In this webinar, Marcy Heim will provide a simple tool for planning your steps for the entire year, so that you can avoid panicking about overdue major donor activities.

Full Transcript

Steven: All right, Marcy. My watch just struck 1:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get us started here?

Marcy: I would be delighted, Steven. Full speed ahead.

Steven: Let’s do it. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on East Coast. Good morning if you’re out on the West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “Let’s RAP – Creating a Major Gift and Relationship Action Plan.” I love it. Thanks for being here.

My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this session and I’ll be sending out that recording later on this afternoon as well as the slides. If you didn’t already get the slides, I will get those things to you this afternoon. Have no fear. Just be on the lookout for an email from me. Probably in a couple of hours. I’ll get them to you pretty quick today.

And most importantly, I should say, if you have any questions or comments, we love to hear those. Send them in through the chat box right there on the webinar screen. We are going to try to save some time for Q&A at the end, so don’t be shy. Don’t sit on those hands. We’d love to make this as interactive as possible throughout the hour or so.

You can also do that on Twitter. Send us a tweet there. I’ll keep an eye out for tweets. We’ll see your questions and comments.

And if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is usually a little bit better quality. So try that before you totally give up on us. There is a phone number that you can dial in the email from ReadyTalk. Went out about 15 minutes ago, actually, and you should have gotten one when you registered. There should be a phone number in there that you can call if you have any trouble through your computer speakers.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to you first-timers. Love to have you on these webinars. We do these webinars just about every week throughout the year. In fact, this month, we’re doing two sessions a week. Trying to get the year off to a good start.

But in addition to those webinars, what we are most known for is our donor management software. So check that out. If you’re interested in more on what Bloomerang has to offer, maybe if you’re shopping for a database this year or just curious, you can watch a video demo and kind of see the software in action.

Check that out later. Don’t do that right now. At least wait an hour because our buddy Marcy Heim is here from beautiful, but cold Wisconsin. Marcy, how’s it going? You doing okay?

Marcy: I’m doing great.

Steven: This is awesome to have you. It would not be a webinar or a year at Bloomerang without you. You’ve done a bunch of good sessions for us. One of our favorites. Just want to brag on you real quick here. If you all don’t know Marcy, you’re going to want to know her after this presentation. And look for her on conference schedules. You definitely are going to want to attend the session. She’s awesome.

She has raised over $1.8 billion in her major gift career. That’s billion with a B. We always look for that real-life experience in our webinar guests. She’s the author of . . .

Marcy: Steven?

Steven: Yeah. Go ahead, Marcy.

Marcy: Excuse me. I just want to clarify that $1.8 billion was the goal of just one campaign.

Steven: Whoa.

Marcy: My clients have done amazing stuff, but that was a campaign I actually was part of at the University of Wisconsin Foundation, and taking my team through that $1.8 billion. And the B word is kind of an intimidating thing, so I just wanted to clarify that was a campaign, one campaign.

Steven: She’s modest also.

Marcy: I don’t really know a total of dollars that I’ve brought in because, to be honest with you, and I’ll talk about it a little bit today, I’m about building relationships and not getting too wound up in the numbers.

Steven: I love it. That’s why we have you here, because you do it the right way.

Marcy: Thank you.

Steven: Wow. You’ve got a ton of experience. And honestly, one of my favorite presenters. I always like hearing you in person. The only downside is that we’re on a webinar. It’s so much fun to have you in person, but this is just as . . . this will be as good as that.

So, Marcy, I’m going to let you take the floor to tell us all about creating that relationship plan. So it’s all yours, my friend. Take it away.

Marcy: Awesome. Thank you so much, Steven. And I want to say something here, and I hope I don’t get into trouble, but all of you that know me know I don’t promote any specific products or anything like that and I don’t get any kickbacks, but I have now three or four of my clients that have migrated into Bloomerang and I will tell you it is working so well for them. And the more I learn about it, the more I love it.

I’m also, Steve, going to be a bit of a rebel rouser here because I’m all about the words that we use, and I’ll get into that in just about 30 seconds. I would love, love, love, Steven, that drop-box where it says, “What was this call?” I don’t like that solicitation word. That’s kind of an ugly word.

You look at a building and it’ll say, “No soliciting.” And I think of solicitation, “Hey, Steven, what are you doing after the webinar, big guy?” Right? I mean, I don’t think it’s a good word in our fundraising vocabulary. I like the word “ask” and I’d love you to think about changing that word in the software.

So that was just a bold moment I just had here now and hope I could throw out that suggestion. As more and more of my clients, though, are benefiting from the great program Bloomerang is and the ease that they can use it with, that is such a big point.

So I just wanted to share that I sincerely love being here and I was part of working with Jay when Bloomerang first became, and it’s been amazing to watch your company grow and serve more and more nonprofits in such a wonderful way. So thank you, Steven, for what you do.

And these webinars are just a part of it. You know what? Even if you’ve heard this particular talk before or me before, we can always learn something by listening to it again or getting that refresher course.

And I’m all about changing how we raise money by changing how we think about how we raise money and the words that we use. And I don’t want you all just raising more money. I want you raising more joy, because I want you to stay in this honorable and noble profession and really, really enjoy the work that you do. This is my third-plus decade being part of it and I absolutely love what I get to do.

So wherever you out are, shout this out with me, “Something good is going to happen to me.” One, two, three. “Something good is going to happen to me.” I can hear you doing it. It’s awesome.

What this does is set an intention for our time together because, you see, we do have an opportunity to control what we think and we become what we think about. And I want to set an intention that something good’s going to happen to you being part of this talk we’re taking together today.

And to remember that it’s really not about the money. It’s always about what the money does. And I want to even go on a deeper dive there. So maybe the money builds a building. That’s great, but the money doesn’t really just build that building. What is the magic that’s created in that building? What’s accomplished in that building? What kids are molded for heaven? What programs are launched for people to get back on their feet after life’s been rough? What the money does, what it really does. So let’s never forget that.

And I also want to say that I promote being clear and simple because a confused donor doesn’t give. A confused donor doesn’t give. A confused fundraiser doesn’t ask. If you really don’t know what you’re asking for, it’s hard to ask for it. Hello.

I hear, “Oh, if only my board would help.” Well, a confused board member or volunteer doesn’t help. So we’re always seeking that clarity.

And as I said, it is our opportunity to choose what we plan. So think about what is putting stuff in your head more than anything else. What people, what news, what media, what social stuff. What goes into your head? You can choose what you plant. You can choose what you let in there. Is it joy, and excitement, and positivity? Is it confusion, doubt, anger, hate? What are you planting in there? And that’s ever so important.

And a good part of how we plant in our brains is by the words that we use. So in our fundraising universe, we have this vocabulary of “You’re a suspect for our organization.” And then I’m going to qualify you. You’ll become a prospect. Then I’ll follow up with you and my moves management strategy until I move you and pitch you and close you. I mean, that’s just yucky for me.

And so I’ve kind of created a whole new way of talking about what we do, a prospective giver. Qualifying is really just exploring our shared values and interests. And I want to keep you informed. I want to inspire you and explore our partnership and I want to invite you to invest. I think the words are important because out of our mouth and into our heads.

I also think they’re important . . . some people will say to me, “Well, you know, Marcy, I would never say that to a donor.” Oh, I get it. But how many of us want anyone in our lives who speaks differently behind our backs and to our face?

So I took these words . . . and this is what’s important for today’s story. I took these words and I put them on my own cycle that I call the Cycle of Successful Relationships. Know what I didn’t say? Fundraising. I didn’t say the F word.

And we start out with those shared values and interests. Begin a conversation. Create a joyful giver. Yeah, we can cultivate them. It’s not a bad word. We cultivate a lot of corn and soybeans here too.

Then we engage them and we speak that artful ask. We don’t solicit them. We don’t say, “What can I put you down for?” And they say yes, no, or maybe. Most often maybe. I rarely hear no. Then when they say yes, we get the best part of all. We get to be that grateful recipient. And if we’re sincere and show creativity, wowser, they just come right back around and become a joyful giver again.

So what a relationship action plan does, what I’m going to talk to you about today, is it guides us around the cycle, short-term and long-term. So that kind of gives you the framework for what we’re talking about today.

And it also helps us get a little bit better feel on what we are measured on. By and large, we are measured and I think need to be measured on those face-to-face personal contacts we’re making, because that’s where the real magic happens. Not so much the numbers, not so much the dollars, I guess, is what I’m trying to say. The dollars.

I’ll tell you what. I can control how many times I get my butt out of my office chair and go out and see somebody. But I can do all of my steps really well and they can decide not to invest or not to write a check. It’s their choice. And I have no judgment over their decision.

I can do everything right, but it cannot be the right time for them, or something can be going on in their lives I don’t know about and it cannot be the right time for them. So I say measure me on what I can control, not what I can’t.

But having said that, when we do this right and when we’re face to face with our donors and we’re having these great conversations, the money will follow. I promise you, the money will follow.

So what is that relationship action plan? What am I talking about? You might call it something different, but I define it as a written plan. So it’s written. So my friends, it’s not in your head. Your head is not a storage device. No, it’s not. So it’s written. You take it out of your head and you put it into something. Whether you take a pen and a sheet of paper, or you put it into Bloomerang, or you put it onto a Word doc, I don’t care, but it’s written down. It’s written down. It’s written down.

See that guy holding his little pen there? It’s written down of the specific artful actions you and/or your partners will take. You don’t do this alone. At least once a month, depending on your donor, for your top 25 to 50 givers, and maybe less depending on your role, over a year or more to facilitate their maximum long-term investments using reverse engineering.

So let’s dig into what that means. It’s written. Your actions are artful because you’ve actually had time to think about them and plan them. It’s that, “Holy smokes, I haven’t seen Freda in a long time. What am I going to do with Freda? I better go and see her next week and do something.” That’s not artful.

Multiple partners execute. You’re not in this alone. You take monthly actions or thereabouts. Top givers. So think about this. Your very, very, very most top givers, and maybe that’s only three for you.

Have the most sophisticated, complicated plans. A lot of them, the plans are much simpler and it begins with the long-term end in mind. So instead of asking, “What am I going to do next with Gladys?” I’m saying, “I think, over time, Gladys would be excited about endowing our work study program for returning students. That’s my gut feeling. And in order for her to get to that big investment, what needs to happen now and all along the way?”

So let me tell you a true story about this. There was a gentleman that I worked with when I began at the UW, University of Wisconsin Foundation in 1983. When I left, 20 years later, he’d made gifts, including a $10 million gift to endow a couple of chairs. But in my mind, I had him considering naming a college. My team . . . no, they’re not my team anymore. The folks at the university now are talking with him now about naming the college, 10 years after I left.

I want to give you a feel. This is long-term relationship building. This is when we spend lots of time in our positions and keeping track of what we’re doing in such a way that if we do leave, our colleagues can take over where we left off. It’s a long-term vision and a big one. It’s important to hear.

What are the results? When we’re focused, we actually get clear, and when we get clear, we’re peaceful. We have giving priorities based on strategic planning, and I’ll talk briefly about that. I added a couple slides for you.

The giver is treated with respect because we’re not winging it. “What am I going to do with Joe this month? Well, I don’t know. Coffee, I guess.”

Staff and partners have a clear direction. They’re clear. I used to wake up in the middle of the night worrying about what I was going to do with some of these folks. Feeling like, “Oh, my gosh, I forgot this. I forgot that.” When I started using these relationship action plans, I got a much better night’s sleep because I’ve managed it, so I’m happier.

And a lot of times true, truly, how many of you ever intended to write a thank you note and never did it? Well, of course, we all have. I get that. But when gratitude, when our thank you strategy is part of this, mixed right in, we actually take care of it. We don’t push it aside because something we feel more urgent pushes it out of the way.

And sure, it raises more in larger gifts. But I didn’t start with that one because I think all of the things coming before that are more important.

So here are our 10 steps. Some of you like to have an overview and then the breakdown. So here’s a quick overview, and this should feel like a process.

So first off, we identify our highest givers. Two, what do we know now? Three, we identify those partners. Haven’t talked to them yet. Identify them. Four, we look for that really long-term goal. What does our gut say they’d really want to do, eventually? We identify step goals so they have something to shoot for right now.

Then we actually recruit those partners when we have that planning set up. Then when we get those partners recruited, we set up those action steps for monthly touches that we’re all going to take, because our partners will actually help us create this plan.

And then, oh gosh, you have to do it. Yep, you have to actually do the plan in order for it to work. And at some point, we sit back and say, “Okay, where are we at?” and adjust that plan moving forward. So let’s get started.

Oh, this is a sheet I put together. I’m a visual person. I’m very visual. I’m not as . . . well, I’m sequential too, but I like the fact that this plan lets me kind of look at a year, this worksheet. And we can get it to you.

And if you’ll notice on the side, it asks you to identify your partners. What are those key values this person has? Other notes we have about them. What was their first gift, their next gift, their ultimate gift, their legacy gift? Some of those may just be guesses now. And then what are we going to do throughout the year? So, perhaps, we’re thinking, “I want to be able to speak that ask in November.” So what’s the ask, who’s the partner, and when am I going to do it in November?

And what this does for me is it helps me orchestrate kind of my whole year and what partners I need when so I’m sure they’re available when I want to do it and I can make some adjustments. 

I make sure that I’m not . . . this is a really big point too. I’m making sure, and some of you might’ve been there if you’re honest with me, that it doesn’t get to be October and you’re going, “Holy camoly, I’ve got these asks to make and I didn’t spend near enough time getting these donors prepared for my ask over the summer. Yikes. What do I do now?” Well, this takes the yikes out. It’s a yikes remover.

For those of you that are more linear, this is something I use actually as a Google doc. It’s the same kind of thing. It’s just a Google doc where I start by collecting the information, thinking this through, and writing out my first ask intention.

So let’s get started. It’s a RAP Step 1, identify those highest givers. And you’ll notice . . . I want to come back here. I’ve spent a lot of time picking out my pictures. So this is the entire orchestra. We can’t do the entire orchestra.

So we have to figure out who and how many, and some of this depends on the tools you have. If you’ve got lots, and lots, and lots, thousands of prospective givers, you need tools like wealth screening, and research, and annual fund data mining, and all of those things to try to figure out who are those key people you should be talking to.

It also depends on who you are and what your position is. If you’re a major gift officer, you bet I want you to have 20 or so of these that you’re actively working on out of a portfolio of 150 or so. But if you’re also a foundation executive director, so you’re managing the place, but all of the fundraising falls on you, you can’t handle as many.

This is such a tough position. If you’re a major gift officer and an event manager, let’s be real here. Are you going to be sure that the invitation gets out, that 150 people are going to see if it doesn’t, or are you going to be sure that you set up that one-to-one lunch meeting that nobody is going to know if you didn’t do it? Well, of course, you’re going to get that invite out and make sure that those events go well.

So it’s very hard to manage your time if you’re competing between your major gift responsibility and your events responsibility. Not impossible, but it can be tough.

If you’re a major gift officer and a manager, that’s tough too because you’re supporting your people and you’re trying to be there for your people. And for a while, I got into a habit where I supported my people all day and I started my own major gift work at night, 5:00. And that’s tough. That breaks into the family night and doesn’t give you the balance you need. So you have to learn how to manage your days and carve out that time that’s for you to work on your major gifts and plan your trips and still help your team.

Generally, for a full-time major gift officer, they have a portfolio that’s A, B, C. A is your highest. You have about 20 in that highest tier. Those middle 50 are either lower gifts or they’re people that you’re bringing along in the pipeline. They’re newer. That Tier C a lot of times are people you have in stewardship or you’re still just bringing on in the pipeline. And we move back and forth.

The point I want to make to you out of all of this is that it’s that Tier A, that top tier, that have a detailed plan like I’m talking to you about today. Please don’t think you write these plans for 150 people. You’d go crazy. It’s for your top people.

And if you absolutely don’t know how to do it, you can do a simple chart. What is my best guess about their involvement with us? What’s my best guess about their capacity? Put it on a scale of 0 to 10, and the people that are in that top-right quadrant, those are the people you’re talking to.

I might just say here that if you’ve got people in that bottom-left quadrant, friends, I’m just going to be real with you. They don’t have a lot of capacity and they’re not that interested in your mission. You’ve got better things to do with your time. “Now, why are you seeing them?” “Oh, they’re just a lot of fun. It’s always a good visit.” Yeah, no. They need to go. Just saying.

So Step 2, now that you’ve identified your very top people, what do you know about them already? And here, if you look at my picture, you’ve got the whole score. Are you missing a page in that score? This is the orchestra score in front you. So what are you missing in that score and what already do you know? What already do you have? So everything known is captured.

And look at what I have on this slide for you. What are our thoughts about their interest? I want you all to pat your tummy. Pat your tummy. Do the work, because this is an anchor for you. Your gut about what your donors are interested in, or need, or think is very important and very significant and meaningful.

Please don’t ever let anybody say, “Oh, that’s your hunch? Really?” Now, can your hunch be wrong? Sure. But what I’ve learned in all my years doing this is that, oftentimes, my hunch is pretty spot-on. My hunch is pretty spot-on. So trust that.

What legacy do you think they’d want to leave? What actions, steps . . . this is the most important question. What actions/steps/people/experiences/information would help deepen this relationship so that they say, “I am proud of what we do”? That’s ownership. That’s where you want to get.

Third, identify partners. Now, will you please look here? This is C-3PO. So C-3PO is a little bit different. Let’s not get into a rut. Sure, our board members help us. Sure, our program staff helps us. Sure, other donors help us. But who more creatively might be just the right person to involve in this gift?

Just last week, one of my VIP select clients said, “We had somebody who was one of our grads . . .” And I realized that she was a relation to somebody else that we’ve been trying to get in touch with, and so I called her up and I just simply said to her, “Would you be willing to just help me get a time to sit down and talk to your cousin?” or whoever it was. And she said, “Sure.” And come to find out that this cousin was just really, really shy and why they hadn’t been responding to the invitations to meet. But when it came from the family member, it was fine. So think outside the box here a little bit and look at C-3PO.

And partners are key all around the way. Now, I might be a little bit different than some you hear in that I don’t think that partners are necessarily awesome at making that artful ask. I believe that we as development professionals speak that ask and we save our partners for the rest of it, but not all. There are some partners who are artful at speaking that ask and fine with that, but I do believe you can use partners all the rest of the way around the cycle.

Remember that there’s some research out there that tells us that for each major giver, you need at least three prospective major givers, and that’s if you know your prospective major givers well. If not, think about putting together a chart of gifts. If not, they recommend that you need five for every major gift you want to close.

And on average, the research tells us that a gift is closed after anywhere from three to nine meaningful touches. And there’s debate around this. Again, if you know these people well, that’s very different than if, say, you’re upgrading somebody from the annual fund to a major gift. There will be more steps there. So nine is sort of the max.

And generally, it can take us six months to two years or longer. And remember, I’m talking about really major gifts here where they have to think about what assets they use, etc. To get five new major gifts requires three times nine times five, or 135, meaningful touches.

Here’s the point. You can debate with me about the exact numbers, but it’s lots of touches. And my point is you can’t do it by yourself. You need to have those partners. So think about who they would be.

Number four, long-term giving goals and projects are identified. Now, look here. Look at this slide. It’s fuzzy. It’s blurry because you don’t know for sure. That’s okay. It’s kind of your hunch and best guess.

Remember I talked to you about the gentleman that now we’re talking to about naming the college? This is 10 years after I’ve left my position and had identified it, golly, 15 years before that. So we identify those long-terms, and that’s fuzzy.

This is asking “What is the highest gift we estimate this prospect is capable of making if our best guess is correct?” This is a gift we’ll work towards. And again, your gut here, your gut feeling on this is a good thing.

I just want to do a quick deviation from here. Part of this too is also about having clarity about what your vibrant options for giving are, and these options for giving, ways that people can invest in your mission, come from a couple of places and it’s important to have it.

Big donors want big visions. So your strategic plan, what options are part of making that into your amazing future? What staffing, what facilities, what programs, what tech, what infrastructure, what database? Versus your operating budget. You’ve got to work today, so there are also options that come from your operations budget.

I do a whole program on just vibrant options, so this is a really fast two sentences on it, but you also need to have clarity on what in your operating budget today can people help you with to give you your best impact now. And all of those things are needed to actually kind of, in your mind, get a sense of some overarching buckets that all of these things fall into.

So when you start these conversations with people, you can say, “Folks tend to participate in our mission, in making sure our mission happens, in investing in what their money does in a few different ways. And the recipient of our services, these are the folks that benefit from our mission, from our facilities and infrastructures, from our great staff, from our specific program. Or some people just want to help us wherever we feel the need is greatest at the time.”

But you want to have something simple to talk through. A confused donor doesn’t give, a confused fundraiser doesn’t ask, a confused board member doesn’t help. You can’t go out and say, “Here are 3,821 ways you too can be part of this mission.” No. Overwhelming.

Step 5, step goals and projects are identified. We’re not going to go, “Bam. Hey, you on the street, how about a million bucks?” No. Or, “Gee, I’ve just met you. Would you marry me?” We have to have those step goals in between and identify what those could be.

It’s important to give our prospective major givers that we’re doing this relationship action plan around some smaller projects that provide them joy right now.

Please, friends, don’t ever be disappointed in someone’s gift to you. Please don’t ever be disappointed in someone’s gift to you. Please. That expression, “Well, we left money on the table,” oh, that’s horrid. Awful. You can’t leave money on the table. When they have given to you, your next response is to be grateful. You know what? You can always continue the conversation and they have an opportunity to invest again. It’s not once and done unless you make it that way.

Create these smaller options for giving. Create investments they can make along the way. Create reasons to stay in touch. I say once they’ve given you any money at all, you have a reason to stay in touch. “You’re an important investor of ours and we want to stay in touch.” Even if it’s an annual fund gift.

And when you’re consistent about how you account for their money and how you show your appreciation, that builds trust. That builds trust. That builds trust.

Plus, can you believe that every once in a while when I saw this gentleman who we’re now talking about naming the college, when I saw him and I just had gotten a hold of an article about so-and-so named such-and-such at so-and-so, I wouldn’t say, “Look here. Here’s a story about a fellow who named a college,” or, “Here’s a story about a woman who named a college at such-and-so institution. Isn’t that interesting?” And then I shut up and I listened to what he had to say about it. Did he say, “Well, that’s a dumb idea,” or did he say, “Oh, let me read that”? So when we’ve got this longer-term vision, we can test how we are in our guessing.

And it also helps us when we have these specific actions and vibrant options to speak that artful ask. I don’t have time to go into that today, but my artful ask is three sentences. “You have . . .” When we say, “Why am I talking to you? “You understand . . .” Why am I talking to you about this? And “Would you consider a gift of $100,000 to support the XYZ program?” Then you’re quiet.

So you can go to my website, and get a copy of this, because I can’t go into that today, if that would serve you.

So Step 6, partners are recruited and engaged. So now we’ve thought about our partners, we’ve thought about what their short- and long-term giving goals will be, and what partners are going to be the most impactful with us. And so we go and we talk to them and we don’t just say, “Oh, will you help me raise money? Will you give me your friends so we can hit them up for support?” Come on.

Instead, we say to them, “We’ve considered how Gladys would best like to be part of our organization and we think you’re the perfect one to help build this relationship with her so she’s excited and delighted about being part of our giving team, giving family.” So we recruit them and we engage them.

And again, your RAP partners help all along the way. They help you then write the RAP. They offer their connections, they assist in creating all the way around, they send a message by their own gift, and they are amazing at helping us show appreciation and saying thanks.

The thing that is so cool about this is when your top donors are moving along in their own independent relationship action plans, your donors help you with your other donors. And by helping you, your donors deepen their own relationships. And your partners at your institutions or your organizations, your program people or your faculty, or your clergy, your pastors, your priests, your sisters, the people who help you with these relationships deepen their own relationship by helping you. Wow.

And it allows us to talk to them about what we do. You see, people think that we go out to lunch and chat with people and then somehow money just falls in. Really. They don’t understand the science and the art that we as professional development officers use to really be clear on how investing in our mission is going to bring joy to our donors. It’s how it’s going to help them take their success to do something significant. It’s how we’re going to be able to match their values and interests to our needs. They don’t get what we do, so we’ve got to help educate them. And being a partner with us is a great way to do it.

It also opens us up. Do we get to a point where we are slipping into, “How am I going to get the money out of Peter? He’s loaded”? And there are times when we look so much at our numbers and do we have our metrics met and are we reaching our campaign goals that we kind of forget and we need to remind ourselves, “Are we being artful and thoughtful development professionals?”

And the other thing that it does, and this is so important, is . . . you might’ve heard that for people 55 years old and less, their biggest fear is public speaking. So if you ask somebody to go and do a talk at the rotary club so that one of your major donors in there can hear about this project, they may be totally terrified doing that.

What this relationship action plan helps us do is also along the way say, “Well, this is what we need to have happen. Would you be comfortable sitting down with Joe and myself and sharing about why you made your gift, and especially how your family benefited from the services that we do?” So you can be in a way that works with your donors in a way that they’re comfortable.

All right. Step 7, action steps for monthly touches are planned for you and your partners. Here’s where the work kicks in. And my development professionals on this call, that’s us. We write the plans. I mean, we have to sit down and put something down on paper and we look for those target gifts, and then we work backwards and kind of say, “What sort of things need to happen so that I will feel really comfortable speaking this ask when I’d like to do it?”

And realize here that we already have some of these holes filled in. Think about what mailings go out to all of your donors. Think about what events happened for your donors anyway. Think about how you can take some of the things that happen already with your donors, especially if you’re a small shop, and make them more personalized to be part of a major gift RAP.

So maybe the event invitation goes out. Now you find a partner to call them and say, “Elsie, are you and John going to the event? Did you get your invitation? I just got mine in the mail. Let’s sit together, okay?” That’s a wonderful touch in a relationship action plan, and they will come to that event because they picked up the phone and got that invite. Someone picked up the phone and they got that invite beyond just your invitation.

And if you work with your board members on helping you, it’s also really helpful that, at each board meeting, you have a board member say, “This is how I helped the development team last month. I wrote a thank you note to Sophie or I reached out and said, ‘I’m going to this event. Will you join me?’ and invited them to join me.”

The other thing I just want to say quickly here with boards is please don’t try to have all of your board on board at once. Pick a couple, three, and get something significant going with them that they can talk about at the board meetings.

We tend to be such kind of over the top sort of people. “Well, I’m not going to have just one board member. I’m going to get them all.” Start with one or two and make it meaningful and something that works well for them and is a good experience for them that they can share at the board meeting.

All right. Then we have to be sure that we take these steps and somehow log them out. And here’s where it gets a little bit fuzzy for me. There are lots of good systems out there and there are people who still write things down in pen and paper, that’s perfectly fine, and use a hard calendar. I’ve raised millions of dollars with people who use a paper calendar and a spreadsheet.

Whatever works with you is what you need to use. I’m not here to tell you what that should be, but you can also get ahead on steps too. You can get ahead on steps like an anniversary card, or a birthday card. I always sent all of my girls who had lost their spouses a Valentine’s Day card because he wasn’t there to do it anymore. Whatever makes sense, but you can get ahead on the steps.

Here’s something that my colleague at the University of Minnesota does. She literally moves her entire relationship action plans forward by looking at what she calls her natural partners and charting out what her partners will do at each quarter.

Here’s one by somebody who was brand new to fundraising and he was really uncertain about what anything was going to do. So he kind of had his Step 1, and if that didn’t work, then I would do this. If it worked, then I would do this. I think maybe when you’re brand new, you need this, but I’d like to think we could be more positive about it.

Here’s my relationship action plan where I look at what we do going around the calendar year and fill in each step with each partner each month.

Here’s, again, something that I said is more linear that I do as a Google sheet.

When we have our individual plans done, we must pull them together in some way that lets us look at all of them together. Spreadsheet, a lot of times, is the best. If you see, my top line here is all donors. What happens to all donors? So the newsletters, the events, the programming, what happens to all donors?

And then I’m looking at Alice Smith who’s a $500,000. She’s for Project A. Here are her partners. Here’s my status. I want to ask her in November.

We haven’t talked about this much, but it’s also important to know their communication preference. Loves to be texted or whatever it is. And what are my next steps for July, August, September?

But you can also use these relationship action plans, my friends, for a segment. So say you have a whole bunch of $1,000 to $3,000 donors and you say, “Wouldn’t it be great if they all gave 5,000 this year?” So the project is something in the operations. My partners are my staff and I’m going to ask them all by the 31st, and then you can chart out what you want to do with them as a group July, August, September, October, November. So it works for groups as well.

This is one I got from a colleague and I just got stuck here. So I wanted to just share. I didn’t know what YMAD was. So a lot of you probably know this, but that’s “you made a difference.” Very clever. To kind of think about the fact that we want to always be reminding ourselves that it’s important to know what the money does, so how you made a difference. So a visit to do a “you made a difference” touch.

Number eight, execute the RAP. Will you look at this man directing this orchestra? I mean, he is all-in here. He’s saying, “Hey, give it to me.” He’s got his wand up, his baton up, and he is into this. So you’ve got to execute it. Nothing’s going to happen if you don’t do the work. Writing it down doesn’t do it. You’ve got to conduct.

Maybe you’re not a fireball like that last guy. Maybe, like him, you are calm. You are collected. This man says, “I’ve got this together. Come on now. I’m doing this.” Great. There’s not a right or a wrong personality for this work. We need to match our donors, of course, but however we conduct it, it does give us the confidence because when our partners and our actions are added together, we have major gifts. And that really should be our metrics.

How do we make sure this keeps moving? We have to take personal responsibility. I create my life. Let’s embrace that accountability. Let’s not say, “Oh, man, somebody’s going to be checking up on me that I’m doing what I have to do.”

And a team process is best. I like to get together for us as a team to talk about actions and progress, not necessarily dollars. Remember, we can’t control dollars.

And measure your touches, measure what you can control, and always be tuned in to “Are your donors satisfied as they participate?”

So number nine, have you reached your giving goals? And then realize that as we do these RAPs, which might seem kind of overwhelming now, they do stay the same a little bit once we put them in place. And they only get adjusted when there are some significant changes, so a spouse dies or there’s a health change or maybe there’s a birth of a grandchild or a child. College, they’re finished with it, their kids are in it, whatever. They’re going back to college at 60. Their job changes. They lose a parent. That can be a big one.

What is their readiness for an artful ask? That’s always running alongside of it. What were the results? What are their other giving interests that maybe have come into play that weren’t there when we looked at the RAP last time? Changes and giving options or leaderships or staff.

And I think the timing of these depends in some ways with your fiscal year in your organization. So, for example, if you’re an organization that has a frantically busy summer, this is not when you’re going to be doing your RAPs. You want to do these RAPs when you kind of have downtime and can get ahead and reflect on your busy time.

Number 10, adjust the plan and move forward. So it’s time to do that annual update whenever the time during that year makes the most sense for you.

So with that, I would like to say and have you say with me, “I create my life.” That means we take responsibility. It’s not our spouse, or our board, or our supervisor, or our executive director. No. We have to put the wood in. Then we get the fire. It’s not, “Give me heat first. Then I’ll put in the wood.” I create my life.

And we do become what we think about. Be very, very, very particular on what you let into your brain.

People love to give me money. Steven threatened that I would sing. So here goes. People love to give me money to make a difference, ah-bum-bum-bum. People love to give me money. I’m the link to their investment.

I’m sure that some of you are actually singing along. People love to give me money to make a difference, bum-bum-bum. People love to give me money. I’m the link to their investment. Yeah!

And something good is going to happen to me, and I hope it indeed happened for you in our time together now.

With that, Steven, I would just like to invite people to join me in Arvada, Denver, outside of Denver, February 26 to 28 for my More Major Gifts workshops. It’s two days, goes from noon on Wednesday to noon on Friday. And I restrict it to only about 15 folks, so we really have a great interaction and I’d love to have some of the folks on this call join me.

One of the things we do there is literally create a relationship action plan at the workshop.

I’m breathing now. So, Steven, I’m going to turn it back over to you. I covered a lot of stuff.

Steven: Yes. You did.

Marcy: And if there are some questions, I would love to field those now. Thank you, everybody, for the patience and hanging in there with me.

Steven: I’ll give you about 30 seconds to catch your breath because that was a lot of awesome information, so thank you.

I forgot to say in the intro how busy you are and the fact that you’re sweeping this in between two major road trips, not to mention this workshop you’ve got going on next month that people should absolutely register for. I mean, geez, the ROI on that. You spend $400, and if gets you one major gift, you’re probably in pretty good shape there. And you’ll probably get more than one from what you’ll learn. So I would definitely encourage you, if you’re in the Denver area, to go to that please.

Wow. This was awesome. Yeah, we probably have maybe five or six minutes for questions. Marcy, I thought I’d start with my own question, if folks won’t mind.

Marcy: Oh, really? You’re going to start with your own question, Steven?

Steven: Yeah. I’m going to pull a power move because I’ve been thinking about it since your intro. We do have all these transactional words to describe this process. How can we break out of that? It seems like, culturally, it can be a struggle within the organization. Any advice for kind of making that mind shift within your shop? It seems like that could be a pretty good first step. What do you think?

Marcy: Yeah, Steven, I’m really glad you asked that because I will tell you that I believe that my success raising major, major money . . . and the largest gift I ever asked for using that little three-sentence ask was $25 million and it was yes. I’ve done lots and lots of this work. And to me, my success was more about what was going on in my head than me having the latest tool or trick or technique. And yet, we cling for those things when what we really need to do is realize what we’re thinking about.

And so what gets in our heads are these words. “Let’s hit them up,” and, “What can we put you down for?” and, “Have you met your numbers?” Where on one side of our mouth we’re saying, “You’re an important donor to me,” and on the other side we’re saying, “Well, let me record what I just did with you.”

I do get that the science is important. I do get that if a call isn’t recorded, it didn’t happen. But I would like as much as possible for us to talk about people as givers instead of donors. Donors give blood. And to talk about getting a gift instead of a donation when we can, to talk about asking artfully instead of soliciting, to talk about being a grateful recipient instead of stewardship.

And the more that we can use these words in our everyday conversations, and especially with our board who are probably on our board because they were major donors and are major donors, and suddenly they come on board with us and we start talking all of our fundraising lingo and they go, “Whoa, what just happened here?”

So I guess the more . . . Steven, I don’t know if I’m really answering your question. The more especially leaders out there that can start using artful words in their everyday conversation, the better that we can think about what we’re doing.

Steven: That’s it. I love it. I am a card-carrying member of that philosophy, so I’m glad you brought that up early in the presentation too.

Well, there are lots of good questions in here. Here’s one from Beth that really jumped out at me, Marcy. Out of town donors that can’t be visited, at least can’t be visited very easily, any tips for kind of running this philosophy with those folks? It seems like an out of town donor, that’s probably a pretty significant person. Maybe they went through your programs and they moved away and they know you. So what can you do with those folks? You don’t want to ignore them.

Marcy: That’s a really good question. First off, I don’t think anything ever replaces being in person with somebody. So as much as you can make the investment of your resources to at least be with them in person once and to plan enough time that you can really get to know somebody.

I find, and I’m kind of . . . this is the whole thing with my workshop as well. After I spend those couple of days with folks, a lot of them end up coaching with me. And once we’ve been together, it’s so much easier to do that coaching than if it’s somebody I’ve only ever known on the phone. Yes, we can do it, but I’m just saying if we can start out in person, it’s great. If that’s impossible, I get that. And I do think that we can form good relationships over the phone and over the email.

There are a couple of things I’d say. First off, look for a partner. Is there anybody else in the same area that you do know well and that you do have a different kind of relationship with that could carry your message to them in person for you? So see if there’s a partner.

Second, really find out from them what’s their preferred method of communicating. So if it’s not on the phone . . . my 87-year-old mother used to say the phone was so heavy in her hand. Oh, my goodness, gracious. It kind of made me smile. But I needed to know that. So she preferred really getting letters because she could hold them and read them and she could read them slowly and she felt she wouldn’t miss things. So the age of this person makes a difference as well. But find out how they are most comfortable communicating and try to do more by that.

And then I would always ask them . . . so my third point would be ask them, “You’re far away from us, but you’re so important to us. What would be most meaningful to you to see from us? Would you enjoy getting a video of us about how our clients our served? Would you enjoy hearing on the phone from X, Y, or Z?” Of course, it depends on the organization, so it’s hard for me to kind of do this in general. But the third thing is to ask them, “What would be most meaningful for you to hear from, from us?”

Steven: I love it. That makes total sense.

Here’s one from Grace. I like this question because a lot of the folks who tend to join these webinars with us are small shops, a couple people, maybe five to 10 people, even smaller. Grace, it sounds like, has got a staff of two people and curious what’s a good workload, Marcy, for lack of a better term? How many people do you think should be within this process or that someone should be responsible for before it’s too much?

I mean, you did this at a big university. I assume you had lots of MGOs. What do you recommend as kind of a caseload? Maybe that’s not the right word to say, but before it gets too much.

Marcy: No, that’s an excellent question, Steven. And I will tell you that, boy, was it a shock to me when I crossed over to the dark side of consulting and found that most of my clients were very, very small shops. They might still be higher ed.

For example, one of my clients right now is a small Adventist high school. Yeah, there’s some faculty, but basically, when I started working with them, the principal kind of dabbled in it, but there was one person whose title was director of everything. I mean, she did alumni relations, she did recruiting, she did development work, and there she was.

They were bringing in maybe $100,000 a year, and it’s been three years now, maybe three and a half, and we just crossed $15 million. So it is possible for small shops to have tremendous major gift success.

A lot of it is about prioritizing, and “What does your workload look like?” is an excellent question. The first question you have to ask is Step 1 in this RAP. “Who are your most major prospective givers?” And you might be guessing a little bit, but you get a gut feeling or sit down with a couple of board members and try to say, “Who are those very top people?”

And I would say start with two or three where you say you’re going to dedicate a four-hour chunk of time every week to just getting together with those folks and others and saying, “How could investing in our organization be meaningful for you? Help me understand. We’re trying to do a better job of this.” Reach out and start the conversation.

Steven: I love it. So maybe quality over quantity in terms of prospects for the smaller shops.

Marcy: Definitely.

Steven: Yeah, that makes sense.

Marcy: You said it so succinctly, Steven, and I rambled on. Yes.

Steven: No, no, no. You got me there. You deserve the credit. Well, it’s close to 2:00, and I know, Marcy, you’ve got to hit the road because you’ve got a speaking gig tomorrow out of town. But I know we didn’t get to all the questions, so for those of you that I skipped, I’m so sorry, but I’m sure . . . Marcy, would you maybe be willing to talk to people maybe by email? What’s the easiest way to get a hold of you?

Marcy: Sure. And I’m just, Steven, going to ask them to take a breath. I don’t know how quickly I can reply, but I will do my best. My email is simply my name, So you can easily reach out on email. Just give me a little bit of plane time flying back to respond.

And just know that . . . again, I just want to reemphasize that even if you start by doing one plan more thoughtfully or if you say, “All right. I’m going to use this group of givers and I am going to literally chart out what I want to have happen with them through the course of this year as a group,” that in and of itself will give you more structure. And more structure helps you be more comfortable because you’re not frantic.

What I really want to change more than anything is this anxiousness that some of us have of never being able to get it all done. So do a little bit well. Yes, Steven, what you said. Quality over quantity. And enjoy this work.

Steven: I love it. I’m glad we did this webinar early in the year because it just sets a really good tone for the rest of the fundraising season.

Marcy, this was awesome. It’s always a real joy to have you. So thanks for doing this. I know you’re super busy and probably have better things to do than talk with me all day. But thanks for doing this. This was really fun.

Marcy: You’re very welcome. Thank you for the invitation, Steven.

Steven: And all of you should check out that workshop if you are in the Denver area. If not, go to Marcy’s website. There are lots of really good resources there, and definitely reach out to her if we didn’t get to your question. Obviously a wealth of knowledge and nice enough to get to those.

Well, we have some good sessions coming up this Thursday, just two days from now. We’re going to be talking about mid-level giving with my buddy Ryan from Pursuant. It’s going to be a good one. I won’t miss mid-level giving. It’s a topic that I think people don’t talk too much about. So join us for that one.

If you’re busy during that time, no worries. We’ve got lots of other sessions on our schedule. Lots of good ones coming up. I think you’ll find a topic there that you’re interested in or maybe are struggling with. So check out our webinar page because we’d love to see you on another session.

So we will call it a day there. Look for an email from me with the recording and the slides in just a few minutes here after we adjourn. I’ll get that out today, I promise.

Hopefully, we’ll see you on another session. So have a good rest of your Tuesday, have a good rest of your week, and we will talk to you again soon. Bye now.

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.