Marc A. Pitman recently joined us for a webinar in which he gave tips and statistics to help educate your senior leaders on why closing sooner than later can actually grow donor retention.

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

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Marc, since it’s now 1:00, do you want to go ahead and get started officially?

Marc: Let’s do it.

Steven: Cool. Well, good afternoon everyone, if you’re on the East coast. Good morning, if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar, Donor Retention Begins on the First Date. My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

And just some housekeeping items before we begin. I just want to let everyone know that we are recording this presentation and we’ll make that recording available to you a little later on this afternoon. I’ll send that out as well as Marc’s slides, in case you didn’t get them earlier. So look for an email from me a little later on today.

As you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your screen. We would love to hear your questions and comments. It’s always fun when a Q&A session is a little interactive. So don’t be shy about that. Marc will be here and we’ll save some time at the end to answer questions, might even answer some questions as we go along. So don’t be shy about that at all. We would love to hear from you.

Just in case this is your first webinar be with us, welcome. We do these webinars every week, usually on Wednesdays and Thursdays. And in case you aren’t familiar with Bloomerang, in addition to offering these webinars, we also have some donor management software. That’s our core business. If you’re interested in that, if you’re in the market for that, we would love for you to check it out. You can learn more on our website. We won’t talk too much about that today, because I want Marc to talk to you about donor retention.

I want to go ahead and introduce Marc. Marc Pitman, thanks for being here today. It’s always lovely when we have you on for webinars and podcasts and blog posts. So thanks for doing this for us.

Marc: Wow. Lovely. That’s so much nicer than what Roger Craver called me. That’s good.

Steven: You’re our favorite. You’re a fellow New England native. I think the last time you were on with us it was two years ago and we were both kind of bummed out that the Bruins just lost the Stanley Cup.

Marc: Oh my goodness.

Steven: I think we’re both in better spirits.

Marc: Was that the hangout where I had the TARDIS behind me on the screen?

Steven: No, that was a different one. Yeah, a fellow Dr. Who fan. You’re just one of my favorite people, Marc, and I want to brag on you for just a minute, if I can, in case folks aren’t familiar with you, which I don’t think is too many.

If you don’t know Marc, he is the author of “Ask Without Fear!” Excellent book. He’s the Founder of and he’s also the Executive Director over at You should definitely check out all three of those things, great resources.

He speaks all the time. He speaks around the world. He has been featured in Al Jazeera, SUCCESS Magazine, and Fox News. He’s also a pastor of a church. He manages a gubernatorial campaign. He also teaches internet marketing and fundraising at colleges and universities. He’s just kind of a renaissance man.

He’s got three super sharp kids who are all artists and musicians. And I just learned he’s going to be moving to South Carolina. You might want to say hi to Marc. He’ll be wearing a beautiful bowtie, I’m sure. So if you see him, say hi.

Marc, I’m not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us all about donor retention?

Marc: I would be glad to. I’m a little concerned about the bowtie in the Greenville, South Carolina, heat. I’m not sure if it’s going to be untied most of the time or not.

Steven: Yeah, you didn’t think that through.

Marc: My wife keeps telling me, “Central air conditioning, Marc. Everything’s air conditioned.”

Great. Well, I am thrilled to be here. I’m really excited that you guys are in on this. If you’re a CEO of an organization or an executive director, please just type “yes” in the chat. I’d love to see how many of you guys are that. So, there are some of you here. Great. That’s awesome.

What I am thrilled about is that you guys are in such an interesting position as the head of the nonprofit. The Board has hired you to do a job that statistically, and we’ll go through, you don’t often know the fundraising part of it, and then the staff expects you to have the answers for it. You’re navigating this really interesting way, and hats off to you, and we’re going to help you do that well.

One of the things that I get to do is work with CEOs. I was doing a CEO survey that was asking, “What are top five things that frustrate you about fundraising?” I would cold call people. And it was fascinating because people would be more than willing to get these things off their chest. “Let me tell you what frustrates me about fundraising.”

The most common phrase that I heard in the survey was, “I don’t ask on the first date.” People had all different issues. Well, one of the things I kept hearing was, “I don’t to ask for a gift on the first date, and my fundraising people want me to go and ask, but it’s a first date.” And this is why I want to just kind of plow into this for the rest of our time together.

It sounds reasonable. So if your CEO is saying this, or you are the CEO and are saying it, or you have a Board Chair that’s saying, “Well, we shouldn’t ask on the first date,” it totally sounds like you’re taking the moral high ground. You’re really thinking about the donor, it sounds like. You really are thinking about respecting them as a person, which is what we learn in donor retention. We need to do that. But what it really results in is months of trying to get a follow-up appointment. And I’ll tell you a little later how a bank CEO actually uses the lack of an “ask” to stall for 18 months. So as hassling as it feels like for us, it really hassles the donor too, as I repeated, “Hey, we just met and now we want to ask you for money calls.”

It leads to decreased donor retention because, first of all, to retain a donor, you have to get them as a donor. You’ve got to make an ask. You can’t retain something that you haven’t caught or received. And then it also has decreased funding. It’s more expensive to raise money from people that you have to talk to a couple of times.

So, for those of you, I feel, who’ve heard me speak before, you know that I’m a firm believer in the basics. Like any good coach, you need to know the basics. The basics of fundraising, we’re going to review this and show it in the context of why asking on a first date is actually a very good strategy for some fundraising.

I teach the process of asking for money as REAL. As a Gen Xer, I heard “get real” growing up a lot. So the R stands for research, the E stands for engage, the A stands for ask, and the L stands for love, and then you just complete the loop again.

So you research your prospect. Well, everybody thinks that you research your prospect. You should research your goals first. So one of the ways that we do that through a case statement, which is basically if you were asked to argue in front of a court of law for why people should give to your cause, boom, you should be able to answer that right in your case statement. You should have your statistics and your reason why you’re a good investment.

You should also have your heart stories. Who are the people/the lives that you’re changing? What is the land that’s being conserved? What’s the art that’s being promoted? What kids are being fed? Any of those things. What pets are being protected? Those heartwarming stories, as well as the statistical stories, go into that.

Why I teach people this is we’ve really moved away from the case statement. And I don’t know if you listen to Joe Garecht at all, The Fundraising Authority. He has some really good things about a case statement, too. But one of the things case statements do is cause you to stretch beyond yourself, or to re-imagine what’s possible. We get so caught up in making do with less that we forget that we can also do things that may be more possible for us as well. It helps us to dream big.

As you’re working through your case statement and you’re adding on all the different projections, things that you’re doing and the different funds that you’re fundraising for, you can then start tallying up how much it costs to do that, and you can use a gift table to do this. is the one that I have free. There are other gift calculators on the web. I’m working with a developer right now to have this put as an app on a phone. But basically, this is just an easy way of looking at stuff that we’ve studied since World War II.

The first gift into a lot of campaigns needs to be 10% to 25% of the campaign. The next gift needs to be something like 7% to 15%, and then I think it’s like 5% to 10% for the next two. So I just went more conservative on mine. Gift Range Calculator is the one that I created.

You can look across the top here, if I get the right marker out. The first gift is $25,000, I’d say, because it’s just as hard in my experience to ask someone for $10,000 as it is to ask them for $25,000. So I tend to ask for the bigger amounts, because they don’t tend to ever double their gift as much… Most donors tend to take your ask as the top and then work down if it’s too high for them.

The other good thing about asking high is that people don’t seem to get offended. I even had a board member say how surprised he was that they didn’t get offended with him when he asked for what he thought was too much. They may be flattered, and they may still say no, but then they may come in at a lower level than this.

So, if the first gift is $25,000, then you need one gift to do that. To raise $100,000, then you know you need three to five prospects. That is something that we’ve also seen. You start building your name list. So this isn’t an ask without fear session. This is just a basic on how do we go about doing this.

The reason I go over this, though, is that often when I talk to CEOs, in particular, and fundraisers, they forget how much they’re fundraising for. When I ask somebody, “How much do you want to raise?” the most common answer I get is “more.” “I wish we had more. We could do more if we had more.” And unfortunately, you can’t write a check for more that’s cashable at a bank. You need to have a specific dollar amount. So doing this kind of research can be very helpful.

The last part of that is then going into your naming opportunities. You can look back at the gift range table and say, “These are the gift levels. If we label a name, put a name in here for the $25,000, what would we call it? And what would we call the $15,000?”

I guess one thing I do want to mention on the Gift Range Calculator is don’t stuck here. If you don’t have someone that could give 25% of your goal, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a successful campaign. Andrea Kihlstedt is very good at saying, “Some donors will have a smaller donor database and will need people to give higher percentages, and some will need to give lower.”

This is just something to help the planning, and especially take excited board members through an exercise to help them build the names list while they’re still excited. And then you can have naming opportunities, and those could be your different giving funds or those could be spaces that you could name.

To research about your prospect, what are your tools? You could Google it. You could use magazines. There’s Katya Andresen, in her book, “Robin Hood Marketing” talks about ripping out all the ads from magazines your donors read that you see lying around their offices or homes and putting them up on the wall and just looking at what the messages are. Companies are investing billions of dollars of research into targeting these people. What are the messages they’re trying to get across? You can use magazines to do that.

Then you could use paid firms like Target Analytics or Wealth Engine or Donor Search that will look through your database and see
Are there any companies that work particularly with Bloomerang?

Steven: Say that again, Marc.

Marc: For donor research, what are the companies that Bloomerang works well with to

Steven: DonorSearch, we have a product integration with them, so you can get DonorSearch right on Bloomerang. It’s free.

Marc: Awesome. Well, if you’re a Bloomerang customer, then definitely use DonorSearch. DonorSearch blows me away. I just love the way that they look at wealth and propensity of giving, because that’s something that’s really important.

The big thing in the research step is being realistic. We could get really slaphappy and think, “Oh, all these people have money.” I’ve talked to a lot people lately that say, “Wow, they can just write out a check for our entire budget.” Well, they’re not going to. So you have to be realistic about that.

The other part is to avoid paralysis by analysis. As I’ve been talking with CEOs, in particular, really ones that are new to the idea of having to ask for money, they want just a little bit more information. They want a little bit more of the donor profile. They want to know a little bit more before they go into that meeting. And understandable, but you need to move beyond that.

So the engage step is probably the most neglected, and this is where people that think that they’re not asking on the first date think they’re moving in the engage step. So that’s why it sounds so good. This is the dating part.

Seth Godin talks about this in “Permission Marketing” about where we get to know the donor, as I would say instead of customer, and they get to know us. We get to find out more about them. We get to find out what their interests are. We get to find out what aspect of our nonprofit would be the most likely to resonate with them. All too often, what we want to do is just translate…

I think about my local United Way. We are always trying to figure out how we package all the 27 different things that our United Way does, plus all the partner agencies, in a way that donors will be most likely to act and make a gift, but also get the full picture. What we need do is try to get ourselves away from trying to educate people to get the full picture, because that just isn’t going to happen.

What our goal has to be, especially in major gifts, is getting to know what the right aspect is for the person to make the next step, and as they get closer in a relationship to us to donating time and volunteering and donating money, that’s where they’ll start learning more and more about our organization.

What we also want to do in this step is we really want to show donors that we know that they’re not our ATM. I feel like when I teach fundraising like this, I’m a donor protection unit. I’m helping protect donors from bad asking.

This is a picture I got in Portland, Maine, during the Occupy Protest. I saw this guy on a rainy day with it out there, and I almost caused an accident as I tried to pull in front of the post office in Portland. And I bounded out of the car. I said, “Can I take a picture with you and put it all over social media?” He said, “Yeah. Go for it.”

Donors want to know that they’re not our ATM, and that’s why having that gift chart can be helpful, because you’re showing the roadmap. You’re showing the donor, “I don’t expect you to give the whole project. If you’d like to, we would probably not be opposed to that. But we have a plan for reaching the whole goal.” Typically, in typical fundraising, that leads up to the ask.

Everybody in the chat, what is the number one reason why people don’t give? Put it in your chat, the answers that you think. Bree, you win. I don’t know what you win, but the virtual gold star, and everybody else, too. They’re not asked. Very good, they’re all pouring in. This is great. The number one reason people don’t give is they’re not asked.

And even though, every year, our universe is based on the fiscal budget and we need annual donors, and every year we think people should know that they need to give to us, you’d be surprised at how many people try to intuit, try to imply that they need gifts, or hoping that people will infer just by being in their space.

In fact, I was doing a training and I went head-to-head with the Senior VP of Fundraising of a hundred-million-dollar organization that fundraising isn’t what we need to do as fundraisers. No donor needs another good friend. They need to be connected with something that furthers their values and is a good investment. So that’s where the ask happens. The number one reason is people don’t ask. But this is really where the magic happens and this is what more of our donors are ready for than we expect. I’ll explain that in just a few slides.

To finish up the REAL step, after we ask them and we answer their objections, if they say “yes” right away, what do we know? We’ve asked too low, probably. But that’s good. At least they said yes. So you need to thank them, and we have systems of gift acknowledgement and when we should call them and when we should report back to them. Bloomerang has that baked into a system of who needs to be touched again.

The reason I have it “love, like and live” is that it’s just most donors, it’s easy to love them. Every communication out there has become filled with gratitude. “Thank you so much.” Even the next solicitations can be communicated through gratitude.

Some people we don’t love, but we can like them, or at least like the action that they have. But we’re not in corporate sales. We can’t just burn through relationships. So even the people we don’t love or like, we still have to live with. There are still the crazy Uncle Harrys in our universe that we just have to put up with. That is part of stewardship, because even if they said no, the reality is most no’s are not permanent. They’re no’s for now, not no’s forever.

I say that in this slide, too. This business is all about relationships. We really need to keep that relationship going. And if we handle a no well, we may be ready for them when they’re flushed or feeling like they’re ready to give again. We may be on a shortlist for them because we actually kept in touch with them and we didn’t just write them off.

So these are the steps that the CEO wants to go through. He wants to go through the research step, the engage step, the ask step and the love step, each step in an orderly sequence. So it totally makes sense to not ask on the first date, because it seems like you’re skipping a step. You’re jumping from researching where he’s just learning about the donor to asking, so inappropriate.

But we’ve got to take an ego check. You, whether it’s you the CEO, you the fundraiser, you the board member, you’re not the center of the relationship. These steps here are not about you. They should be about the donor, and all about the donor’s relationship with your nonprofit, too.

So let’s look at it from a donor’s perspective. She’s already done her research, and the nonprofit’s already done research about her. Before you got there, she’s had relationships. She may have given already. She may have volunteered. There are things that she’s done in the space with your nonprofit staff. She’s even been asked before. You don’t want to leave her hanging on the ask. You’ve got to ask there.

So, let me put it this way. The CEO isn’t here for the research step or the engage step. When it comes to the ask step, the CEO is often trying to start right here, because the CEO or executive director is brand new to the organization. So this is where that “I don’t ask on the first date” comes in.

So much of fundraising is counterintuitive. It’s getting ourselves and our nonprofit out of the way of a donor making an impact. The CEO, as leader of an organization, as the chief fundraiser, or the person making the ask or the volunteer, we need to get ourselves out of the way. And even though we haven’t necessarily been experiencing these parts of the relationship with the donor, if it’s true, we have to know that the donor’s had that kind of relationship with our organization, and we want it with the organization so that it’s not dependent on any one employee. If the donor is here, we want to be able to meet there and make the ask and not leave her hanging.

So let me tell you about a CEO that actually loved being left hanging. I was doing a feasibility study in Massachusetts for a campaign, and like so many feasibility or planning studies, you go through, you talk to donors, you try to find out what the donor’s perception of the nonprofit is. You try to figure out what their perception of the case statement is, how much they may give if they were to be asked today, who else they think should be there.

In the midst of doing that, I was talking to this guy and somehow we started talking about not giving on the first date. He said, “I never understood this. As the bank CEO, my time is really limited. I know the value of the CEO and the fundraiser or the executive director of a nonprofit’s time. They’re doing important work. Their job isn’t to entertain me or to make me feel special. Their job to carry out the work that we love for them to do. That’s why our bank loves giving to them. So when I see one, I’m expecting to be asked.”

What he found out happened was if he didn’t get asked on that first visit, and he had it calculated, he had an 18-month game plan for stalling on getting the ask.

I understand this is a little different because it’s corporate, but I’ll show you another link where this also happens for individuals, too. But he said, “The CEO happened to be a guy from this organization. If he came and visited me and he says, ‘I’ll follow-up with you in a couple weeks to talk about a project or something that we might to talk about investing in,’ I would say, ‘Okay. Fine.'” But when he gets called again, he’d tell his secretary, “We just met. I feel comfortable with their vision and mission. I understand where they’re going. I don’t need to see them again.” And he put it off for a year and a half. He totally felt like he had dodged a bullet.

There’s another capital campaign I was in where the kind of refrain always was, “I’m not going to even ask on the first date.” And what the Executive Directors forced their staff to do was the thankless ask of following up. It’s hard work and discouraging when somebody
In the best of circumstances, it can be hard work and discouraging, once you finally got an appointment with somebody on the calendar, to then wait and try to find another time again to do that.

A lot of capital campaigns have two-step asks. You meet with the donor, you let them think about it, and then you make the solicitation in a second meeting, and not everybody wants that. So we have to be donor-centered.

What is great about it as the CEO and Executive Director, for those of you who fit those roles, is if you make an ask, you’re saying, “I see you, as a donor, having a relationship with our organization and that’s wonderful. We’re so grateful. Without you and people like you, we wouldn’t be here today. You’re doing such good work. Would you consider doing that with this gift whatever it happens to be?”

And then instead of nagging or having your assistant nag or your fundraising staff nag to try to get a second appointment for an ask, you get to let your calls be all thank-yous. “Thank you so much for your commitment.” And everything gets to be out of gratitude. Those are so much more enjoyable than having to try to follow up to make an ask. You start feeling like the desperate person that can’t get a date when you can’t get the ask. It’s much better to be able to get the ask out of the way and move forward.

Now, expressing gratitude leads to increased donor retention, we’ve seen that, and increased revenue. I know there’s going to be a question on “ask on first dates.” I’m just writing that down. I know Steve’s also moderating questions. We’ll have time for that after, too. Before I do that, I want to show you some statistics on increased revenue during the thank-yous.

Michael Rosen split tested a group of donors for a hospital. And I had never worked with an organization that had the guts to test like this, because they never want to risk alienating a group. If you’re not thanking people consistently now, and you continue not thanking a group of them, they won’t know anything is different. So it’s not like you’re really alienating them in reality.

Michael Rosen had the guts to try this. He just had a very simple split test. All hospital donors, he split one into a group that got one additional thank-you call, and he split the other one into ones that just got the regular kind of setting that he’d gotten already before. The group that got the thank-you calls generated an average 68% more revenue that next year.

And I’ll leave this up here. I know you’ll have the recording, but you’ll this see too,
Anyway, I won’t read it out because that’s awful. But that’s where he talks about that report as shown.

Would you like to have 68% more revenue from the same donors? One of the problems with our nonprofits or one of the organizational systemic problems is that we’re so focused on acquisition and trying to find who’s the new money, where’s new money coming from, and we’re always going to the same people. But part of the reason we go to the same people is the same reason that companies look for repeat customers. It’s cheaper to go to the same people and it’s more rewarding for everybody. You’re developing a relationship, you’re finding out more about each other, and you’re increasing the role of the commitment if you’re doing it well.

I just love these kind of statistics where 68% more revenue is generated from the people that got that one thank-you all.

What I think is really behind that “I don’t ask on the first date” is there’s something really about fear at the bottom. But the CEOs I’ve heard it from may not say. Many of them are self-aware enough that they would say that it’s fear.

CompassPoint out in the Northwest did a study called “UnderDeveloped,” and it reviewed thousands of organizations and nonprofit organizations, CEOs, development directors, and tried to find
They did a research project on why there’s this crisis going on in fundraising and funding nonprofits. Part of it was that they found out that 25% of CEOs just said, “We don’t have the skills for fundraising. We don’t do this well.” Another 20%, 1 in 5, CEOs said they don’t even like doing it.

I think that that’s probably more, based on the experience that I’ve had in coaching people. I think it’s more than 1 in 5, but good for those 1 in 5, those 20%, that said, “I don’t even enjoy doing this. I know it’s part of the job, but I don’t like it.”

For me, I think fundraising is an incredible privilege. It’s like we get to go up and down the wall of our nonprofit with those different plugs. This mindset may help some of you get beyond that first date or if you’re going to share this replay with someone who needs to hear this.

Instead of thinking you’re bugging someone or you’re popping the marriage question on the first date, it’s not about that at all. It’s that the donor is the electrical cord and your nonprofit is an outlet. People work 40, 60, 80 hours a week to create money. At one point, they had these values and ideals of what they wanted to do, and then they get into the work thing. For a lot of us, our work moves us away from our ideals, and philanthropy is a way to match our ideals back up with our work.

As we search the different outlets in our nonprofits, the three prong ones, some of them are these funky appliance ones, some of them are these kind of weird face looking ones, there are some that are kind of like Christmas tree type ones in New Zealand. As we look at those and try to find which plug the donor fits best in, that’s when we start really being donor-centered.

Why I put this one right here, this is one is a 1950s type plug. It has two prongs, but it’s not the same as the grounded prong on this side where one prong is wider. And I love this picture because sometimes we look at a donor and they have a two-prong plug. Here, in the United States anyway, and I think North America. Sorry to my Canadian friends. And Europe, just trust me. This works.

But when we have a plug with two prongs, we sometimes will have a grounded one because it’s now 2015, but we may have an old house and we try to shove it into this type of outlet and it doesn’t fit, or it goes in really tight. And we do this with our donors all the time, don’t we? We have one pet project or one matching challenge or one something that we’re really excited about and we miss all the cues that the donor doesn’t care at all about that and would much rather give to some outlet that looks like this. Maybe we’re focused solely on a capital campaign and they’re interested in giving to a scholarship that’s not part of the campaign.

We had all these naming opportunities in the campaign and one guy said, “Who’s funding the pipes?” That shocked me. I said, “What?” “Yeah,” he said, “I do pipes and I want to see the blueprints. Who’s funding the pipes? Nobody cares about the infrastructure as much as they care about the shrubbery and the exterior.”

Hey, we’ll find a way to get into those pipes. And then when we do, boom, it’s magic. The lights go on and the joy that we see in donors
And it’s not all of them, but when we make the ask and we do it well, that’s part of what can help us get over the idea that we’re asking on the first date. First of all, we have to see that it’s not the first date for the donor. Second of all is that we’re not taking from people, we’re actually adding to people’s lives.

Another thing that we need to look at is just the statistics of giving. I’m not going to apologize for this being basic, because it’s the basics that are amazingly important in our field. This is the most recent stat. I love sharing this with boards. There are four basic income sources. What is the biggest one invariably in corporations and foundations that haven’t studied this? But out of the giving of $358 billion last year, and you guys know this because you’re on this call, not only was it individuals, but individuals and bequests. As far as I know, even though the Supreme Court says that in the United States corporations are people, corporations don’t tend to give bequests as far as I know.

Somewhere around 82% of all that $358 billion that was given by people like you and me, maybe with deeper pockets, but they’re people like us. And that’s another reason why we want to be able to ask on the first date, because this is where most of the money comes from. It really does come from people like our board members and others.

I think I’m going to be starting to wrap up. Load up your questions because I want to make sure that this works for you. I don’t want this just to be me fire hosing people with information. I know I speak at about 400 words a minute with gusts up to 600, I’ve been told, so I want to make sure that you understand what all we’re going through.

Just look the process. We research, we engage, we ask, and we love. And if you’re a CEO hearing this and thinking about not asking the first date, you just have to trust that your nonprofit’s been researching and engaging to some level, and that the donor feels like there’s some level of relationship, particularly if they’ve made a donation. If they’ve already made a donation, then you can start from the perspective of thanking them, even if your thanks is an ask.

One of the easiest asks to make is, “You did such great work.” You don’t even lead with the nonprofit, but you just say, “Your gift made all of this possible. Your gift and people like you made all of this possible. Would you do that again over here?” Would you do that same behavior? You’ve already done the behavior. I’m not asking you to do something you’ve never done before. Would you do it over here? But it comes out of this whole idea of gratitude.

Now, if you’re not the CEO, here are some ways that you can help your CEO get over it. First of all, do the research yourself. Honestly, one of the dirty secrets in fundraising is most fundraisers, according to “UnderDeveloped,” not most, but 25%, I believe it was, didn’t have the basic fundraising skills necessary. So do some basic background research.

Show them a profile of the donor. Put it on a nice piece of paper with their name, their address, and their contact information. If they don’t have access to the Bloomerang database, which they should, sometimes the database picture can really confuse people. So sometimes just have it as a little one-pager or a one-pager with verifying information from Zillow or the Forbes bio, or the bio from their latest theatrical production in the community theater, whatever it is.

Then show your CEO or Executive Director the engagement that’s happened already. Let them know, “Hey, look, we know that you haven’t met with them before. But boy, they feel really close to this organization,” or, “They’ve had these touches. And with a normal major gift officer, somebody that had these touches, we would be ready for the ask.”

That way you can lead your CEO to the ask, and you could prep her by saying, “Here’s the research and engagement, and here’s what we think might be a good area for this ask to go through. This is the type of thing that this donor has expressed interest in.”

One of the things that I love on the Bloomerang blog
I don’t know, Steve, if you could put that in there too, if you can type fast enough. It was “Seven Things Nonprofit Leaders Should Know About Mid-Level Donors.” Many of our organizations, we have the top donors, we have a lot of small donors, but we don’t have these mid-level donors, and this blog post on Bloomerang’s site
Part of the reason we don’t have the middle range donors could be that they look like low donors to us. They don’t raise their hands in the ways or do the things that we associate with major gift donors.

But one of the characteristics that is explained in this blog is that they’re much more prepared for an ask than others. So, they are not offended by being asked for $1,000 or $1,500 or $2,000 gifts on their first visit because they already feel like they’ve been doing their own engagement in the relationship. So check out that.

And then work with your CEO so she could see that building the relationship out of gratitude is far easier than trying to earn the right to ask a donor, especially as you earn the right that’s already been earned because the nonprofit’s been doing great things.

If you want to participate in the survey, the CEO survey, please feel free to go to, and you can do that yourself.

I’d love to know what your thoughts are. Does this resonate with what you were expecting or what you’ve experienced in your own asking on the first date type scenario? You could use the chat.

“What has been your most effective ask?” Monica asks. I don’t quite understand what you mean by that. Could you explain a little bit in the chat?

That’s very nice of you, Chairperson. We all get afraid to ask, so I hope you heard there was no snark in this presentation. I wasn’t trying to insult people. Fear is a normal human tendency and it’s actually probably one of the reasons why we’ve lasted so long as a species. We’re afraid. So it can be really good.

I don’t quite understand what your most effective ask means. Dave Dunlop, a mentor of mine, one of my favorite stories of his is his most effective ask was asking to. . . There’s a guy where he talked about huge gifts. He was in the stratosphere. He’d run a program at Cornell to be mega wealthy, which is great. But there was one person who could have given a six- or seven-figure gift, but never did. He finally made his first ask.

But whenever they were talking with this prospect, it was always about his private jet. He was always so proud of his private jet. So Dave finally figured out, “Aha, that’s my first ask.” There was period where the university president had a lot of appointments in different places and his schedule was tight. Dave went to this prospect and said, “I don’t know if this is possible, but our president has this really tight schedule. Could he use your jet?” Boom. The donor felt heard. He felt loved, was glad to be able to do that, stayed on the jet with the CEO the whole time. How much would you love to get some of your top prospects around your senior leader? And just cemented a relationship that led to, I believe, a seven-figure gift.

So sometimes the first ask doesn’t have to be for money. It could be for time or for use of a space. That could be very good too.

Lori’s asking, “Many donors we’re meeting with do not have a past history of engagement with our organization. Would this change your approach?”

Well, it depends. I don’t think it would change my approach, but I think this wouldn’t necessarily be for them, in part. The typical consultant answer is it depends. I would check to see how badly your organization needs funding. I’ve heard this myth. I feel like it’s a myth. In my experience, it takes 12 to 18 months to grow a major gift donor. I’ve never put a donor in a pot of soil and fed it Miracle-Gro to see if it would grow. I just know that I don’t know where people are at if I don’t try to ask.

One of my biggest regrets I have in my 20 years fundraising is how many times I’ve tried to take the decision-making out of the hand of the donor and make it myself. And what it looks like is walking away from a meeting that I knew I wanted to make an ask in, and I’d tell people that I’d report back to “the timing wasn’t right.”

I have really recommitted over the last many years now to treat donors like adults. And if they’re not ready to give, I will know when they tell me that they’re ready to give, and that could be a very straight ask, but it could also be a very honest ask of, “Hey, look, I don’t even know how much to ask, what the right gift level would be, but would a gift of $7,500 be in the ballpark? Would that be the right way to go?” I love honesty and integrity. Anybody’s that’ heard speak knows that I say honesty and integrity are some of the best fundraising tools in our toolkit.

I’ll keep looking at these chats. And Steven, feel free to highlight any, because it’s going pretty fast. I’ll look at these questions.

I wanted to explain the slide on the screen. One of the other things that “UnderDeveloped” found, but I have also found on my CEO survey is that most CEOs and nonprofit staff feel like their board isn’t engaged enough in fundraising. They’re really frustrated with that. So I wrote a book on “21 Ways for Board Members to Get Engaged in their Nonprofit’s Fundraising.” People are printing this out and using it now as part of their board orientation and saying, “All right, take two.”

Introverts can be good askers. Extroverts can be good askers. People that have homes that can entertain can be good askers. People that don’t have homes that can entertain can also be good askers. There’s a whole bunch of different ways that people can be good ambassadors and supporters of the organization.

So if you just go to, you’d be able to get a free. . . I’ll even send you a free session on the asking conversation from The Nonprofit Academy. I’ll probably be able to do that tomorrow or so. But if you sign up for this book, I’ll make sure you get
Andrea Kihlstedt has a whole 75-minute long training on exactly what to say and when to say it in a major gift solicitation ask.

What’s surprising, and what I know from experience, but I love seeing in her training, is a lot of the time, there are signification sections of the time where you should be quiet and listening to the donor.

Have you ever asked on the first date and have a potential donor be upset and offended? Of course. I don’t think you’re doing your job if you’re not getting some people upset and offended at you. Your job is not to make people feel good. Your job is to raise funds for the organization. Fortunately, the overwhelmingly best way to raise funds for your organization on a sustainable basis is to have people feel good for you. But feeling good isn’t the goal. Raising funds is the goal. We’re fundraisers. We’re not feeling good raisers.

If you didn’t know it, you know, just check out my blog post. For those of you that are listening to this live, the blog that’s most recent on has an abbreviated quote from Wesley in the “Princess Bride” where he says, “Life is pain, Highness. Anybody telling you anything else is selling something.” Well, I changed it a bit to “Nonprofit life is fundraising, Highness. Anyone who’s says that differently is selling you something.” Nonprofit life, whether you meant it to be or not, is, by its definition, fundraising because you need money to be able to fund your mission.

Yeah, you definitely have people that get offended. And if they get offended, apologize. I was told by the priest that did my premarital counseling that two of the biggest words that will save my marriage are “I’m sorry.” And I’ve made it three, “I’m so sorry.” Probably, I say those on a daily basis, and so far, for 20 years of marriage last month, it’s working. I mean it. You have to say it with sincerity. I’d never advocate being insincere, but just apologizing up front, “Wow, I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that. I didn’t realize that this would offend you. Can you tell me more about that?” or, “When would be a good time?”

I think it’s Vanessa asked that. One thing that I like to do in my asking is if I’m on what I think is an engaged step and I find out, “Holy cow, they love what we’re doing. I had no idea,” I will
In sales they call it a test close. I’ll test their readiness to be asked. So I’ll say something like, “Wow, Vanessa, I didn’t realize you were so passionate of sending kids to camp. We happen to be raising money for that right now. Could I tell you more about how you could invest in that now?”

Saying, “We happen to be raising money for that now, but I didn’t come to talk to you about that this time,” sets the stage. I’m going to ask you about it, but that was not why we set up the call. “But could I talk to you more about how you could get involved in that now, or would it be better for me to follow up in couple weeks?”

So, instead of just coming out and making the ask, you can test. Is this a good time for us to have that conversation or would it be better to wait? It could be better to wait, because you might want to get their spouse or partner there. There may be other things that could happen. There could be a sale of something that’s happening that would make it to be a little more advantageous to wait. That could be based both on your research, and just based on their telling you. Donors are really open to telling you things. If this isn’t a good time.

This other thing. If you find that it’s not a good time to ask, usually, that is more fear than reality. I think I’ve had one or two people in 20 years get seriously offended. And most of them know the deal. Donors understand that nonprofits need to ask for money. So, if they do, though, you could then say, “Well, when would be a good time to ask? Sorry, I did not realize you were going through that right now.”

2008 might have been a bad time to ask car dealers for a large gift. So, that would be something that you’d just say, “I really apologize for that. Is there a better time of the year?” and people will tell you.

Somebody’s saying that they’re a one-person shop, which is a lot of us, and they’re training themselves and the board asks all time. We’re all afraid to ask. Good for you for coming to grips with it.

This is another thing, Steven. I don’t know if you’ve seen this work well, but where people. . . I love telling people up front, and being up front with people. If you’re nervous, let the prospect know that. If you go there to ask, and the person, if they feel your tension, they’re going to think it’s their own intuition, “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t give to this.” But the minute you say, “Joe, I’m sorry. I’m just really scared. I knew fundraising was part of this. I don’t feel comfortable asking for money.”

First of all, that’ll let them off the hook. They’ll realize all of the negative juju in the room is from you, so they’ll just say, “I can clear that. I don’t have to worry about is that my intuition or not.” And then they may even start cheering for you. They wouldn’t want to ask either. They may actually be rooting for you. “Come on, you can do it.” And then you can just flow into the whole, “But the cause is so important that I wouldn’t be doing it justice if I didn’t invite people to invest in it. And I’d really like to ask you to consider a gift of $1,000.”

And part of what I found that makes that helpful also is talking to your steering wheel before the ask, and rolling over that asking amount, making sure you have a direct dollar amount in your ask. “I’d like to ask you to consider giving X.” And you could break it up into $1,000 a year, or $84 a month is the one that most nonprofits think are the beginning of major gifts. But whatever it is, practice it.

I was at one training and I asked people in the room, I said, “What do you define a major gift as?” And it went everywhere from $500, a low of $500 was the starting major gift level for one organization, to $500,000 for another organization was the starting major gift level for them. I have not been in that stratosphere that often. It’s sort of like the orbiter that’s going out past Pluto now, but still, it’s good to know that that exists. Wouldn’t that be awesome to be there some day?

Steven: Marc, I wanted to pull out a question from Peter here, if you’ve got the time.

Marc: Before you do that, I like what Nina is saying is fear is exactly true. FEAR is actually an acronym. False evidence appearing real. Most of the time, we let our imagination go nuts and that’s what fear is. And it’s just as likely as all the positive things that could happen. Yeah, we have to try to harness in our imagination.

Go ahead. Peter had a question.

Steven: That’s really true.

Peter here had a comment, a question. He’s a new individual giving coordinator and he has been working on classifying their large donor pool. And he says since this process includes a meeting with the purpose to meet him as a new employee, should he also ask in those meetings? So it sounds like it’s just kind of get-to-know Peter meeting rather than necessarily asking them.

A lot those people that he’ll be meeting have already given at least once, maybe they’ve given recently. Does that count as the first date, in your mind, or should he just kind of keep that as, you know, just the peer leader meeting?

Marc: Interesting. I think it sounds like there’s a structure for it being okay for that. And if they’re already giving, that’s great. If the nonprofit’s short on cash and they’ve lapsed, they’re beyond the 12 months, or beyond whatever you feel is a current donor for your organization
It’s a blend of the organizational funding needs, the donor relational needs. Adrian Sargeant’s research indicates that the best time to ask a donor for the second gift is often with 90 days.

We have this artificial need to put it off for 12 months, but I’m also a big fan of multi-year pledges. So if they’re paying off their pledge payments, it is totally legitimate to get together with them.

The Veritus Group guys talk about how doing that process is figuring out who wants to have the relationship. They say a major gift officer should have about 150 assigned to them, but it will take about 450 people to get down to that 150. For every one person that’s willing to have a more closely knit relationship with the nonprofit, there are two other people giving at the same level that really aren’t looking for another best friend, and then it’s no harm, no foul on anybody. It’s just you need to know that so you don’t bug them also.

I think he’s fine making those gifts. If he comes across and says, “Occupational hazard, I am a fundraiser. You know that. This is something that we’re really committed to. Could I ask you now?” But I think there’s an integrity if you’re just meeting someone to get to know them, that you just leave it that. Sort of like there’s an integrity if you’re just thanking someone, that you just thank them. You don’t turn it into an ask at the end.

Steven: I agree.

Marc: It is Veritus Group plan. I thought it sounded Veritus Group like. Good for you, Peter.

Steven: They are great. Good job, Peter.

Mark Sangita here was wondering if you could define transitional giving versus mid-level giving. It sounds like maybe they’re not too familiar with those terms. Could you break those down?

Marc: I’m not really familiar with them either. I don’t know if I use them.

Steven: Transitional giving I don’t know either.

Marc: Well, there’s transactional giving, and philanthropic giving is something that I’ve used in a couple other sessions, but not today. Basically, I don’t think we should get too caught up on the dollar amounts, because each organization is different. I think many organizations, especially younger ones, could actually think bigger. We tend to ask too small. We won’t know if we’re asking too small until we start getting some donors saying, “Whoa, what financials are you looking at?” And then we’ll know maybe we asked too big on that one. But I think we tend to underprice ourselves.

One of the questions I first asked as a fundraiser was
I was working at a college at the time. The trainer said, “What would it cost to rename your college?” And we all tittered and laughed. Ha, ha, ha. They said, “No, this is serious. What would it cost to rename your college?” It’d be an enormous sum of money. And that’s where you should start your naming opportunities and gift asks from, not from what little does it cost.

I was working with one group that was trying to figure out naming opportunities based on cost per square footage of buildings. It’s not a transactional. You’re not buying something like that. It’s not like you’re buying a widget. Giving is tapping into something that’s foundational to humans, and it’s tapping into generosity. There’s a higher value in a gift than just buying a computer program or a hard drive.

Steven: Absolutely.

We’ve probably got time for one more question, Marc, because I want to give you a minute to talk about some of the other things you’ve got going on. Maybe we could end with
Actually a couple of people asked a variation of this question. Nancy kind of asked it in one way. And she says she’s a brand new Foundation Director. She needs to move fast. What should she do first? A lot of other people asked, “What’s my first step?” Maybe deciding what people to ask, what people to invite out for coffee. What’s a good first step for me in a new organization?

Marc: This is good because another person said, “Can you go over the four stages again?” I’ll use that question for this one. Part of the problem is that you start freaking out. Because what “UnderDeveloped” showed and what I’ll be teaching in a session tomorrow is that many organizations aren’t doing the fundraising, so they hire someone, an Executive Director or a fundraiser, to subcontract the funding, and they expect the funding to happen immediately. It doesn’t always happen immediately, especially if the system has been broken for years.

I think what the fear part that gets into us is we’ve got to produce right away, so we just start asking. We’ll raise more money if we start asking than if we don’t. But I think it really starts with what you’re alluding to, Steven, of figuring out what is it we’re asking for. If we were a store, what are the different boxes of cereal we could have on the shelf? How much would they cost? What aisle would they be in? What is our case statement? What are the levels of giving, strategically? Not just because we have a history of $1,000 donors or $10,000 donors.

I was talking to a conference yesterday, one of my coaching clients, and it turns out that they should have a $20,000 sponsorship level based on the cost of the conference. Great. It was neat, because they had already worked to asking for that. And then when we took a step backwards and looked at the research of their pricing in the 10% to 25% lead donor thing, they realized, “Oh, wow, this fits perfectly.” They hadn’t done it last year, but they’re going to do it this year so that they can have more money going to other things, not just the catering.

I think your first step could be taking an afternoon, giving yourself permission to look over your database. One of the things I like to do, if you have one, is look at the top 20% of all-time givers and the top 20% of last year’s givers, and just see. There are usually names that pop out at you.

There’s another very small nonprofit in rural Maine here, who’s a member of The Nonprofit Academy, that I recommended. He didn’t know where to go and the Board had burned through a lot of donors’ relationships. So I said, “Go back. How far do you have records?” He said, “Seven years.” And he kept saying, “I don’t have a lot of people to go to.” So go back all seven years’ worth to say thank you. You’re thrilled to be the new Executive Director and you wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t exhibited generosity at some point in the past. You would like to share with them a couple of cool things that are happening. Build those relationships. Let people know that you care.

Steven: I love that.

Marc: Thank you.

Steven: Well, that’s a good thing to end on, I think. Marc, I know you’ve got a couple of exciting things happening starting tomorrow. Is that right? Do you want to talk about

Marc: Oh, I would love to, actually. Thanks for the opportunity. I knew this was going to be recorded, so I wanted to keep it as evergreen as possible. So this offer, the free ebook and the introduction to how to ask for money, the free preview
You don’t get a preview of the webinar, you get the whole webinar. I’ll make sure that happens for anybody that signs up through this link.

What is today, the 15th? Tomorrow on the 16th at 1:00, I thought it would be an hour, but I think it’s going to be an hour and a half, on Unpacking the UnderDeveloped Study.

For the last 18 months, I’ve had university leaders, religious community leaders and other leaders, CEOs and board chairs and people asking at Leadership Summits and in Vegas and in Chicago and D.C. to unpack this study called “UnderDeveloped.” Look at the research behind what was found in the study, but then also how do we implement this in our organizations to make changes so that we’re not living lurching from debt crisis to debt crisis, and so we’re not lurching from one failed fundraiser to another failed fundraiser.

Part of the study showed something like 50% of CEOs want to fire their fundraiser, and 50% of the fundraisers want to quit. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction in our field right now. So I’m going to be unpacking that, and I’m really thrilled about that. If you go to, you can sign up for that. It’s only $20.

The other cool thing that I started doing is for the last 10 years, I’ve been teaching board members. One of the things that happens with board members is we don’t educate them. So none of us really grow up knowing about fundraising, so how would we expect our board members to engage well in fundraising?

I have a three-hour board training, and the first hour of that is called “Fundraising 101.” I’ve taken that out and put it into three video classes with handouts and assessments and a guide on how to host a successful cultivation or fundraising party in your home, minute by minute what you should be doing. And that’s at That’s been helping people, I know, around the country, around North America, and really around the world. I’ve been able to do some trainings in other countries, too.

I’m really excited about that because I can’t be everywhere, and it’s more expensive to bring me places. But the price of the course has just been really freeing people up. What’s really cool, Steven, is people are asking, “Can I just pay a little bit more so I can make sure I can show this to my board?”

Steven: How nice.

Marc: It was meant for board members and CEOs. It was almost like, “I don’t know what I’m doing. Could you please give a course for me and keep me anonymous?” So that’s why I created it. It turns out that people want to share what they’re learning with their organization.

If you get that, you get the assessments, lifetime access to the video, lifetime to the assessment, and you also get access to a forum on Facebook where you can ask questions, and we had some really good questions about government funding and some other questions that aren’t dealt with in this. I deal with philanthropic giving, but it still gives people. . .

It helps board members make smarter decisions when they realize where the money really comes from and what it takes to get it. It’s not just throwing up a page on Indiegogo and expecting the money to flow in, or not just hiring a fundraiser and not realizing it’s going to be an expense to the bottom line before it’s a revenue producer.

Thanks for letting me talk about this. I’m really excited about this.

Steven: Marc, I’ll link to all that. I’ll send everyone the links to those. I would definitely recommend that you all check that out. Marc is one of our most trusted providers of educational content, so we definitely recommend everything that he puts out there.

Marc, this was really awesome for you taking an hour out of your day to join us, so thanks so much for sharing all your knowledge with us.

Marc: Oh, it’s a topic I love, so thanks for asking me. I love it. For anybody I’m available on Twitter @marcapitman, if you want to do that, or my email is

Steven: Cool. Thanks all of you for taking an hour out of your day to join us. We really do appreciate it. Like I said, we do these webinars every week. There’s lots of resources on the Bloomerang website, our daily blog, we’ve got some downloadables, our newsletter, Bloomerang TV, our podcast, which Marc has been a guest on so you can maybe look for Marc’s episode there, and Bloomies. Bloomies are our award for outstanding donor communication, so we do a little case study every Friday. Check that out. You may get some ideas there as well.

Next webinar, we’re really excited about, Mazarine Treyz is going to join us one week from tomorrow, so that’s back on our usual Thursday.

Marc: She’s great.

Steven: Oh, yeah, she’s awesome. She’s going to talk about how to fundraise on a small budget. So if you’re a small shop or a new shop, definitely check that out. That’s another free webinar, and we’ll have some other ones out in the future that you can register for as well.

It’s about 2:00. I’ll just say a final thanks, and look for an email from me a little later on. I’ll be sending out the recording and Marc’s slides, once again, as well as links to all those resources he talked about.

Thanks for joining us, Marc. Thanks again. Have a good move down to South Carolina.

Marc: Thanks everyone.

Steven: I hope that we’ll have you back on. Thank you all for listening. Have a great rest of your day. We’ll hopefully talk to you next week. Bye.

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.