Gail Perry, CFRE recently joined us for a webinar in which she showed what it really takes to raise the major gifts your organization needs so badly. She also uncovered five secret hurdles that stand between most organizations and major gift success.
In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:
Steven:All right, Gail. Is it okay if I go ahead and kick us off officially?
Gail:Sure. Go ahead.
Steven:All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone on the east coast and good morning if you are on the west coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s webinar, “Building a High-Revenue Major Gift Program: The Five Secret Hurdles That Are Holding You Back and How to Overcome Them.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer here at Bloomerang. I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.
Before we begin, just a couple of housekeeping items, I want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation. We’ll be sharing the recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon, so if you have to leave early or perhaps you want to review the content later on, you’ll be able to do that, have no fear. Just look for an email from me later on this afternoon with all of those goodies.
As you are listening today, please feel free to utilize that chat box right there on your webinar screen. I know a lot of you already have. That’s awesome. Tell us hi, send us questions, send us comments. We’re going to save some time at the end for Q and A, just as much time as we can before the 2:00 Eastern hour. Don’t be shy about that at all. We’ll try to get to as many questions as we can.
You can follow along today on Twitter. If you’re a Twitter person, you can use the hashtag Bloomerang and @bloomerangtech is our username. One final note, these webinars are usually only as good as your own Internet connection, so if you’re listening by your computer, if you’re listening through the computer for the audio, if you have any trouble, I recommend you try dialing in by phone. If you have a phone available to you and you don’t mind dialing in, the quality is usually a little bit better there. If you want to do that or if you need to do that, just check that email from ReadyTalk that came over about a half hour ago. It’s got a phone number in there for you.
Just in case this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I want to say an extra special welcome to you folks. We do do these webinars just about every week. We have a great guest on and a great presentation, totally free, totally educational. In addition to that, we also offer donor management software. That’s sort of our core business. That’s our core product. If you are interested in that or just want to learn more about us, I want to invite you to check out our website. You can even watch a quick video demo to get a sense of all the cool things that we can do to help you manage and retain your donors. I’d love for you to learn more about us if you are interested.
But for now I am super excited to introduce our last webinar guest of the year. We saved the best for last. Literally, I mean that. I always love having Gail on in December for us because she’s just a wealth of knowledge, super-awesome person, and an expert. Hey, Gail. Glad for you to be here with us.
Gail:How are you doing? I’m so glad to be here.
Steven:Yeah. I just want to brag on you real quick and then I’m going to hand things over to you for the rest of the time here. If you guys don’t know Gail, you got to know her, you got to follow her, you got to follow her on Twitter, and definitely read her blog over at Fired-Up Fundraising. She is an international fundraising consultant, she’s a speaker, she’s a trainer, she does lots of presenting at conferences and webinars. If you see her name on a conference sort of sheet there, you got to go to her session. She’s been working for the past 25 years. She’s helped non-profit organizations raise hundreds of millions of dollars in gifts. You’re going to see a lot of that knowledge come through today.
In addition to contributing to her own blog, which you got to bookmark, maybe even make it your homepage, she also contributes to “Fundraising Success Magazine,” “GuideStar,” and “Capital Campaign Magic” and the author of a really awesome book. It’s on my bookshelf behind me right now, “Fired-Up Fundraising: Turning Board Passion into Action.” That’s the bible for boards, for successful fundraising through boards. It’s been called the gold standard. If you don’t own that book, you got to buy it. She doesn’t give me a kickback for saying that, I promise. It’s a really great book. You’re going to see some of that knowledge that’s in that book today.
Gail, I’m going to hand things over to you. I know you’re going to do a screen share. Take it away for us.
Gail:Yeah. Let’s see if I can figure out how to do this. Share control.
Steven:We’ll make it work.
Gail:Share, Desktop Sharing. Let me put this in PowerPoint. Can you see, everybody?
Steven: Looks like it’s working. Cool.
Gail:All right. All right. Let’s see. I was going to do a webcam. Let’s see. I don’t know how to do the web. I always like to do a webcam for my webinars because it’s . . . just hold on one minute. I hope you don’t mind. Guess where I’m broadcasting from for me to be saying y’all? Let’s see.
Steven:It may not work if you do the screen sharing.
Gail:Yeah. It may not work.
Steven:Sorry, Gail. We do want to see your lovely face, though.
Gail:That’s okay. That’s okay, that’s okay. Actually, everybody, I cleaned up so I could do the webcam, but anyway, let us talk about . . . let’s see. There we go. How’s that? Is that okay?
Steven:Yeah, working. Go for it.
Gail:Great, great, great. Okay. Well, let’s talk about building a high-revenue major gift program. It’s just so fascinating to me that everybody knows that that’s where the big gifts really are and that’s where the transformational money is that can change your non-profit, change the world, change everything about the work that you’re trying to do, yet people have more trouble with, I think, major gift fundraising than any other part of fundraising.
Let’s talk about the five major hurdles that are holding you and other people back. How do we overcome them so you can bring in all this wonderful money? There are a couple of slides on me and there’s no need to talk about it, but I do have to remind you that I have been at this for 30 years and I’m still standing and still enthusiastic. I must be bonkers, right? There’s my book.
I also want to mention that I do have some infographics today. I published a blog post on “Fired-Up Fundraising” last Friday that’s full of infographics. You can download all of them by going to my homepage on my site and just looking at the blog post. You will see all these cool infographics that may help you sell investing in major gifts to your board, because lots of times that’s one of the biggest challenges because board members hold you back.
I want to know, here’s just a quick question that I love to ask. How much money do you think is out there in major gifts for your non-profit but you don’t have the resources to go get it? I would love to hear from some people. How much money might be out there for you but you don’t have the resources to go get? It would be fascinating. Gomez says “Millions.” Lots of times when I answer this question, people say “Hundreds of thousands, millions.” There’s a lot of times . . . “Billions,” says Jordan. All right. All right. Let me hear from some other people.
“Thousands,” says Carrie. “200 billion,” says David. “Tens of thousands for one organization,” Andrew says “Millions,” Ann says “Over 25 billion.” Here’s the thing. Lots of times, the staff knows how much money is out there but they are hamstrung. They are prevented from going out to get it because the leadership of the organization doesn’t offer the resources to go get it. Let’s look further down the line about what’s really holding everybody back because I want to help you turn your development office into a money-raising machine because I want to help you change the world. We have to have the resources to change the world, right?
We also have to figure out how to get the most out of our limited time and staff because we are hamstrung again with too much to do and not enough time to do it. I did a survey on SurveyMonkey and asked a lot of people what was holding them back from major gift success and what obstacles were standing in their way. I got over 550 responses to this survey. This is an early word cloud. I pulled this early, in the middle of the survey. It was so funny, like, “What’s your biggest challenge in raising major gifts?” Such words like “donors” and “major gifts” and “the board” and “management” and “appointment” showed up.
These are things that are on your mind and other people’s minds all the time. Here’s the net result of this major gift survey, of what people said was the biggest challenge in raising major gifts. I’m going to go through these one by one and we’re going to talk about how you can overcome them and how you can get over the obstacles so that you can bring in the money that you need.
Here’s the most important hurdle that people shared, was that there were not enough major gift prospects. I’m wondering. How about just letting me know in this chat box. Is the chat box showing up? Oh, gosh. Here we go. Is the chat box showing up on my screen, Steven? Should I close that down in the corner?
Steven:Yeah. You can close it or hide it there. Yeah.
Gail:Should I close it?
Steven:Yeah. I’d close it.
Gail:Yeah. It is showing up. Thank you. Thank you. Is it bothering anybody? Because I like to see the comments. It’s really fun. How do you feel about not enough major gift prospects? I’d love some comments about that. How do you feel about major gift prospects? Do you have enough? Do you have enough? I would like to introduce you to the whole concept of the Dorothy School of Fundraising. Here we go. I’m going to close the chat box.
The Dorothy School of Fundraising. Now, a friend of mine who is the big major gift fundraiser for the North Carolina Museum of Art said to me once, she said “You know, Gail, I believe that there’s no place like home to look for my major gift prospects.” She said “I have enough prospects to raise the money I need and I am like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz’, understanding that there’s no place like home.” I want to share with you a quote from the great Penelope Burk, who’s our number one, probably, number one or number two fundraising researcher in the world. She said that every organization does have enough major gift prospects, but unfortunately, they are sleeping inside the small donor files.
Therefore, you have plenty of people who probably can make major gifts to your organization, but you have not identified them. They are already with you. They are already believing in you, but you’re treating them like smaller donors. It’s really a bit of a dilemma. We all say in fundraising that you’ve got to start with what you have. Well, you’ve probably heard the concept of concentric circles. You start with your board’s contacts, you start with your network of relationships in the community, you start close to home.
This is a picture of a fundraising . . . I have a lot of fundraising events at my house. I’m very active here in the community. I think there’s somebody from Raleigh. She may have been to an event at my house. Here’s a bunch of people. It’s a women’s group. These are all major gift prospects. These are people who can make gifts at varying levels and they’re being cultivated. If you are hamstrung with feeling like you don’t have the prospects to bring the money in that you need, I want to give you a couple of pieces of advice.
One of the first things is to narrow down your focus to only a very few number of people that you’re going to focus on. I also believe that you should include in your major gift prospect list foundations, corporations, and individuals who are potential and current major donors. Also, many non-profits get a lot of money from the government, from various public sources. I’d suggest to you some key government agencies who are funding you and those decision makers in your major gift prospect list because you need to cultivate them just like major donors. I sincerely believe that.
Now, I’m going to quote Penelope Burk again. This is really a weird statement, so I want you to mull it over. She said that you can raise more money with fewer prospects. How do you think that really works, right? Here’s the reason, is that you can slather more attention, more love, more time, more engagement opportunities on these people. When I first started out in fundraising back at Duke University 30 years ago, my very, very scary mentor, he was the big Vice President. I was petrified of him, but he told me a story.
He said “Gail, major gift fundraising is like spinning plates on a stick.” He said “You can’t spin but so many plates at one time.” He said “Gail, what happens if you spin too many plates on the stick? Then all of a sudden, wham-o, they all come crashing down.” He said “You’ve got to be careful to restrict yourself to just the number of plates you can spin, just the number of donors you can keep touching consistently so that you are leading them down the cultivation highway towards a major investment in your organization.” He said “Gail, when a donor is ready to give, what do you do with the plate?” He said “You gently remove the stick and you catch the plate in both hands,” and he said “you harvest the gift.”
I love that. “You harvest the gift.” If you are concerned that you don’t have enough major gift prospects, take heart because Penelope Burk and many other people, including myself, are saying if you cut your focus back to a fewer number of people, you can be more successful. You can be more successful. Now, I also want to give you some suggestions for low-hanging fruit to look for major prospects. I want to ask you a question. How long ago did you have a capital campaign, maybe five or ten years ago?
Many people, capital campaigns are cyclicals in organization lifecycles. Well, do you have any former capital campaign donors who you have lost touch with? I do a lot of workshops and speeches, and every time I ask this question most of the room nods and they have this sad look on their face because they feel really bad about the former large donors that they have lost touch with. Well, my friends, this is the way to reconnect with these former capital campaign donors. They’re probably wondering what happened to you and why you haven’t been in touch.
All sorts of things may have happened. Your organization may have lost its database. There may have been a complete change in personnel and fundraising staff. There may be a loss of institutional knowledge, but you know that somewhere in the past this lovely philanthropist in your community gave big. What you need to do is to have good manners and go call on this donor and say “We want to apologize for being out of touch and we really owe you a report on what we’ve been up to since you made this lovely investment in our organization.”
You need to do a thank-you visit as soon as possible with a great big smile on your face. It’s the holiday season. Bring them a poinsettia or something appropriate, chocolate. I’m from North Carolina. I like to give North Carolina peanuts, which are usually universally loved unless there’s an allergy. There are places, if you just are creative, where you can find major gift prospects for your organization. Often, people say “Gail, should my major gift prospects be current donors, too?” I would say absolutely, because your current donors are currently in motion with you. They’re currently feeling like they’re close to you, they’re on your bandwagon, they love you, they’re participating. Those are very, very prime major gift prospects if they have the capacity.
Also, I want to mention former board members. I think one of the great crimes of non-profit life, and I say this completely and honestly, is that we neglect our former board members. I know I give my heart. When I serve on a board, I give my heart and soul and my time and my money and my commitment and my energy and I hold events and I do everything I can possibly do for my organization, and then when I go off the board, I’m nobody. I’m on the mailing list, and it’s so weird to think about what we do with our former board members. Those people who have invested so much, who believe in you and who have volunteered so much, they are also, if they have the capacity, are prime major gift prospects.
I will never forget about one time when I was working on a capital campaign project for a health charity. This lead prospect for a leadership gift, she looked at me and she said “We give our money where we give our time,” and I went “Wham-o.” “We give our money where we give our time.” I think that that’s something to remember, that if you have major volunteers who have capacity, who are spending a lot of time with you, that’s the plate you need to start spinning on the stick, right?
I’m sure many people here already know this, but just to review briefly, I love to talk about the vocabulary words of major gift fundraising. There is a difference between a suspect and a prospect. You know this data, but bring this to your board members and give them a little quiz about vocabulary words and have some fun with it. Because a suspect is somebody who is not yet qualified. What we mean by a qualified prospect is that they do have capacity, they do have interest, and you actually can reach them. You can cultivate them. We call that linkage and ability and interest sometimes. There’s a lot of different code words for qualified prospects.
You have your own writing system, I’m sure, at your own non-profit, but it’s useful to educate board members and leaderships about the concept of a qualified prospect so that if they are coming to run to you to say “Oh, let’s go after Bill Gates. Let’s go after Oprah,” or go after somebody who is completely impossible. You say “Well, first let’s take them through a qualification process to see if we can reach them so that we can cultivate their interest and then eventually ask them for a gift.”
Again, this is very standard in our field, but just because I just want to make sure I cover it briefly, this is a chart that we typically use when we are identifying and qualifying prospects. We call it the “Prospect Qualification Grid”. We won’t define people who have a high dollar capacity and who also have a high likelihood of giving. We love, love, love people who have a low dollar capacity who are wild about us, but we don’t slather our major gift attention upon people who have lower capacity.
In fact, I’m very involved in politics in North Carolina, but I will say that major gift fundraising is not democratic. You do not treat everybody the same. It is not the same thing for all equal people. You do separate out a group of people who fit the qualified prospect attributes and you invite them to certain experiences because they’re showing that they love you, they’re showing that they want to be involved, and if they have the capacity, they can help you change the world. I have no bit of problem with that at all.
Now, let me talk a little bit about hurdle number two that came up in the survey, not enough time to do it right. I think that this is a serious concern for many people in the non-profit field. The first concern, not enough major gift prospects, I would submit to you that you do have the prospects you need. I would submit that that may be a notion of a false hurdle that you can overcome the not enough prospects because the way you overcome it is you narrow down your focus.
But if you don’t feel like you have enough time to do it right, that’s real, because people in the non-profit sector are juggling a thousand things. I have heard from so many. I have a blog and a newsletter at “Fired-Up Fundraising”. If you ever want to ask me a question or get in touch with me, it’s email@example.com. Shoot me a question. I’m answering people’s questions all the time about this and that.
I hear from fundraisers that they do feel all alone with an impossible goal. I hear from fundraisers that their goal is set from on high, sometimes to plug a budget. Their goals are set without a plan to reach the goal, which is a crime because if I were you on staff, I would not agree to a goal that did not have a plan behind it showing exactly how we’re going to reach the goal.
This is a feeling that, I don’t know if you feel this way, but many of your colleagues do, that you are all alone with too much to do. I love this picture of a person who’s drowning in paper. I want you to imagine that that’s your inbox, right? It’s a visual representation of your inbox. Sometimes I feel like my inbox is like that too, that we are tackling too many things and doing none of them well. I was just talking to Beth Kanter, who’s such a wonderful leader in our sector. You should really follow Beth Kanter.
She’s just written a book called “The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit”. She did a webinar for my insiders earlier this week. We were talking about her new book and how to change the world and still stay alive. How to take care of yourself. One thing she said out loud, you know how you’re hearing a presentation and sometimes you’ll hear something and it just throws you on the floor because it just hits true to home? She just made this offhand comment that really, a major source of stress for people in non-profits is we try to do too much. We try to do too much.
I went ” Hit me in the gut. You’re right.” I’ve been looking over the Christmas holidays, how can I cut back? How can I say no? But when you’re a staffer and you’ve got people from above who are giving you goals, I would suggest that you need a plan, plan, plan, plan to protect you and here’s what you say if somebody . . . many times, well-meaning board members will come in and they’ll have an idea and everybody’s all excited about it and we have to drop what we’re doing and go run off and do this new idea.
I’m willing to bet at least 50% of everybody on this call has had that experience. Here’s what you say. You say “Okay. Well, what shall I drop in order to do this new idea? Shall we drop our gala? Shall we drop our foundation proposals? Shall . . . ” If you give people a choice, say “I can either do this or that. I can’t do both, so you choose.” I know it takes a lot of guts to say that, but that is the way that you can protect yourself. People tell me that getting out of the office is really a challenge, and I agree with you.
It is a challenge, and here’s why. You have the grant proposals that are hard, hard date set. You have your board meetings. There’s a hard date set. You have your gala and all the gala committees and follow-ups. That is set in stone, all those dates and that timeline. You have a newsletter to get out. You have staff meetings. All of these things are already scheduled on your calendar and they’re very hard to get out of. What happens to major gifts? It is not a hard date on your calendar, so it can get pushed aside. That’s what people tell me.
I want to give you some suggestions for getting out of the office. These suggestions have really worked for me. I think that you should get everybody on your team on board with what you’re up to and why. What I mean by that is that you need to say to everybody on your team, the events people, the back office people, everybody, including your bosses, say “Okay. My goal is to make ten major gift visits a week, ten major donors a week.” If you’re busy and if you are juggling many other responsibilities, if you have other jobs in addition to major gift fundraising, like annual fund or events or a newsletter or communications, you say “I’m committing to five major gift visits a month,” or some number that is doable for you.
If you are only a major gift officer, you should be making about 15 contacts or solid visits a month. That’s a very aggressive goal. We call that moves on a prospect, so to speak, if you want to use technical language about moves. Make a decision about how many visits a month you want to make, period, and announce the goal and explain to everybody why the goal is there.
Then see if you can enlist everybody on your team to push you out the door. Enlist the back office team, perhaps, as aids and not as critics. Because one thing I find, I find it all over the world, everywhere I’ve spoken, there is an issue with a murmur of criticism coming from people in the back office or administrative people or colleagues when you go out to have lunch with a prospect or when you’re out late at night and you come in late the next day, that there is a undercurrent of criticism directed toward you from the people who have desk jobs, who are required to be at their desk from a certain hour to a certain hour.
I’ve written, I’ve blogged about it, that it’s a terrible problem because it really defeats the morale, I think, of a fundraiser to have these people, your colleagues, not supporting you and criticizing you for doing the work that you have to do to bring in this money. I think the more you can get them on your board and have them understand that this is your job and this is a goal for you to be out of the office and to report back at staff meetings about your successes, that that is a way to enlist everybody to be on your team.
I also think, regarding the back office, and I’d love to hear, I don’t have the question box, the chat box here anymore, but I would love to hear from you. Maybe Steven can read some comments later. I would love to hear from you any strategies that you have had that successfully enabled the back office team to feel like they are rewarded for fundraising success, to feel like that they are part of the team, too, the back office team, that they share in the glory when you close a major gift.
Perhaps there’s a way for us reward and to honor the people in the back office for the hard work and the important work that they do that contributes toward everybody’s success. Love to have your thoughts on that.
Let’s talk about hurdle number three. This was interesting. I heard loud and clear that people were unsure and unclear of how to approach major donors. I also think that this is a terrific obstacle all over the place. We could have a field day with just this issue. Let’s start with the whole idea of people’s attitudes about money. People’s attitudes. Everyone grows up in a family with attitudes about money. I mean, I’m from the South. It is not polite to talk about money, period. In fact, my mother would faint if she knew my entire career was spent talking about other people’s money.
Which, of course, people love to talk about other people’s money, but it’s considered not polite conversation. We also have internal attitudes about money and people who are wealthy and powerful. When I started out as a fundraiser, I felt like I was an insignificant speck. Why would these important people want to spend any time with me? We all have these attitudes, these self-defeating attitudes of making ourselves small, holding ourselves back. We make up all these stories about people who are wealthy and powerful.
Learning strategies of exactly how to approach major donors, I would say to you, is totally essential if you want to be successful in major gift fundraising. This particular area is one of my sweet spots because over the years, yeah, when I started out, I said “Oh my gosh, they don’t want to talk to me,” but after 30 years, my friend, I have learned some strategies to get in the door. They’re fun and they’re social.
You may or may not follow me, but people who follow me know that one of my number one fundraising mottos is when in doubt, throw a party. What I mean by that, if you make it fun, if you make everything you’re doing fun for your staff, for your volunteers, for you donors, for your colleagues, people, money comes faster. You can change the world faster. That would be another fun webinar to do, “When in Doubt, Throw a Party.”
But let’s drill down a little bit about this whole idea of being unsure and unclear, because I do want to share with you some of my favorite creative ways to get in the door. Does anybody feel like this whole, this scary set of doors in this cold, cold, cold, white background, it’s really scary, and I will totally agree with you that it is, to get in the door.
One of my very, very, very favorite strategies is to ask a donor for advice and/or to have an advice visit. I call it the advice visit. It goes from the old adage “If you want money, ask for advice, and if you want advice, ask for money.” Let me just give you an example. There’s a philanthropist named Frank here in Raleigh. I’ve tried to be buddies with him a little bit here and there. I’ll call up Frank and I’ll say “Frank, hi. This is Gail Perry. I’ve got a new project up my sleeve. Can I come pick your brain?” He’ll say “Well, come on, honey, and we’ll have a meeting. Yeah. I want to hear about it.”
Why is he willing to see me? Let’s make a list. He’s curious, he knows that I won’t talk too much because he’s gotten to know me a little bit and he knows that I let him do the talking. Another reason he might see me is that it appeals to his ego that he gets to deliver advice and I really am seeking input. Also, I’ll tell you something else. He’s probably curious. Any major philanthropist in your area would be curious if you have a new project up your sleeve or if you have a problem you’re trying to solve.
Now, I want to draw a very clear distinction that we are not talking about seeking advice about our programming or anything that has to do with an inappropriate area where you should not be asking for advice about many parts of your organization. However, you should be asking advice about fundraising strategy. You want input from people about how do we solve this problem? Boys & Girls Club wants to build a new facility. What should we do first? Who should be involved? “Our foundation is thinking about a capital campaign next year. What do you think? Is this a good idea? What should we be thinking about right now?”
These are classic questions that fundraising consultants ask donors all the time. I’m so used to asking these questions that it’s easy for me, but a staff fundraiser often finds it to be awkward. I’ve written and written about advice visits on my blog. You can go to Fired-Up Fundraising and there’s a search box in the upper right-hand corner. You can just type, like, “advice visit” up there and pull out some articles that flesh out this concept a little bit further.
I have raised so much money using advice visits to get in the door. Advice visits are also a wonderful way to take someone who is currently . . . get a qualified prospect, okay, somebody who is currently giving at some level but who has much more capacity, if you want to figure out how to move them along and engage them more deeply, go see them with an advice visit to find out what their hot buttons are and what area of your organization they are most interested in. Advice visits can give you so much wonderful information. Let me just say this. If I go on an advice visit and a donor critiques my project, critiques my ideas, shoots holes in it, is that a good thing or a bad thing?
I would say it’s a wonderful thing because if the donor is asking those questions, other people are going to ask those questions, too. Also, if you’re thoughtful about their feedback it’s helpful to you. The questions they ask are so helpful because it helps you round out the description of your project, round out your strategy and plan. Lots of times, if you have an advice visit with somebody, they will often volunteer to help you and they will all of a sudden become interested in your success. They’ll be on your fan club, your bandwagon team, and so you can go back to them and say “Gosh. That was an amazing idea you gave me. Here’s what I did with it. I’d love to bring you up to date and ask you about something else.”
One thing I like about the advice visit is that it honors the donor by asking for more than money. It’s extremely donor-centered cultivation, isn’t it? Because the donor is doing all the talking. Just remember, the more important the donor, the bigger the fish the donor, the more they expect to do the talking, not you. They do not want to listen to a presentation. They want you to share a little bit of information and then they will tell you what they think.
Just know that there are many different forms of advice visits and it’s a gracious way to connect with the donor. It’s good manners. It’s donor centered. It’s kind, gentler, it’s easier on you because you don’t have to make a presentation. You don’t even have to do that much preparation because it’s all about the relationship that you’re developing, which is a give-and-take relationship. I’ve expounded way too much on advice visits, but I am enthusiastic.
I just want to share with you that somebody who was in my major gift coaching group last year, she had gotten my coaching on advice visits and she decided to throw out . . . they had this big presentation prepared for their major donor and they decided to throw it out. Instead, they went in to their major donor and said “We had a presentation, but we’re not going to make it. We really want to ask your advice today. We would love your input on our business plan. What do you think about our organizational strategy?” Do you know they walked out with a $1.5 million gift?
People tell me all the time that there are many different situations in which they’ve asked for advice and they’ve gotten money. Give it a try and let me hear from you and let me know how you do it. But you know, again, getting in the door. I like to meet a donor in some other way than just pick up the telephone. I like to meet them at an event, if they volunteer at my organization, or if they’re in some way involved, I always say “Tell me about your interest. Tell me what your story is. Tell me. Tell me why you came to be so involved in our cause.” Again, you’re getting the donor to tell you their story. That is what’s so powerful.
What I’m really talking about here in terms of getting in the door is that I’m really talking about friend-making before you get to the fundraising. Again, donor-centered approach, right? Because you want to connect with your donor as a human being, not as somebody high on the hill that’s far, far away who’s scary. Instead you get to know them and lower the stakes by seeking their conversation and input. I mean, it’s my number one major gift strategy because it makes it more comfortable for everybody.
Look, we talk about donor engagement in terms of how to get the door open and how to move a prospect you really don’t know very well down the cultivation highway. Well, here’s an event for a local Raleigh organization, The North Carolina Opera. It was held at somebody’s backyard around a pool, and some of those people in that line own half of Raleigh. I won’t tell you who they are, but they’re all there having an engagement experience, listening to opera on a beautiful spring afternoon.
Here’s The North Carolina Symphony. They are engaged. They’re having their donors have dinner with their musicians. Another engagement experience, you know? I’m really big on my porch parties. That’s me in the middle. I had a porch party this spring. It was a beautiful day. I have a whole lot of coaching about porch parties. A porch party is a wonderful way to get in the door because if the right person is hosting it, then donors that you’re seeking contacts with and connections with will come and then you can meet them in a social environment and say “I’d love to pick your brain about this project.”
That is my favorite way to get in the door, meet a donor socially or through a community event. I mean, in Raleigh there’s one big donor that has coffee every Tuesday morning at a certain coffee shop. I can drop by there on Tuesday’s at 9:00 and I can probably see him. If you’re out and about in your community, you know this information, too.
Steven, I just want to check with you to see if there are a lot of questions, or I know we’ve got about another 15 minutes before I’m going to take questions. Are there any juicy ones we should deal with right now? Are you there?
Steven:There was one that I thought might be good to answer now. A lot of people have asked a variation of the same question. That is, they are a one-person shop and can’t necessarily delegate a whole lot of these tasks. What advice would you have for a one-woman or a one-man shop?
Gail:I do. I really have advice for you, my friend, and that is focus on one to five major donor prospects. You’re a one-person shop. You’ve got a lot to do, but I’ll tell you right now, you need to be cultivating a couple of major donors in your back pocket to go to often to seek advice, to develop warm and friendly advisory relationships with you whether they’re on your board or not. I would suggest that if you’re a one-person shop and you want to grow that organization, that that might be the most important thing you do.
I know that’s a weird thing to say, but if you don’t invest in these relationships you will stay right where you are and you will not grow. If you want to develop traction and develop more funding for it to grow your internal capacity and internal staffing, the best possible way to do it is to cultivate just a small handful, maybe just five. You don’t have to see them every month, but you can see them every other month. You’re deliberate, you’re strategic, and you schedule these meetings.
Remember that slide I showed you about narrowing down your focus. If you are ruthlessly specific about who you will see and who you will not see, because there are lots of juicy prospects you do not have time to approach. That’s tough because I love to call on people. I love to get to know them and see why they’re interested and hear their story. When I was the staff fundraiser, my biggest challenge was I had more people I would love to visit and I couldn’t be successful unless I narrowed down my focus. Again, it requires discipline, which is a tough job, but I think you’re up to it because you’re changing the world already.
Let me talk about hurdle number four. Eighteen percent of the people in the survey replied that they feel like they need structure and support. I want to talk a little bit about structure for major gift fundraising. When you don’t have a structure, everybody wants to put the monkey on somebody else’s back, right? I have seen that and everybody thinks it’s somebody else’s job, right? Let me share with you, this is the, capital letters, the structure for major gift success, okay?
There are a number of things that you have to have in place. You have to have a team of people. Even if it’s two people or three people, you need a little, tiny team so that you are not alone hanging in the wilderness air trying to figure this out by yourself. You need a dollar goal, you need a list of projects that you want to fund because most major gifts come in restricted to fund some particular aspect of your work. Then you need a major gift prospect list. I mean, one of my favorite blog articles I’ve ever written is called “Love Song to My Major Gift Prospect List” because your prospect list is your road map of your body of work that you’re going to tackle.
Then writing out cultivation plans is so very important because you got to have an idea of what the donors hot buttons are and how you’re going to follow up on their area of interest. Then the last thing that a lot of people forget is that you’ve got to come back to your major gift prospect list every month, at least every month, and look at it and reorganize it and have a strategy session around it. These are your fundamental structure items for a major gift fundraising program, and it’s very difficult to be successful without it.
Look, here’s a sample prospect list. This is not complicated and you can adapt it for your own organization, but it has your prospect name and you have a rating for their capacity to give. You have an interest rating and you will have various columns that represent their last gift, they’re a board member, they’re a volunteer, they came to the gala. All sorts of different pieces of information will help you lay out your plan to approach them. A prospect rating system, do you know, just briefly, find one that works for you.
I find that volunteers really can understand a cold, warm, and hot, one, two, and three, hot, warm, and cold prospect rating system. Fine. That’s just great. Whatever works for you. Here is an A, B, C, D, E, F capacity rating system that is often used for capital campaigns. Again, your organization probably already has a rating system. If you don’t, it would be good to create one because that is a tool to help you prioritize your activities. You want to go spend your time seeking major prospects who have the capacity and the interest, interest or likelihood to giving.
A lot of people say “Well, how do I set a major gift fundraising goal?” You know what I do? I take my prospect list and there’s a number. There’s an estimated number next to these lovely people’s names. I’ll add up all these numbers, like, I have identified 30 people who could give a total of $532 million. Let’s say $532,000. How about that? These 30 people.
What I do is I add that and I cut it down by two-thirds. Oh, gosh. That’s a typo there in that slide. I’m sorry. You would cut it by two-thirds and you would agree to one-third of that goal. You would say “If I really do a smart, good job and these people are truly qualified and interested, I should be able to raise one-third of the amount of this prospect list.”
Let me talk just a little bit, and then I’ll take a bunch of questions, about the hurdle number five. Thirteen percent of the people said that their organization doesn’t support major gift fundraising. This really goes to the whole issue of a culture of philanthropy and internal attitudes toward fundraising. I just love this picture. I use this picture a lot. Look at the lady on the left. She does not look very happy when somebody mentions the F-word, the fundraising word, at a volunteer meeting or a board meeting. She thought “Oh my gosh. You want me to do what?”
People are nervous about fundraising when they do not understand it. We have to meet people where they are, we have to understand where they’re coming from, and we have to be flexible and work with their attitudes. I also work with a lot of boards. There are boards everywhere who, their job is to express their opinion. That’s their job. Too often we see board members trying to influence or set fundraising strategy based on their own opinion. Let me tell you, there are a lot of board members that would rather have yet another fundraising event, even one that will lose money, rather than have to host a party or help open the door to major donor prospects.
Maybe we should do a whole webinar on how to get your board members engaged because that’s one of the great challenges of fundraising. Look, if you are situation where major gifts is not getting funded, it’s not getting supported, and you don’t have participation in it, that is a serious roadblock. I do want to chat a little bit about developing an internal culture of philanthropy, but I do want to say two things about it.
One, solid and true and long-term major gift success is going to need internal organizational support and not fundraising strategies that change every year with different board members. You’re going to have to figure out a way to get your board members and leadership behind a long-term approach to tackling major gifts because this is what’s going to take your organization where it needs to go to change the world. The other thing I want to say about culture of philanthropy is that it takes time. You cannot change people’s attitudes overnight, and again, it’s like turning the Titanic around and you just have to keep at it, keep at it over and over.
The beautiful, golden field, the heavenly experience when you do have an internal culture of philanthropy, people all understand what you’re up to and why and how it works. People are willing to play a role. The program staff get to meet major donors and tell their program staff story, which is so interesting to the major donors. They have a role. Board members have a role thanking and opening doors. Instead of fundraising being relegated to some dark corner, I say “You go do that with the monkey on your back,” a culture of philanthropy is when everybody agrees that it’s important, agrees that donors are important.
Feast fundraising is a way to engage all these cool people in your cause. It’s night and day – people are in various stages of creating a culture of philanthropy. Again, one of the big issues is people want to hire a major gift officer and they say “Oh, well, you’re going to raise your salary this year, right?” No. That is not the way it works. It’s a long-term effort.
One more point that I really, really love about the idea of a culture of philanthropy, and this might be a great place to start because it’s not a scary place to start. That is, maybe if you could start getting everybody in your organization and the program and the board, all these staffers and volunteers to consider that donors are special and donors are a valued asset and we’re going to slather love and attention on donors and we’re going to throw porch parties for them. We’re going to bring them in for tours. We’re going to bring them in for panel discussions, we’re going to bring them in for those cool donor engagement opportunities I was showing you earlier.
Sometimes people who don’t understand fundraising are scared about fundraising if you call it fundraising, but if you say “Let’s have a party for our donors,” they’re going to be “Oh, yeah. Let’s do that right now.” There are ways, you know. Remember I said before, meet people where they are, honor their fears and discomfort about fundraising as whatever they’re making up about it, but show them a different approach that is kinder, gentler, more fun, more social, more friendly, all that friend making.
Of course, we all do know that, especially our friends at Bloomerang, we are all over donor retention. If you can get people in your organization to consider that donors are special and they need to be engaged, and I’ll tell you, that is a first step toward moving your organization to a culture of philanthropy and people don’t even know it’s happened to them.
I just want to end. I just have a couple more slides to end. I also ask them my survey, what would help you the most to raise major gifts? What would help you the most? People didn’t say “I need help identifying prospects.” Thirty-nine percent said “Training and what to do and say,” Thirty-nine percent. I thought “Oh, I can help you.” I just want to tell you, just a little, tiny plug. I do have a group coaching class that I do every year. It starts in February and ends in November. That was the situation when that little charity ended up with a $1.5 million gift.
If a group is live with me and I teach everybody what to say and what to do in major gift fundraising. If you are interested, I’d love to hear from you. I’m spelling out the class right now for next year. The goal is to get ten asks on the table for next year, ten asks on the table. I’ve got a curriculum, I’ve got all this stuff, and you can find out about it on my website Major Gift Coaching. The website is gailperry.com/major-gift-coaching. Steve said I could put a little plug in for my program. It’s about half full right now and I only have 20 slots, so if you are interested, shoot me an email or go to this page and find out more about it, and I’d love to help you.
Yeah, this is the curriculum each month. I’m also adding board training for the first time this year, which should be a lot of fun. I’m going to do two live Skype trainings for board members and volunteers. Steve, let’s take some questions. We’ve got five minutes left. I’d love to hear from everybody, what’s possible if you have a solid major gift fundraising program at your organization?
Steven:Well, we’ve got lots of questions. Yeah, like Gail said, we’ve got about five minutes or so to get to them. Don’t be shy. If you haven’t sent one in, send it on over. Gail, if you have a contact info slide, you might flash that up, as well, so folks can get in touch with you afterwards.
Gail:Oh my gosh. I didn’t put it up there. That’s my last slide.
Steven:You should at least pull up your website and folks can see that. Yeah.
Gail:Yeah, I’ll pull up my website at “Fired-up Fundraising,” but I’ll say my personal email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Steven:I’m going to send that in the chat for everyone.
Gail:That’s where I hang out. I hang out at that address all the time. Yeah, I’d love to hear some questions.
Steven:Gail, here’s a question. This is one that a lot of folks have asked. How do you define a major gift? Is it a certain dollar amount? What do you tell folks to help them kind of define that amount?
Gail:Yeah, well, listen. Guess what? It’s a sliding scale. It’s a sliding scale. A major gift is uniquely determined for your organization. If you’re small, $1,000 might be a major gift for you, and bless you, because it’s the first start to big money. If you’re really large, like some universities, their major gift level starts at $25,000. It really depends on your organization and your budget. Great question. I get it all the time. Great question. Yeah.
Steven:Here’s one from Joan that I thought was pretty interesting. “Can you solicit a major gift as a match for a grant? Would that be something you recommend, or maybe not recommend?”
Steven:Yeah. I thought so.
Gail:Totally, but if you are going to solicit a major gift, you got to make it about an opportunity, really exciting. Just a match for a grant doesn’t have a lot of energy to it, but I’m sure, Joan, you’re a smart fundraiser and you can make it into something really sexy for that donor.
Steven:Yeah. Here’s one from Paul. “Let’s say you do an event, maybe you do a porch party or some other event where you’d have your prospects come. How do you efficiently gather the information you learned from your prospects?”
Gail:Great question, Paul. Great question.
Steven:Should you have a tape recorder on you or what should you do?
Gail:No. I think you need to triage the guest list, okay? Make sure everybody wears name tags. Ahead of time, you need to know who’s coming and you need to have somebody like the host identify for you who the people are that you really need to pay attention to, and then you need to cozy up to them and meet them socially at this little porch party. You need to show up as a likeable person so that they will want to spend time with you.
One of my early porch parties, I was a board member of The Carolina Ballet here in Raleigh. I invited a bunch of people to my porch to learn more about the Ballet. I did triage the guest list for the development staff at the Ballet and I told them who the top three people were on the porch that they needed to focus on, and they did. It was a beautiful result, a beautiful result.
Steven:Well, it’s very close to 2:00 and I want to be respectful of your time as well as all the listeners’ time. I know we didn’t get to all the questions, but please do email Gail and check out her website, follow her on Twitter.
Gail:Yeah, yeah, yeah. Email me. I’ll be online tonight and I’ll shoot you back a response. If you’re interested in the major gift coaching, I’d love to talk to you. You know, we can hop on the phone and see if it’s a fit or not for your organization.
Steven:Definitely recommend you do that. Obviously Gail is a wealth of knowledge. She’s kind of our go-to person for all this stuff. Gail, this was really awesome to have you. Thanks for taking the time.
Gail:That was cool.
Steven:I know you moved a lot of things around in your schedule to be here, so I really appreciate it.
Gail:Yeah. No, I’m fine. I’m just seeing some of the questions. Great questions. “What about a board share that supports major gift fundraising but doesn’t do it?” Yeah, Susan, shoot me an email and we’ll talk about that.
Steven:That’s a fun one. Have fun with that.
Gail:Steven, thank you so much. I just want to tell everybody that Bloomerang is my favorite software. They’re not paying me for saying that either. But I highly recommend them over the other software vendors for many reasons, number one is because they focus their desktop report for you on donor retention, which will help you raise more money.
Steven:Aw, thanks, Gail.