listen to the material. You can find all the details at Anyways, I know it’s a lot of money, it’s almost $2,000, but one major gift covers the cost of the investment. I hope you’ll check it out. I hope you’ll consider it. You know, it’s your two choices. Are you going to do what you’ve always done to raise major gifts or are you going to do something really amazing and different this year? I’m getting amazing feedback from the course. That’s the pitch as fast as I could, and now Steven, we are at our question time.

Steven: Awesome. Great. We’ve got probably about maybe 12 or 13 minutes for questions, but do check out that course. Obviously, Amy is super smart, from what you’ve heard over the last hour, so definitely worth the investment. I would encourage you all to check that out and download the study there on, as well. Really good information, really, really cool data if you’re into some nerdy stats like I am. Amy, we’ve got a lot of questions, probably way more than we can get to, but I’ll try to roll through them as quick as I can.


Steven: The number one question, you will probably not be surprised to hear that, is how do you define the dollar amount of a major gift? It’s kind of this balancing act, right? Because you want to define it for your organization, but you also want to stay donor-centric and let the donor kind of decide what is a major gift to them. How do you kind of balance that line and decide for yourself?

Amy:Yeah. That’s a good point. Are you looking at it from the organization perspective or are you looking at it from the donor perspective? Because the organization might define a major gift one way and yet to an individual donor, $1,000 might be a huge gift to me and somebody else, that’s not a big gift at all. It might be $100,000 where they start to think about it as a major gift. I would say that obviously, I go into lots of detail in the course about how to define a major gift at your organization and why it’s important.

I mean, it’s important for a lot of reasons, for recognition purposes, so who’s going to get a plaque on the wall, what kind of recognition are you going to do, which is why you need to know what is a major gift at your organization, but I think even more importantly, you need to know what a major gift is so that you spend your time wisely. Is it worth it for you to go out and sit down with a donor if you’re asking for $1,000? Some of you are nodding “Yes, it is worth my time to do that.” Others of you are thinking “No way. I would never spend my time sitting down with a donor and only asking them for $1,000 because we raise more than that.”

It really depends on who’s on your board, what type of gifts you raise, who’s in your database, but I’ll just say this when I worked at the battered women’s shelter, $5,000 was a huge gift for us. We didn’t get that kind of gift from individuals very often. It was a huge, huge, major gift for us. Then I went to work at Rutgers University, where more than 10 years ago, they considered $25,000 a major gift and right down the road from us, at the same time, was Princeton University, and they didn’t start talking about major gifts until $100,000 or more. I’m sure it’s a million today. So it really depends on your organization, but you have to know what it is for a wide variety of reasons that I’ve started to mention.

Steven: Makes sense. Amy, you laid out sort of the process, but a couple of people were wondering how long does the whole process take? Should they be expecting this to last weeks, months? Is it even days?

Amy:Great question.

Steven: What’s kind of the spacing between all these meetings and touches? Yeah.

Amy:Yeah. It’s going to depend on how engaged the donor already is. I would say that if you’re just getting starting raising major gifts, then these gifts are for your annual fund. Hopefully you’re not in a capital campaign yet, although I’m sure some people on the call are. This is not a multi-year ask, for the most part, and it shouldn’t take longer than a year. It should take less than a year because you need it for your annual fund. You’re boosting your annual fund. You’re starting with your best prospects in your database, and so they’re already donors and they know you need the money.

I would say on average between the first meeting, a first meeting, even if it’s with a board member or somebody you know well to start to discuss a gift, and an ask should be two weeks to three months because you don’t want it to drag on much longer than three months unless this is a person who really needs cultivation, they haven’t been on a tour, they haven’t met your clients, they don’t know much about your organization. Then it will take a lot longer than three months, but if you’re working with an existing donor, you need to have one, maybe two meetings before you sit down and ask them. It could happen over a couple of weeks or a couple of months, depending on everybody’s schedules.

Steven: Mm-hmm. Makes sense. Amy, along those same lines, Diane here was wondering what about when you are returning to a previous major gift donor. Should you space those out? Is there a time that maybe it’s too soon to go back and ask for another major gift? You know, should you give it a year? Should you wait until the next major campaign? What about repeat major donors?”

Amy:Good question. I would say that on average, you probably want to ask for a major gift on an annual basis if you’re not in a campaign. If it’s not a multi-year ask, in general, you want to ask once a year, but if you have good reason to ask more frequently or you think your donor is open to it, like, let’s say you have an emergency or an amazing new program or project and you say, “Hey, listen. I know we already asked you for this big gift six months ago or three months ago. This issue has come up,” whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, emergency or new opportunity. Say, “And I was wondering if you’d be open to the conversation to give more this year,” and see what they say. It’s up to the donor.

Steven: Love it. Makes a lot of sense. Amy, we got a lot of really good questions here. I’m going to try to get to maybe two or three more. Vikki here was wondering if you think this whole process and philosophy also translates to granting organizations. I know grants isn’t necessarily your main focus, but do these things kind of apply to granting organizations, the in person meetings, and maybe the asking for advice doesn’t translate as much, but what about those grantors?

Amy:Yeah. I mean, I do think that you should treat grantors more like individuals. I mean, I think that the organizations that just write a grant report and communicate just by email or through grant application and don’t actually know any of the human beings behind the funding mechanism are much less likely to do well in their applications. The people making the decisions at foundations and in corporations are human beings, and so if you take the time to build relationships with them and sit down and have conversations with them, A, you’ll be much more prepared in terms of preparing your application because you’ll have asked them some important questions, what are their priorities, how much should you ask for, those types of questions. I just think you’ll be much more likely to get a grant if you do treat those people at the foundations as individuals.

Steven: Makes sense. Amy, we’ve had a lot of people ask about sort of planned giving and multi-year pledges. Any thoughts on those things and how those things may sort of insert themselves into the process here?

Amy:Yeah. I think that initially, as you and your donors are getting accustomed to doing sit-down discussion meetings and asking for major gifts, it’s probably not the first thing or the first ask out of the gate for a planned gift or a multi-year gift, but certainly, those are wonderful things for nonprofits to be able to raise. Multi-year gifts are great because you don’t have to go back to the donors every year. If you can sit down with someone and say . . . usually it’s reserved for more of a campaign type setting than an annual fund, but if you say “We’d like to ask you to consider a gift of $25,000 over five years, so $5,000 a year,” that’s wonderful because then you can feel . . . you still have to cultivate them and steward them, but you’ve done the ask, and so if they sign a gift agreement, then you can be pretty confident that most of that money is going to come in.

In terms of planned gifts, yeah, I mean, if you can start raising planned gifts at your organization, whether it’s bequests, which are really the most popular type of planned gift. They’re, like, I think bequests, the last statistic I saw was, like, 90% of planned gifts are bequests. If you’re not doing planned gifts, you should start there, just asking people, say, “Hey, listen. Have you thought about leaving money in your will?” Right? “How are you going to leave a legacy? Have you thought about the legacy you want to leave?” Starting to have those conversations, I would start in your boardroom, starting to have those conversations and then just simply advertising in your newsletter and on your website that you do accept bequests.

If you want to do more sophisticated types of planned gifts, you might partner up with a professional in the area. You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in all types of planned gifts because they’re not going to come so frequently at the beginning. You just need to have a resource partner that can help with those types of things. Hopefully I answered that question.

Steven: Makes sense.

Amy:But I do actually have modules and sections about planned gifts and campaigns in the course, so if anybody wants a lot more details, hopefully they will consider that.

Steven: I thought you might have that covered in your awesome course.


Steven: Well, Amy, we’re about out of time. Maybe we can add on or end on one last question, which we have a lot of small shops listening today, a lot of brand new organizations who maybe don’t have a lot of current donors. What’s your one piece of advice for those new folks and those smaller shops? Is it board members? Is it friends and family? What’s one thing they should do today to get started?

Amy:Yeah. I would say that it’s board and friends and family. One of the things that I do at a lot of board retreats that I facilitate is I do an exercise with board members because if you say to board members, “Who do you know,” or “Who do you know that’s rich?” or “Who do you know that we can ask money from?” You know, you’re going to get crickets. Nobody in the board room is going to say anything or tell, you know. Nobody wants to volunteer up their friends like that, and so it is really tough and intimidating sometimes for organizations to start getting names.

I’ll do an exercise. I give out a piece of paper, there’s a circle in the center, and then if you can picture spokes off a bicycle wheel, right? Spokes off the center circle, to and out to outside. I’ll just tell board members “Okay. Put yourself in the middle.” Well, first I start with an exercise where I say, “Okay. The organization is in the middle. Who do we know as big groups? As the organization, we know donors, we know board members, we know vendors, we know service providers, we know clients. Each spoke at the end of the wheel will have a group of people that the organization knows.

Then the exercise continues, they put themselves in the middle. “Fill in you in the middle. Who do you know? At the end of each spoke. Friends, family, neighbors, colleagues whatever.” You have 10 or 12 categories of groups of people that they know. Then we do the ABC with them, the A, you have access to all of these people, B, who of these people do you think believe in the cause or could believe once we introduce it to them, and C, who might have the capacity to give a major gift as we define it at our organization, so $1,000 or $5,000? “I want you to write down one name at the end of each spoke, so one person in your friends category that you might introduce to the organization that you have access to because they’re your friend. They might believe in the organization and they might be able to give a gift close to that size.”

Instead of asking your board members for all their connections, to download their whole smartphone contact list into your database, you just say, “Look. I want you to start with 5 or 10 people around the spokes in your wheel.” It’s a good exercise to do with your staff and board members to start them thinking about who’s going to take a tour, who’s going to come to events, who are you going to start to cultivate? Hopefully that helps.

Steven: Awesome. I love it. Amy, this is fantastic. Thanks so much for spending an hour with us today and sharing all your knowledge. This is great.

Amy:Well, thanks for having me. Steven, if you want to send me some of those questions we didn’t cover, I can try and do a blog post or an article for Bloomerang if you want me to answer a few more of the questions.

Steven: Absolutely. I know we didn’t get to a lot of them, so I will send you those questions, for sure. I would encourage all of you to go to Amy’s website, read her blog. Definitely read her blog, really good content. Follow her on Twitter. Obviously, she knows what she’s talking about, so the conversation doesn’t have to end here today by any means.

Amy:Thanks, Steven.

Steven: Well, cool. Thanks to all of you for hanging out with us, as well. I know you’re all very busy, so I always appreciate you all joining us every Thursday here. We’ve got a great webinar coming up one week from today. In fact, all of them are great. We’ve got a few scheduled out into, I’d say, the next maybe seven or eight Thursdays, but one week from today we’re going to be talking about capital campaigns. It’s early on in the year. Maybe you’re just starting to plan a capital campaign. Don’t miss it. It’s going to be a great one. If you’re not into capital campaigns at the moment, check out our webinar page. You may find another topic there that interests you and we will see you here on another Thursday webinar.

We’ll end it there. Look for an email from me with the recording later on this afternoon, and email me if you don’t get that for any reason. No problem, I’ll get that to you no matter what. But we’ll call it a day there. Have a great rest of your Thursday. Have a great weekend, and hopefully we’ll talk to you again next week. Bye, now.

Amy:Thank you.

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.