Are you a nonprofit CEO or Executive Director with a large fundraising goal and too few tools to reach it? Would you like to feel confident in your ability to close the gifts that you know are needed to help you make mission happen

[and keep on the lights]?

Susan Axelrod recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared strategies that nonprofit leadership can use to get the highest level potential donors to support you at the highest levels. In case you missed it, you can watch the full replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven: Okay, great. Well, good afternoon everyone, if you’re 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 webinar, “Confident Fundraising for Nonprofit CEOs and EDs”. My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m going to be moderating today’s little discussion. Thanks for being here.

Just want to let everyone know that this presentation is being recorded, so if you have to leave early or if you wanted to review some of the content later, you’ll be able to do that. Just look for an email from me a little later on this afternoon. I’ll be sending out that recording, as well as Susan’s slides, so look for an email from me.

As Susan’s presenting today, I want to encourage everyone to send in questions and comments through that chat box right there on your screen. We’ll both see those, and we’re going to leave some time at the end for a little Q&A session, and Susan has a pretty fun activity planned as well. Don’t be shy as you’re listening in. Please do make use of that chat box and we’ll get to your questions toward the end.

Just so everyone knows, just in case you’re new to Bloomerang webinars, if maybe this is your first one, or you’re not sure what Bloomerang is, we’re a donor database software company. We provide donor management software, so if you’re interested in that at all you can check out our website. We do offer a lot of educational resources in addition to these webinars, and also the software. If you’re in need of software, check that out.

We won’t talk any more about Bloomerang from a commercial standpoint, but just wanted everyone to know. Thank you, Sandra. I also think Bloomerang is fantastic. We’ll end the little commercial there. I want to introduce our guest, Susan Axelrod. Thanks for being here today. How’s it going?

Susan: Great. Thank you so much for having me, Steven.

Steven: Oh yes. I’m very excited. Susan, I can’t remember ever having as much fun planning a webinar as I have with you over the last few days.

Susan: That’s great.

Steven: For those of you who don’t know Susan, Susan is the managing partner and lead coach over at Confident Fundraising, and she brings to her teaching and training programs 30 years of fundraising experience, as well as an intuitive sense about working with people’s philanthropic passions. Susan was a practitioner during the first half of her career and she’s had a successful consulting practice of her own since 2001. As a consultant, she’s focused on helping organizations commit energy and passion to donor relationships, cherishing and nurturing them through personalized strategies and meaningful giving opportunities.

All of those things she’s going to talk about today and she’s also got a new iron in the fire that she’s going to tell you about a little later on after her presentation. Susan, this is really great to have you. Very excited, and I’m not going to take any more time away from you, so why don’t you go ahead and get things kicked off for us?

Susan: Okay. Thank you, Steven, and hello and welcome everyone. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to join us today. Steven, thanks for the opportunity to connect with the Bloomerang universe. You know how much I love it. I really just want to say, you have done an outstanding job developing a useful resource base on the website. I really love the quick TV blog spots, or whatever you call them, and I want to encourage everyone to listen to all of them. It’s just a wealth of information.

I do want to let people know that I’m going to make a special offer at the end of this webinar to celebrate the launch, today, of my new business, Confident Fundraising. I’m starting it with a partner, the great and talented Marcy Stengel, and I really feel that this subject is important and going to help you. I’m not going to sell, I promise, I’m just going to make a special offer to thank you for calling in.

Today’s program is about top of the pyramid fundraising, not about all the other methods of raising money. I want to bring everyone to that same space right now. It’s a personal, individual, highest level solicitation. Frankly, the kind most people dread, but I’m going to help you get to a much better place around that, even today.

I also want to talk for a second about why we’re focusing our efforts on CEOs and Executive Directors. We’re sort-of generically calling them nonprofit leaders, and as between CEO or ED, I’m using them interchangeably for our purposes today.

I believe that the best fundraising, the most successful work in fundraising, starts at the top with the decision maker. We have seen, over decades of working with nonprofits, frustration by the executive leaders that development staff quotes aren’t getting it done, and by development staff, that the decision maker is “not getting it”.

Between the board and the executives, there are many people who are not comfortable with asking for money. Then they hire a development professional and then they breathe a sigh of relief and say thank goodness that person can do it now. Then, they set goals based on what they need from the budget, not based on a study of previous giving history, relation to prospect strategies. Then they evaluate the development professional on whether or not they meet those dollar goals.

This is what I call hamster wheel fundraising. It’s like a hamster wheel racing around, racing around the annual fundraising plan that only marginally meets the crying need of the organization. There’s a need for planning for every organization, of course, but the planning is usually not well done. It’s not based in the reality of your actual donor base. Even if a development professional is brought in and has good experience, they’re often not listened to by the decision maker because the decision maker is often too uncomfortable asking for money.

I want to be clear here. The partnership with the  CEO, or the Executive Director, and board member is where the big money lies. If any of you guys know of Jerry Panas, he has done the research and he talks about this. We know that respect for the non-profit CEO is one of the top three reasons large gifts are given. There’s a trust, there’s a feeling, there’s a belief that the need is due in, and that the organization is well-managed, and that the money is used or will be used as it’s meant to be used and that all will be well financially.

I have been the development professional and I know that pain point of knowing what needs to be done, but feeling frustrated that it can’t get done because of even unintentional obstacles thrown out by the ED and/or board members who just aren’t comfortable asking for money. There is a need for a full, comprehensive development plan on paper, or a computer or somewhere not being used or really go nowhere if the decision maker does not begin to learn the difference between asking for money and offering best friends, who care the most about the mission, the opportunity to help significantly impact that mission. All those phrases, you’ll be hearing again.

Now, Steven told me that I can watch what’s going on in the chat box, so I’m going to say something. I may or may not be able to address it, but I feel like if I were addressing you guys personally, I would be seeing heads nodding up and down at some of these things that I’m talking about.

In January I’ll be celebrating 30 years working dedicated in fundraising and to supporting nonprofits, like I said, either as a practitioner or a consultant in development, and by that I mean developing relationships with people who care the most about your organization and want to impact the mission. Over the last several years, and as I was thinking about this, I realized this ability has increased in my work, but honestly, a month has not gone by — and I want to say a week, but I can certainly say for sure say a month has not gone by — that I don’t meet a nonprofit executive leader, a development professional or a board member who tells me a story about their organization in a mode that I have coined limping and languishing. Everyone who knows me knows that I talk about the plethora of nonprofits that exist today that are limping and languishing.

I’ve begun to develop a thesis, just sort-of a personal opinion, that this prevalent condition is going to have a long-term negative impact in the entire non-profit sector, which I believe is set up to protect the fabric of our society, and I sort-of kept this to myself. Well, not really. Those who know me know I feel this, but I didn’t make a public pronouncement about this, but it’s been on my mind and it’s really, really been a concern for me.

This past August, I had the opportunity to have a long, personal, detailed conversation with someone I consider a legend in the field of philanthropy, although she’s young, so I’m sure she wouldn’t appreciate being called a legend. She wrote the book, Inspired Philanthropy. Her name is Tracy Gary. She has committed her incredible career to helping nonprofits be better and do better in their management and fundraising.

By the way, she has also been a spectacularly generous philanthropist to those organizations on her priority giving list. I don’t know if she or I brought it up first, I can’t remember, but there was this energy buzz in the air around us at this single table in a restaurant in Colorado as we discussed what we see as the crisis that is facing our nonprofit organizations and how we will be seeing many closures of important organizations over the next few decades.

Now, if you’re on this call and you’re thinking, “Oh, that’s not us. We could never close down,” I want to remind you of a small company called Bear Sterns or any other related example, but I hope you’re right. I hope you’ll never close down and I encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing.

If you’re on this call because you are or have a nonprofit leader, I don’t know how many actual CEOs and development professionals are on the call, but if you have a decision maker who is looking for more confidence in the area of high-level personal solicitation, I want to ask you to clear your mind of everything else that’s going on in it right now and really come to attention. I know this is a weird thing to say, but I have attended lots of webinars and weekly conference calls and whatever, where I have someone kind of talking in the background where I’m really working at my desk and really only half paying attention while I’m focusing on something else.

If anything that I said earlier sort of resonates with you, then I just wanted to suggest that you really bring this conversation today to the front of your mind, and in the end, together, we can make better missions impact, which is really what this is all about.

I just want to elaborate on the future of our sector for just a few minutes. Not even a few minutes. If your organization has a budget under a million dollars, if you know how you’re going to protect women from violence, how you’re going to keep people off the street, how you’re going to offer no reading programs to children who are living on an urban battleground, whatever your arena is, I urge you to have a thoughtful, strategic conversation with your leaders — and I say that because that may or may not be a board — about your real, true future. Not your personal future with the organization, I’m not talking about that, I’m talking about your organization’s future.

Honestly, folks, I fear for you. For your health, really being on a treadmill running is good. Being on a hamster wheel running is bad. On the treadmill, not that I really know from first-hand experience, but I’m told that you can control the speed, you can control the distance, you can run up a hill, run down a hill. On a hamster wheel you’re running in control, aimlessly in circles.

Again, I feel like, maybe, if I were doing this in public, that somebody might be nodding their head and saying, “Yes, she’s right.” Folks, I have a serious, committed, achievable growth plan for sustainability. You guys, I want to encourage you to consider looking and going to a community or the world, even, for an organization that offers similar or compatible services where you can come together in greater strength, leaving behind ego possession and ownership to really be a thriving and sustainable organization and lead the world that’s limping and languishing.

Now, if your budget is between $1 million and $5 million, I’m sure there’s many of you who have a little bit more buffer, a little bit more breathing space. It’s important to figure out which direction the wind is blowing for you. Do you have the wind at your back with the lighthouse beacon at the front and a straight road of smooth sailing ahead? I don’t know if any of you guys are sailors. That will lead you into thriving and sustainable operations. That’s really the question, or is the beacon missing? Do you have a kind-of deep, personal, quiet concern about your future?

This is the real stuff, folks. This is the real stuff. I’m talking right into your hearts. For an organization that’s fully structured with staffing facilities — and between one and five, you very well might be — consumer support, whatever that looks like for you, but you still don’t have a strong, full individual giving program, you’re still relying more on more grants, then I’m bumping you back to the first category. Look around to see if there are others with whom you can combine for greater strength.

Now, if your organizations over $5 million and you have dedicated staffing for fundraising, and you’re open and willing to fully partner and participate and offering great giving opportunities, then you do have a shot at a sustainable, long future. Kind of beyond the naivety I had when I was a practitioner for a really, really great social service organization twenty-some years ago, I used to say, “We want to put ourselves out of business.” They served people living in poverty, people with disabilities and other constituencies, and that’s what I used to say, “We want to put ourselves out of business. Support us and help us put ourselves out of business.”

Then they started serving people living with HIV and AIDS and they started growing their endowment for a long future of helping those in need because, honestly, the future that we can see and feel in our lifetime, and even beyond are so severe, so prolific, that it’s unlikely that these organizations that do have good operations and good management will ever go out of business. Of course they’ll continue to morph and grow, or merge or take over other organizations that are failing, as that organization that organization that I used to work for has done over the past few decades.

This all leads me to my first learning objective of today. It is vital, it is fundamental, it is the foundation of your top of pyramid efforts for you to dig and unleash your energy and passion for your own mission, your own organization and the work that you’re doing.

Now, is this realistic? I have to be honest with you, I’m not sure. I really know how difficult the life of a nonprofit executive is, and it just may be too hard to find the energy. What I do know is, unless or until you have your own deep-seated personal passion for your own mission that you can emotionally, eloquently, passionately, persuasively communicate for people who care the most — and by those, I mean the people who have or can gather resources – then I’m not sure if you can move into the category of a thriving and sustainable future.

Regarding unleashing your own energy, your own passion for the mission, let’s assume that you’re in the right place, that you do feel that energy and passion for your own mission, but that you’re on your own hamster wheel in your daily work life. You’re in your own grind of daily activity that has sort-of pushed aside the passion, the anxiety of getting it all done and finding the financing and doing all the things that you’re supposed to be doing. It’s sort-of made you forget what it is that’s really vitally important here. I mean, really, I know what that life is like.

By the way, I’m not talking about on the personal side. That’s a whole other conversation that you have to address. I’m really only talking about the work side.

The deep, and remind yourself of the deep-seated personal commitment to your outcome, to your mission, and communicate that with the people who care, things are going to be different, they’re going to feel different. Now, at this time, I feel that it’s important to say that if you’re the actual CEO on this call, really, only you know about financial reality of the organization and the full intricate workings that are difficult and perhaps hard to overcome.

If there are infrastructural issues, before you can start offering really great giving opportunities to people that you can feel good about, then I encourage you, those issues have to be taken care of. Get your organization in actual, smooth working order, and then come back to this work. Why? Because you’re going to be asking people to make a charitable investment in you, and you want to be respectful of their money and responsible to their investment.

Now, if you have people who really care the most, like you have good, strategic partners who have resources, and you can ask them to work with you to partner, become thinking partners with you on some of these struggles, and help you get through to the other side in strength, then I definitely encourage you to do that. I know that you guys know that people who are more involved, people who are trusted insiders, especially if you find the ones who have, or have access to, resources, they’re going to grow with you as donors.

Now, let’s get to the second learning objective. Understanding the importance of who cares the most. You’ve heard me say this several times now. Most organizations look around at names on buildings, or names on other donor lists and say, “Oh, we should go after them.”

Now, again, out there in my audience, I know you’re thinking of how many times some board member has either walked in or mailed you a program from the last class they attended or some gala event, and said, “Oh, look at the list. We should go after those people.” I want to encourage you to stop that madness, rather have a session with your trusted adviser and board, and ask yourself, “Who cares the most about our greatest success?”

Now, of course, obviously consumers care the most, and I realize that many of the consumers don’t have the resources to support you if you’re in those kind of arenas. Really, there’s lots of other people who care the most about your greatest success, and I do this as a training session. I have a big training session I do called “Who Cares?” When you begin to make lists of groups and individuals, you’re going to find them. Go to all constituencies and ask this single and simple question, and you will find you should be connecting with to get on the path to more money for your organization.

When you connect with the people who care the most, they care the most. That’s the exact point — they care. They care about your success and, by definition, they will want to hear your story, share your story, support your story of the mission of your organization. That is it.

If you’re feeling, on that hamster wheel, that you have to do it all, or that you and one other person have to do it all, or that nobody else really gets this, I promise that’s not true. There are other people who care the most, who love your mission, as long as you’re a good, well-run, financially stable organization. They’re out there and they’ll help you.

Now, listen up. Your goal with these people is to develop life-long relationships, where they make long-term commitments which grow larger over time. They do not have to be the wealthiest people to become your best donors. One of the things I teach in the other world, where I teach philanthropy, is the benefit of long-term giving. Maybe you can give a $1,000 this year, $83.33 a month on your credit card, but what if, because we found an organization about which you care the most, what if you commit your life to that? Why not?

The process that I do in my other work about finding something you care deeply about, then not that you can’t change it in the future. You could, but now we’re into a whole different ballgame. Now we have multi-year pledges, nice multi-year pledges that really do add up over time.

Also, I want to suggest that you take the Introduction to Bloomerang webinar — I noticed on their website there is one this month — to be reminded of the value of donor retention, which, they don’t pay me to say this, I’m sure you guys know, I really do believe the value of this software product is significant in its basis in donor retention. There’s also a great downloadable on the subject on the Bloomerang resource page, which I myself downloaded last night.

I do love large gifts. Of course I love the largest gifts, of course I do. I promise you, those will come as you find people who care and create life-long loyal donor relationships. For example, for one of my clients there was this elderly volunteer and she was involved with them for so many years and everyone knew she didn’t have any money. Everybody knew that. My work with them was in planned giving and I had already had a conversation with her, and she told me she was leaving her entire estate to that organization.

That was wonderful, she wanted to remain anonymous, but even still, I frankly thought, “Well, how much is that going to be?” Well, guess what? It ended up being $87,000, and that’s not nothing to a lot of organizations. Why? Because her son and husband had pre-deceased. The attorneys did attorneys did take a lot of the estate, but the sale of the house generated that very nice gift that came after she was gone.

I want to talk for a moment about why individual giving? To do this, fortunately, I didn’t have to do any research or even a single thing except track one statistic annually that another really big organization is paying for. I hope you’re familiar with Giving USA. It’s www.givingusareports.org. I am one of the geeks who waits eagerly for pie charts to be announced every year.

We have seen the largest slice of the income pie, the largest slice is coming not from foundation grants, not from government agencies, not from corporations, but from people, either living or dead. Some time over the year, they started adding in bequests, but only people with bequests. At this time in history, 80% of every philanthropic dollar given, 80 cents of every dollar given, comes through individuals.

When I used to do consulting, which I don’t really do any more, but when I did, I always wanted to see that the percentages of work were equal to what was tracked, statistically shown, given USA pie slices that basically show you where to focus your effort. That’s part of the way that I came to sort of where I am today.

Now, as an aside if you guys are still out there, it’s a little weird standing here, my chat has cleared, I’m hoping you can still hear me, then I hope you’re asking yourselves . . . maybe people are typing? I’m sure you’re saying that you can hear me. Good. Thanks, you guys. I’m hoping that you will be asking yourselves now, “What do I have to do to move into better, more productive individual solicitation?”

This is where we get into the last two learning objectives. The third learning objective is realizing that it’s not about the money. Heartfelt purposeful connection yields lucrative and meaningful returns. Now I know I’m not supposed to use multisyllabic words, but believe me, offering potential donors a heartfelt, purposeful connection to making your mission happen, that’s the magic.

The way to make the magic is to share your story. How is it that unique, purposeful, meaningful connections with the people who care the most? You do this by sharing your real story, okay? Face your own reality.

Again, I really want to say thank you for calling in and thank you for taking the time because I’m kind of real about this. I kind-of face the hard stuff sometimes with you guys, so when I say face your own reality, ask yourselves, “Where are we? How are we doing? Are we limping and languishing? If so, how do we strengthen ourselves to become a thriving and sustainable organization? Are we a thriving and sustainable organization? If so, how do we move from depending on grants and events?”

I see those heads nodding again. “How do we move to individuals who care the most? Are we a large operation with a long history, but an old board, a long-time executive who is tired?” and by that, I don’t mean to offend anyone, ” and a rotating door in the development office function?” Again, I don’t mean to offend. The work of facing your own reality, of making deep, personal connections and sharing your story is really where the rubber meets the road. It results in the most fun thing ever.

When a donor had made the largest gift that they can make — and that could be $500 for them, and it could be $500,000, it could be seven figures. I don’t know where your organizations are. I don’t want to say if you’re looking for six-figure gifts and I don’t want you to stop listening if I talk about six-figure gifts and you’d be thrilled with $5,000, so you apply the number. This strategy works the same at all levels.

This is one of the most important things I want to say today. I don’t know if you’ve been writing anything. This is the time when you pick up a Post-it note, put the pen to paper and stick it on the bulletin board. Fundraising is not about the money. It’s about the relationship. It’s not about the money. It’s about the relationship.

Think of your own best donors, the ones you can go to when there’s a real need, something unexpected, the boiler goes, or whatever. They are in it with you. They want to know what’s going on. They want to be the first offered an opportunity to help you grow [inaudible 00:33:20]. Some might even be asking you, “What more can I do? How can I help?” I hope some of you are thinking of those people in your head right now.

It’s just like a revelation for me when I moved out of the practitioner world into the consulting world, which gave me faith and ability to breathe away from the hamster wheel, that is now what I teach. When you’re in the practitioner world as a CEO or the development professional, everything is money, money, money. Got to send out the letters, got to have the events, got to ask for the gifts, etc.

What I want you to understand is if you find people who care the most and create a purposeful connection and share your true, authentic story, people want to hear from you. They want to help you. They want to share the resources that they do have to support your mission. This is the picture that I want to put in your mind when we think about the top of the pyramid in fundraising. We’re not talking about how many letters we should send out to people we don’t know, or how many more hundred dollar tickets we can sell.

By the way, my whole other life of teaching philanthropy, I ask people, “What will your legacy be?” I teach them to figure out what matters deeply and commit to that because I want to teach them to become life-long loyal donors, not just engaging responses or checkbook giving.

Now let me just take a second. [inaudible 00:35:09] We’re going to get to questions soon. What about the quid pro quo golf course giving? Some of you may be thinking, “We got that six figure gift because so and so board member got it from their peer.” I’m happy for you, but I don’t really care about that one $10,000, $100,000 gift because that’s not what we’re in this for. Unless you are doing the work of the excellent stewardship work of stewarding that donor away from the quid pro quo relationship to a life-long loyal donor with the organization — which you’re probably not, but you may be — then that was just a one-time lucky thing that one of your loving board members did for you.

I hope you understand that difference. You want to do it so well that a donor thanks you for the opportunity to give you money. The “it,” what’s the “it” that you want to do so well? It’s making deep, authentic, personal connections by sharing your vision and impact story.

For example here, a real, true, honest example that just happened this [inaudible 00:36:42]. I have a client where I’ve been focusing on donor relations to help grow their endowment, for a few years I’ve been working with them, and the work with them has been completely out of their expectations. They were thinking they would have a campaign, like an endowment campaign, structured like a traditional capital campaign, and I said “Oh no, no, no. We are calling this an effort. It’s ongoing. We’re growing the endowment to sustain the strong future of this organization, and we’re building this relationship over decades.”

I kept telling them, “You have to share the story of why this organization is worthy. All these people you “expect” to give you large gifts just because they have significant resources and they’re long-time members or donors, that’s just not going to happen unless you do it this way.”

We have one person that was in that category, and I have to say even now, the organization knows there was a little bit of presumption around getting a large gift from this person, but in the end, everybody was like, “Oh, they should give, they should give,” In the end, it took a few years. Okay, so, it’s never on my timetable. I want it all now, but it’s not my money, it’s their money, so it has to be on their timetable. It has to feel right for them, and sometimes it has to be right from a tax perspective or whatever.

In the end, at the event that we had to recognize a very large gift that they made, the donor thanked them for the opportunity to make this gift, the connect with meaning to this organization that was meaningful to them over multiple generations of family. Yes, I wrote that down. That was the exact quote.

I happened to be sitting next to one of the solicitor volunteers I had been training on this, and she looked at me with this huge smile on her face. I can’t remember if she actually elbowed me, but it was like a mental elbow, and later she said to me, “I cannot believe that happened, that he thanked us for the opportunity to make a gift like this which has had such an impact on our endowment. It’s just like you said,” she told me.

That’s the magic, and that’s totally real. I mean, I could tell numbers of stories like that. Now that’s not to say that aren’t tax strategies that could be taken advantage of. I always say if you’re going to give, be as smart as you can about your giving and get tax advantages, [inaudible 00:39:04] your estate, care for your spouse and your heirs and all that stuff. Of course I know that, but when it works, they thank you.

Now how does this happen? It happens with a formula that I use that I call the prospect strategy. I developed this formula from information that I learned 23 years ago, and over the decades of helping organizations build up [inaudible 00:39:25] relationships, I turned the information into a formula, so that now I offer coaching clients who work with me [inaudible 00:39:36]. It has to do with really having a personal relationship with them. Okay? That’s what it’s all about.

What I want to do now — I’m sort of getting a tiny glance at the time, I really wanted to give plenty of time for this — is if anyone out there is in the soup of this, you have try to figure out how to close a gift, you’ve got somebody in progress and you don’t know what to do, let’s do it. This was not planned, I did not plant anybody in the audience or anything like that, so I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I thought we would just give it a try, and, or, I want to now open up the floor for questions. Also, I really want you to take advantage of this opportunity now to get your questions answered.

Steven, how do we address questions?

Okay. Let’s see. Somebody was brave enough to write in. I’ve got to get to the top.

“I am the founder and ED of a one-year-old nonprofit for people living with dementia.” Bless you woman, or man, I don’t know who you are. “I am the only staff person at this time, and even I am not pulling in a livable salary. Our programs are expanding, we have increasing numbers of partner organizations, care facilities. We’re on the right track. Having said that, what would you advise to someone in my position?”

Oh, honey. “Well, we are just starting to develop a budget. I have been applying for grants, doing crowd sourcing events, etc. and they have been working on a small scale. Would appreciate your input.”

Okay. I think her name was Susan. I think it’s a woman. Okay, Susan, first of all, really, this work that you’re doing in our world is a wonderful gift that you’re offering, so I really want to honor you and say thank you for doing this work. I strongly urge you and encourage you to have the conversation, have a one hour, uninterrupted time with your trusted advisers. Okay? I don’t know if they’re your board members. If you’re a founder and you’re a small organization [inaudible 00:42:24] I see this in case study all the time.

I realize that maybe your friends have given all they can. Whatever, I don’t know what shape the board is in, but whoever your trusted advisers are who care about the long-term sustainable future of this organization, I want you guys to close the door and clear your minds and have a conversation about who cares the most and why. Who are the people, the individuals? I guess you’re a community-based organization, not a national organization. People living with dementia, so maybe you’re actually doing direct care.

I want you to look inside the relationships that you’ve already made, and when you have a group of trusted advisers who are close to you, you can all look into your concentric circles of influence, as I call it, and figure out who really cares the most.

Now, there’s one thing about this case that I know that you know and I want to say out loud and bring to your consciousness and certainly hope everybody else understands. Every single person is going to get old. Everybody will not necessarily get dementia, but everybody’s mind will be less sharp than it used to be. I mean, there’s nobtable exceptions, but let’s just say generally, that’s going to happen, even if it’s not dementia.

I want to say that so that as you engage in this thinking circle with your trusted advisers about who cares most, that you remember that — I call this a there but for the grace of go I strategy — there may be people in that category who you can address.

Also, I want to suggest that you figure out, and we can talk about this offline, you can feel free to call me, that you do something that I call cost per service unit, so that you’re really figuring out what your real costs are. It says, “I’m the only one. I’m not even pulling in a livable salary.” Again, I meet these founders all the time. Then, stop starting to develop the budget. Get a real budget developed with real line items and real salary in place.

That’s going to be the conversation when you develop the list of people who care the most, where you’re really reaching out to make personal connections. That’s the real information. Here’s our real need. For us to survive, we need to do this.

Okay, and I see somebody else has written in. A question you’re asking and I want to say to Susan and anybody else for whom this resonates is, why did you create an organization? Now, I realize that may be offensive, and I do not mean to offend. I must challenge you. I must challenge you. I encourage you to call me. We can have that conversation offline, but with the scenario that you just painted, I really want to put you in one of those categories earlier that I mentioned that, instead of doing this hamster wheel that you’re already on and just keep moving on, there either leads to make the mission happen. which I know is in your heart, and I know why you did this. I can imagine, so I want to encourage you to go in that mood as well.

Okay. So let me move on. Yes, Sandy, a recording of this will be available.

Sam: “What is the best way for an organization to maintain a meaningful, long-term relationship with a potential donor as board directors come and go?” I think Sam is meaning that the potential donor . . . oh, it means . . . I talk about the partnership of the board member and the Executive Director, or the CEO, is really where the big money lies, so just because if people are on board with you, as board members, then we want you to be on their priority giving list.

I know some of you are laughing when I say of course all board members should be supporting the organization with a meaningful financial commitment, but they should be. If you have people on there who are on there for any other reasons, not that they have to be rich, it has to be meaningful commitments to them according to their means. If you have people on there who are on there for any other reasons, they’re not really connected, then that is exactly what’s going to happen. They’re going to go off, and etc.

But if you have people who are rotating, who are actively involved, engaged and rotating through one term, two term, maybe up to three term maximum, then you move them into an advisory capacity and they can still work as an individual in partnership with the executives to continue to steward those donors.

I want to say, Sam, I’m not sure if I’m getting this right, but I do want to say that the cycle after you cultivate to have the executives and board members work together to get these donors on board, is that you would be stewarding donors, connecting them to the organization, connecting donors to the organization and mission, so that it’s not any one person who is the only connection to a donor. Because, by the way, executives [inaudible 00:49:20] as you know. That’s why I talk about the overall long-term sustainable health of the organization.

Sam, if I didn’t hit that, my contact information is somewhere. Please call me and we’ll talk about that.

Margo: “What steps would you recommend to engage each donor, each major gift prospect who attends a cultivation event?” Oh, that’s a great question. Yay! “Is there a type or format of cultivation event that’s effective?”

Okay. Margo has hit on a real pet peeve of mine. I just said it to somebody last night after a meeting. What happens is you can have this great event, and you think it’s a success because you brought x number of people there, whatever the goal was of how many people you wanted to attend. It wasn’t a success if you don’t engage the donor after the event, if it’s for the purpose of raising more money.

Now, special events that are fundraisers, blah, blah, blah, that’s a whole different ball game. I’m not really talking about that. This says, “donor or major gift prospect. Is there a type of format of cultivation event that’s effective?”

Yes. If I go back to Susan, I [inaudible 00:50:43] whatever your organization is, but if your organization has a purpose or a cause or a mission, whatever the issue of what you do, is of universal interest, like aging is, or clean waters, or cleaning up our city or whatever, then I urge you to bring speakers — interesting, informative speakers — on the subject that is of broad interest and educate people. Okay? That’s number one about the subject matter, and then you can also do your little commercial about what you’re doing about it, but that is something I strongly urge and recommend.

Then, the other thing is, depending on who’s the CEOs of your organization, regarding is there a type or format of cultivation event that’s effective? If it’s a hospital, and you got your hospital CEO, everybody doesn’t get to meet the hospital CEO. That’s something, giving people the opportunity to rub tail bones with people who matter in the community, that’s something that they want to do and you always want to keep mission front and center.

I’m going to move on. Margo, contact me if I didn’t hit your post exactly.

“Is it a good idea to focus your fundraising strategies for the next generation of donors, Millennials who are relatively new in the workforce?” Yes, yes, yes, a hundred million times, yes. That question reminds me of one of the other things I wanted to say about your cultivation events or stewardship events. I always like to encourage events where families are involved because people work more than they spend time with their family. To have a gala or whatever, some event . . . I did say about the lecture series, because we do want to feed people’s brains, that’s important, but other than that, I like to encourage and I like to encourage — love, love, love intergenerational events, Amanda, where you are bringing together older people with younger people and promoting conversation.

I mean, we could talk about that for hours. Yes, it is a good idea because if you’re creating a long-term, sustainable, thriving organization, then your Millennials today are your future major donors. Nevermind the Millennials who struck it rich in the tech world.

Okay. Paul. “What would be a good strategy to get a reluctant CEO on board with fundraising?” Well, well, well. I don’t know who Paul is, and I didn’t plant that question, but, Paul, that’s what we’re doing with our fundraising Mastermind group.

One of the things, one of the reasons a CEO is reluctant is that, personally, they’re afraid or uncomfortable or insecure about fundraising, but they tell you that because they’re the CEO, because they’re supposed to know. Also, if they sold themselves on the ability to do this, but they know deep inside that they’re not really good at it, or comfortable with it, then they’re going to be reluctant.

Paul, this is really personal, and all of you guys, this is really personal. I’m telling you, this is really true. One of the reasons that obstacles get thrown up and this and that, there’s reluctance, they don’t listen, this and that, is because they really don’t really fully get it. Of course, there’s the reality of a busy life and a chaotic job. I mean, I get all of that, but we’re starting a business based on this theory that if we can shore up the confidence personally, quietly, with individual coaching, not in public, with our nonprofit CEOs, then they are going to become the best friends of the development professionals, and that’s one of our goals.

Okay. Cynthia. “What’s the most effective way to help board members understand their role in fundraising [inaudible 00:55:25]?” Cynthia, the most effective way is to talk about it before they become board members. Well, Cynthia and everyone else. You’re on a hamster wheel, and I know that. That’s the board hamster wheel.

Well, I can’t say what organization it is, but a long, long, long ago, early in my career, I developed my reputation by coming on board a large organization that had been around a lot of years and had a whole board of people that didn’t do anything, and one-by-one, I met with them personally. I was the Director of Developmental [inaudible 00:56:03] Consultant. I met with them personally, and the first thing I talked about was what do you care about this organization? Why are you a board member? Tell me about your connection to the mission.

I would hear stories about the mission and how important it was and this and that. Then I would say to them, “Are you willing and ready to ask for money to support and protect the future of this vital organization?” Because I was alone and with them, the CEO was not alone, it’s the Director of Development, they said no, like three-quarters of them. I looked at them in the eye, Cynthia, and I said to them, “I hope you won’t be personally offended, and I don’t mean to hurt your feelings, but if we don’t find people to join the board who are ready, willing and able to ask others for money, then this organization will not survive.”

Cynthia, maybe you can’t do that. I play that role as a consultant all the time, but that’s the most effective way to help them is to stop lecturing them in board meetings, “You got to ask, you got to ask,” but, rather, meet with them personally and give them the opportunity to say what they want to say.

Those are the questions that I see, and I’m going to just take a minute now, Steven if that’s okay.

Steven: Hey, Susan, I’m here. I accidentally hung up my phone instead of unmuting my phone, so I’m so embarrassed to leave you hanging there. I got a butterfinger.

Susan: Yeah, I clutched and shifted, no problem.

Steven: I was sitting back and listening to your answers, so that was enjoyable.

Susan: Okay, good. Share them with Leah, by all means.

Steven: I will.

Susan: I do want to just take this time to let people know, as I’ve mentioned already, that we are launching a first ever of its kind fundraising Mastermind group. Now, a real Mastermind is peer-to-peer, but this is going to be a facilitated Mastermind. We’re literally only opening up six spots. There’s an application process and I’m looking for people who want to be able to do this. By the way, it’s really going to be fun, and the “this,” is raise more money for your organization.

What I’m going to do is offer anyone on this webinar a 10% discount. This pricing point on this is not inexpensive, but what I want you to know is that it’s less than the cost of one major gift. That’s what I want to do. I want to encourage you to think about major gifts, and how you can get them, and what the wealth could be of joining a Mastermind group.

The other thing I want to tell this large and worthy audience is that there has to be, really, a commitment to meeting. I’m debating right now weekly versus every other week. Probably going to go with every other week. I’ll do that in conversation with the six people.

Then the second thing that we’re doing, as I mentioned to you, Steven, earlier, is an amplified training group, we’re calling it, for people who are new to the CEO or Executive Director position, and that’s going to be a six-month training program. That’s only going to be a monthly call, with other personal opportunities for coaching. That information, you’ll find on the website as well.

Steven, my laptop says 3:00 exactly.

Steven: Wow. Good job. That was really good, Susan. I enjoyed listening. I hope everyone else did. I just want to let everyone know that we do do these webinars once a week. We’re actually taking the next couple weeks off. I’m going to be on the road, so I won’t be able to curate any webinars, but I want to draw attention to one coming up the week of Halloween. It’s on October 30th. Really cool presentation on direct mail. If you’re maybe getting ready for your end-of-year appeals, you’re going to be sending out some direct mail, register for this webinar.

These gals, Amy, Lizzy and Lisa, they’re from Giving Tree Associates. Really smart. They’re going to show you some direct mail tips. Check that out if that interests you. There’s some other webinars that are scheduled through the end of the year. You can see those there on that page and register for something that looks like it might interest you.

Thank you all for hanging out for an hour. Susan, thanks for sharing all that knowledge. It was a lot of fun. I hope you’ll come back again with us some time.

Susan: You have but to ask me, Steven. You know that.

Steven: Well, great. Just so everyone knows, I will be sending out the recording, so look for an email from me a little bit later this afternoon. Other than that, we’ll see you hopefully on the next webinar. Have a good week. Have a good weekend, and we will talk to you all soon. Bye now.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

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