In this webinar, Sherry Quam Taylor will let you in on a few things you might be doing that are keeping your donors from giving their best gifts to you – and thus keeping you from growing up and over that $1M mark.

Full Transcript:

Steven: Okay. Sherry, my watch says it’s 2:00. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Sherry: Let’s do it.

Steven: All right, awesome. Well, welcome everyone, good afternoon I should say if you’re on the East Coast, good morning if you’re out there on the West Coast. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “How To Grow My Nonprofit’s Revenue Up and Over the Elusive $1M Mark.” My name is Steve Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. Just a couple of housekeeping items. I want to let you all know that we are recording this session, and we’ll be sending out that recording as well as the slides later on this afternoon. So, if you have to leave early or maybe get interrupted by a co-worker, if something comes up, don’t worry, we’ll get you that recording later on this afternoon. I’ll email it to you, I promise.

Most importantly though, as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your screen. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We’d love to answer your questions live here in the session. You can also do that on Twitter. I’ll keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you’d rather engage with us over there.

And one last bit of technical housekeeping, 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. There is a phone number in the email from ReadyTalk that you got about an hour or so ago today. Try that before you totally toss your computer out the window. If you can dial in, if that will comfortable for you, that may end up being a better option for you.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all of you folks. We do these webinars just about every single week, usually on Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the week. Literally, we do about 50 webinars a year. We love it. It’s one of our favorite things we do here. But in addition to that, we are a provider of donor management software. So, if you’re interested in what we have to offer, maybe you’re shopping for a new software coming up next year or sooner, check us out, visit our website. You can watch a quick video demo and see the software in action. You don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to.

So do that later on, don’t do that right now, at least wait an hour because we got a great guest and a great presentation in store for you. I’m happy to welcome a friend of the program, Sherry Quam Taylor, is joining us from beautiful Chicago. Sherry, how’s it going? Are you doing okay?

Sherry: I’m doing great today. Thanks.

Steven: Yeah. I’m happy to have you. You’ve been blogging on the Bloomerang blog for a while. It’s good to hear your advice in person, at least hear your voice that is. And if you guys don’t know Sherry, you got to check her out. She’s got a great agency up in Chicago. She helps a lot of nonprofits specifically with their growth strategy, and she does a lot of coaching for leaders, EDs, leaders in nonprofits, especially founders. So, if you’re a founder maybe wanting a little bit of help, definitely look Sherry up especially if you’re in Chicago or in the area. She’s been in your shoes before. She left the corporate world. She’s worked at nonprofits, she’s done the kind of things she’s going to recommend herself, and is really, really plugged into the nonprofit community up in Chicago as well.

So, if you’re up there you may run into her at events. She does a lot of speaking so if you see her name on a conference schedule, go to that session. You’re going to want to go to that session after you hear this presentation, I almost guarantee it. So, Sherry, I don’t want to take up any more time away from you. Tell us all about how to get over that $1 million hump. The floor is yours, my friend.

Sherry: Let’s do it. Okay. Well, thanks everybody for joining us today. Usually, when we’re talking about fundraising and growing our nonprofits’ revenue, we have a good turnout, right? So I’m glad to see everybody here on the call. So let’s dive right in.

So we’re talking about growing our revenue over that million-dollar mark. In essence, it’s my goal really today is to help you learn how to secure more donors and larger donations so you can fully fund your nonprofit. Now, I said that not so long ago when I was presenting and somebody raised their hand and said, “What do you mean fully fund your nonprofit?” I said, “Well, I’m glad you asked.” Apparently, I should clarify that.

So we all know that our organization, no matter what size they are not going to grow into their, you know, fully funded and founded mission if we are not funding our program and/or admin enough and our fundraising. All three of those pillars have to be growing and we have to be investing money into all three of those areas if we are going to grow our nonprofit. And so that’s really the goal of today’s call so that you can have a fully funded organization.

So Steven has already said who I am but the only other thing I want to say here is that I really help leaders of nonprofits learn the ways that they can shift their timing and their priorities into larger gifts. And so this means really looking at the activities that are yielding low dollars and some of those are super important. I’m not telling you to stop doing all of those but making sure that we’re also investing our time and our efforts into those activities that actually lead to larger gifts. Because we have to be bringing in larger gifts to fund your organization, to grow your organization, and even think about getting over that million-dollar hurdle.

And so I was sharing with Steven that I created my business years ago after leaving the corporate world and joining a nonprofit that was near and dear to me. And I got in and they were about $300,000 at the time, and we tripled their funding in about 18 months. And so I didn’t know it back then but I was creating the methodology that I use today. And so over 12 years ago, when I started volunteering for that organization, you know, that I was obviously super passionate about it. You know, I was honestly working another full-time job alongside my corporate gig. And, you know, my passion for the mission was on fire, it really had changed a lot of aspects even of my life. With that shift to struggling how to fund the mission was another story and that was, you know, obviously super hard.

And so, you know, when I joined the nonprofit, I mean, I didn’t have a background in fundraising. I, you know, I did what I knew best how to do and that was trying a lot of things and trying a lot of activities, and spending lots of time on, you know, tools and technology, and all the ideas that we can, you know, frankly right now Google and come up with some of my different fundraising ideas.

And some were successful and fun, right? But they weren’t always the best approach and here’s why. A lot of the activities we were doing were super time-intensive. And so, you know, the time we maybe were putting into an appeal or an event or some sort of kind of grassroots element, although it was, yes, it’s really important for cultivation. The time we’re putting into it greatly outweigh the financial reward that we were hoping to get from that appeal or that event, or that that campaign. And, you know, we were running ragged and we were exhausted with that.

I would say the other thing is, those activities were very transactional in nature. And when we were spending the majority of our time on those types of activities, we still weren’t moving into mid and major level gifts. And so, at the end of the day, we still needed larger donations. We needed that sized donation that when we close the books every month and we look at the profit last statement, we were like, “Yeah, that feels good. We see that gift right there, we’re moving strongly into the next quarter,” and we didn’t have that.

The other thing was, you know, we were kind of going back to the same well all the time and it started to not feel good, it felt like begging. And therefore, kind of made us not feel as confident so that, you know, we started dreading fundraising when you feel like you’re not doing a great job or, “Oh, my goodness, this person is going to see me coming again and they know why I’m coming,” right?

And last but not the least and probably most importantly, we were not fully funded. And so we still didn’t have the money to invest in the growth and which really, at the end of the day, meant we couldn’t do all the things we wanted to do. And so, even today, I hear from my clients, “You know, we’re doing great but gosh, we have a waiting list of people we want to serve.” Or, “Yeah, we’d open another site if we could but we don’t have the funding.” Or, “I’d hire a program director but I just don’t have the funding. People don’t want to pay for salaries.” And so we still struggle with that.

So that was until I got really focused on two things, and so this is what we’re moving into today either where you can start taking good notes and hopefully start implementing these even when you hang up today. So I got really focused on leading donors to give their best gift and to help them give that gift every year.

And so just pause a second on that because if your donors, you know, everybody in your gift giving and your constituency file, if were they giving their best gift, I think the organization might be fully funded. And so, you know, oftentimes we have donors who, yeah, that’s great. They write in a $1,000 check at the holidays every year but, you know, kind of weird like I know they have a greater capacity than that, right? And I’ll say, “Are they giving their best gift? And so have we created an amazing donor experience for them that really leads to their best gift? And have we led that process through the entire year so that they really understand the giving that we need them to do every year on an annual basis?”

So, when I was making the transition from the nonprofit that I had just helped grow and starting to launch my consultancy, I really dove deep into small nonprofits and specifically nonprofits who are under that million-dollar mark.

And so even in the, you know, 1.5, 1.6 million nonprofits that exists at The Urban Institute’s Center on Nonprofits and Philanthropy says that 77% of nonprofits will never reach $1 million. That’s crazy to me. That statistic drives me personally every day because I need organizations and leaders who are sacrificially leading small and medium-sized nonprofits every day, and who perhaps just have never fundraised. And so I really have focused my methodology in what I’m sharing today around leveling out the statistics that I’m showing here.

So the two most common profiles I found when I, and even today, is when I talk to small nonprofits. The first one being, you know, I’m a founder, I’m a, you know, doctor, teacher, social worker, pastor, artist who started a nonprofit because you saw a need and thank you for doing that. That’s awesome, you jumped in. But I simply never fundraised before and so, sure, I can try to do, you know, a campaign or things that I see online. But I’ve never needed to be trained on how to move into larger gifts so I kind of don’t know what I don’t know. And then you lead into that dread and that kind of hate of fundraising.

And so a lot of times I’ll find that those types of organizations, you know, will start up and there’s a plateau mark around that $300,000 annual number and then I kind of see that again at the $500,000 mark. And so we have to do something different to level up, right? To keep doing what we’re doing, you know, same amount of money, same amount of money every year. And so, you know, I have one client right now, in the last three years they’ve been consistent, you know, bringing in $145,000 three years in a row. So we have to do something different to level up.

The other common profile I see is something, you know, maybe building on the first profile but look what we’ve gotten the funding to a certain point, perhaps we’ve even grown the funding. But gosh, it’s really heavy government funding or state funding, or we’re really reliant on one foundation or a couple large gifts from a foundation and that’s scary, too, because we’re not going to grow if we don’t diversify your funding.

So the other commonalities that I see and we’re not going to get into this kind of step-by-step path here and plan would be that there really was no plan put in place among the organizations to grow these relationship-based gifts. And so let me tell you what I mean by that. So, if we’re going to shift into the sized gifts that are actually going to propel our growth, sometimes you’ll hear me call those investment level gifts or let’s talk about what it looks like to sit down with a donor who can, who’s kind of an investment level donor. We have to make sure that we have a specific strategy to move into those top 30, top 50 gifts that we’ve got to get every year to grow. We will not grow without them. And so those obviously are way less transactional in nature and very heavy on the relational aspect material we’re doing.

And the other thing was I see this a lot, I’m going to talk a little bit about this today. You know, a lot of people didn’t really know the actual number they should be raising towards that would actually help them grow towards that million-dollar mark. And so oftentimes I see a bit of a reactive budget or goal setting, and so I want to talk about that today. That actually, I might be brave enough to say that might be the number one thing I see that’s keeping people from growing up and over that mark, so we’re going to talk a little bit about that today.

Simple things like, “Sherry, you know, where am I supposed to find these people? And when I do find large donors, what do you want me to say to them?” Because, again, I’ve never done that. You know, and I think the other tool would just be, you know, what does it look like, what kind of systems in place or habits do I need to be doing every week and month and quarter and year to actually lead to those gifts and then retain those gifts?

And last but not least, and I hope nobody on this call is like this but the fundraiser was alone and often that’s the executive director. You know, maybe you have a development director but it’s also lonely as the development director. Instead I work with a lot of EDs who, it’s a lonely position, right? People want to help but they also don’t know how to help. And so those were a lot of the commonalities I was hearing.

So let me not be so negative here. I do want to give you hope in this conversation. I want you to hear today, you can lead, and I made that green for a reason. You can lead your donors on a path to securing their best gift and then helping them see how they can give that gift every year. But if we don’t have an exact process in place for this, you will not grow and your organization will stay small. And perhaps, you know, most of all, the sad part is it keeps you from having that maximum mission impact and that’s why we’re all here in the first place, right?

So let’s move into this. What I want to talk about is putting our investment level lens on today. And so, if you saw me, if this is a video webinar and you kind of see me shifting my shoulders. I do this kind of left to right. Let’s more from this reactive stance that oftentimes we fall into as we’re growing and just trying to keep up with everything and being reactive because there’s so many things we’re doing.

We’re wearing so many hats to say where can we proactively put a plan in place to grow? And specifically, with those sized gifts that we’re going to feel on the bottom line every month. And so as we go through this and we think of our top-level donors. And hear me today, if you’re a small organization bringing in $150,000, your major donor might be $1,000 donor, it might be $5,000 donor. If you’re a, you know, $750,000 organization, your major donor might be $25,000 donor or $50,000. But this methodology works for any size. And likewise, you know, $50 million plan I’m working with right now.

So, last but not least, I want us to make a conscious effort to not only serve our grassroots donors through, in all the amazing campaigns and those sort of things we’re doing and engagement strategies, but I really want us to shift to how do we serve the donors who . . .

We’ve got to get those sized gifts to fund our mission and grow, and propel our organization. So how do we do this? So part of this is taking more control of the ask. And so, if you think of our investment level donors who are running success .  . You think of an individual. They’re running a successful business. They probably sat in meetings themselves and had to ask investors to invest in their business. So we have to talk to them in their language and we have to come to the table in a way that they can understand. So, before we get to the ask and it’s way over there on the right, obviously, there’s a bunch of things we need to do and have in place before we can really move into these types of gifts.

So the biggest thing is, so I’m going to share the three core areas of the program I teach and these three areas have to be clear in a donor’s mind before they’re going to give you their best gift. And frankly, give that gift year over year. Okay. So some of this is going to be, make total sense, so you’re going to see how it all adds together. I’ve got a bit of a mass equation here that I’m channeling from my middle schoolers and high schoolers, children’s math here. So, in essence, our plans, where are we headed?

You know, I find often that our larger donors don’t have clarity on exactly what we do. So whether you have an amazing strategic plan that you and your board have invested in and you have it, and you’re executing it like rock stars, or it’s on a napkin. It is very important for you to be moving into the types of conversation, to sit down one-on-one with your top donors and make sure they know what the plan is of the organization.

And I’m not just talking the programs, I’m talking all three of those circles. How are you growing your programs? How are you going to grow the business and the admin to support that? And how are you going to grow the fundraising effort? I want them to see a holistic view of how you’re going to grow your organization. And so oftentimes, you know, we were talking about, you know, our amazing programs and the changed lives and all of those amazing impact stories that we have to be sharing with our donors. Don’t stop doing that.

But we need to take one more step in to our investment level donors and have investment level conversations with them. And so document where you’re going, you know, here’s what we’re doing this year because next year we believe we’re going to be doing this, because in five years we’re going to be X. Wow, I like that, I like that. This is how we start getting our donors into that annual fund mindset. In essence, what I’m saying is I need you with me, donor, through the growth, through the years, year on year, okay?

So our plans. How are we going to get there? How are we going to do this? How do you say this is your program that you’re running? And you guys know the programs, you know, better than anyone. I’m not a program person. However, when the donors . . . Donors do not give their best gift when they do not understand what you do and they do not have clarity on how your program operate together, operate alone, whatever it is, how your program or your expertise and are actually the solutions to the problem you’re solving.

And so I won’t show them here but I have a lot of funny stories. When, you know, an ED will tell me, “Gosh, we have this donor and I couldn’t believe it. They think we do this but we don’t do that and I didn’t even know what to do with that question.”

There hasn’t been true clarity on exactly what we do. And this is where having a neutral voice or somebody just kind of give like really great feedback and I have this and I, you know, was even working in nonprofit. I would start off, you know, statistics about, you know, girls overseas and what their challenges were like nothing because I knew it so well. And the donor is sitting there like, “Oh, my goodness, I didn’t know that. Wow.” And so we get a little deep in because we assume everybody knows all the intricacies of our programs and the people’s lives we’re serving. And so just make sure that you’re talking about your program in a donor-focused way. This is a hard question when I ask this to clients. What is irrelevant about your programs that actually might be getting in the way of donors really understanding what you do?

It might be something really internal or something that’s super specific to some specific clinical test that you’re running. But does the donor need to know that? They really need to know what is the outcome of that. Sometimes they do if they’re really, you know, a specific type of person. But make sure that you’re talking about your program in a way that the donors really understands what you do.

Okay. So those two things added together. So, if our donor knows our plans, where we’re going, how they fit into it, this is why we need your gift, right? How are we going to get there? This is why we are absolute and utter experts at these activities and the solutions that we put in place which are our programs. Now, here’s the biggie. So what’s your need? So what is our financial need to get there? And so, your budgeted need is that number that you need to accomplish your annual plans. So let’s hop over into this because this is a really big topic.

So, when I started working with anybody or even when I hop on an initial call, as like anybody else out there. So what is your financial need this year? And I’m going to be really honest with you, it’s a little bit of a test question because oftentimes I get, “Well, you know, last year we brought in 600,000 and so wow, we’d love to do 650.”

Now, I know what you’re saying. I want each, every single person on this call to bring in more money than last year, right? But what I’m really saying is, is that your squeak by reactive budget, if you remember my slide with the glasses on it, that’s our, well, we need that to get to be funded. But really, what is that number you need to be raising towards that would actually grow and propel your organization? So I will always challenge my clients especially in the budgeting process. So, you know, people hire me to help them bring in more money and I want to start with budget and here’s why.

I find that organizations are not growing because they’re not actually putting expensive in the budget that will help them grow. So this is the old adage, we got to spend money to make money and it’s the truth, right? And so what are these things we haven’t put in the budget that is actually, if you put them in, that would actually help us grow?

And so things like, here’s what I want to kind of start, have your mind getting around these types of things. So things like technology. Like, “Oh, yeah, we haven’t updated our giving page or that mobile app,” or whatever it is in years. You know, investing in your branded look and messaging. It’s like, you know what, there’s a gazillion people who do what we do, kind of and so, you know, our brand and our look, while I had it done 12 years ago when we got our nonprofit status and I haven’t updated it or, you know, donor management software. Are we still in Excel and we need to move into something that we can really track our donor trends and really be using on a day-to-day basis?

You know, oftentimes I find EDs not taking a salary or they cut their salary. Is there a reserve fund? Are you going into every year barely being able to make it through quarter one? And exactly these types of things and actually putting it in the budget is a huge aha moment. Because I find that if you brought in $500,000 last year and you actually really put some of these things in the budget, now I’m not talking, just put a wish list together and, you know, gold-plated phones for everybody, I’m not talking about that. So I’m actually about the things that you’ve been a little timid in putting in that they’re going to lead and propel you to grow. And so just slide ahead here. So I want you to put that number in place because here’s, listen to my tone here.

When you’re sitting with the client, when you’re sitting with the donor and they say, you know, there’s that one donor. It’s the CFO, right, and they’re like, “What do you need? What do you need this year? What do you need this year, Sherry?” There’s always a donor that says that, you know, and if my response is, “Well, you know, last year we brought in 500 and we really want to do this and we’re really hoping. You know, we have a waiting list and we hope to be able to get to 550 because we want to be able to do this.” That tone versus, “I’m so I glad you asked, Sue. This year, we have a $600,000 need and here’s how we’re going to do it. And so I’m going to walk you through this and I’m going to tell you what I’m going to do with it. I’m going to show you how I’m going to bring in the money and I’m going to show you what if you give a gift, what that looks like.”

That tone in a meeting alone is a game changer because truth be told, you probably need $600,000. I’m just using that as an example. 550 might be what you need and that’s okay and that’s what we raise towards. But hear that tone of, you know, from scarcity to confident, and kind of reactive, “Well, we hope it comes in so we can do it if it comes in,” versus “Hold on, this is our need and so let’s see what the need is and then let’s put the plan in place to grow.”

And Cookie, you’re asking an awesome question here. It’s hard to convince our board members in the private sectors to budget this way. You’re speaking my language, Cookie. This is . . . Actually, I have a call tonight with the board to talk through this exact same thing. You know what, it’s hard and we have to educate our board just to come upon the education element. And typically, when I can get in the room and share this, there’s a little bit of an aha moment, too. Here’s what I’ll tell you.

Some of my clients have the board-approved budget. It’s the squeak by budget, it’s like, “Well, we just need to get this number.” Okay. I understand why some people want that or that’s the approach that’s approved. I will tell you the EDs and DDs I work with oftentimes then are raising off of a needs-based budget. So my whole methodology is a needs-based budget. And so I’m not telling you to keep any secrets from any board member but there’s your . . . The board wants to see financial, you know, accountability and fiduciary responsibility on the budget that they’ve approved. But just because they said, you know, “Oh, gosh, we have to just get, you know, $489,000.” That doesn’t mean you should be raising the $489,000. I believe that it’s your job to go up and say, you know, “But this are actually things we want to raise toward.”

And so I hope that’s a little bit helpful. I get that sticking point often. The main part of this is we want to be able to create reachable goals, I don’t want you to go crazy but we have to be able to celebrate that with our donors and our supporters, especially our large level gifts. And so we want to be able to go back to them and have them see their role in our funding plan year on year.

Now, one comment I really quickly want to make and I’m not going to go into this in tons of details today but I do want to make this point. So we spend tons of times putting our expense budget together. Like we got a line item, a line item of travel and phone and programs and everything, and it’s a real robust kind of, you know, month to month budget on the expense side. I do want to challenge you to spend just as much time planning on where the income is going to come from.

Oftentimes and I’ll see a line item that says, you know, on the profit and loss statement, charitable gifts. Just a big line item and it’s reflective of either what’s pledged or what we think we could do. I’m going to challenge you to, you know, export your budget into Excel and segment by segment, really plan out month to month where your money is coming from. And that really acts as your plan for the year. You know, how many gifts are you going to be bringing in from major donors? And for us, that means 2,500 and above. Okay, great. It’s 250,000. How many are bringing in from this level donors month by month by month? Because that type of document that you’re referring back to and really living and breathing dictates how you’re spending your time and your energy. And month to month if it’s like, “Oh, my major gifts are still not growing.” Then I’ll say, “How much time are we putting into that?” Right? So please spend just as much time putting together that income side of your profit loss because that really is your marching order forward.

Now, let’s talk a little bit about the type of income profile that is going to help you grow and help you push up over that million-dollar mark. And I’m not going to dig really deep in all of these but what I want to say, there’s a couple that usually stick out to people. Of course, we want grow funding, like we know that’s the name of the game. We want the majority of our funding to be unrestricted. And so, when I talk about that profile organization, you know, especially there’s a lot in the State of Illinois where organizations are heavily dependent on state funding and sadly, a lot of that is going away and so they’re in a world of hurt. So we want the majority of the funding to be unrestricted because those government funds are often very restricted.

I want the majority of funding to be focused on relationships over what I would call quick fix, they’re more transactional. Again, both are important but the highest percentage have to come from our deep relationships we have. So I want to also encourage you and sometimes I’ll actually even add a field in my system so that I can run reports based on this. We want the majority of our funding coming from single source decision makers. So, obviously, you think of the multi-source decision makers being a foundation where there’s a vote. You know, perhaps the church commissions committee where there’s a vote. Any sort of group of people coming together to all decide to give it to you.

And, you know, of course I want you to have great, deep relationships with them and have, receiving funding from them but it’s risky. It’s risky when, you know, some new thing is in the news, it’s like, “Oh, I think we should be funding that.” And all of a sudden, you know, the foundation’s mission kind of shift. So I want the majority of your giving comes from single source.

So who is that? Of course, that’s our individuals that are, you know, in the foundation arena. That’s our family foundations where we can go talk and say, “Hey, Chris, hey, Sue, could I meet with you?” On the business and corporate side, that would be, you know, like not always just going for the big, you know, like here in Chicago it’s Chase Bank. Not always going for the big corporate sponsorship but actually saying, “Who are those kind of mid-level business owners who are actually being super charitable that I can go get a meeting with, and actually form a relationship with?”

One number I run often is just looking at your top 20 income sources. This is kind of a diversity in gift-sized checks. Another important one would be obviously repeat donors. Of course, we want our retention numbers to be strong. What I just want to say here is it’s your job to lead your donors in an annual fund mentality. And so it’s your job to be driving that path and I’m going to move into that next. To be driving those engagements and those touchpoints all year long so that year on year they understand how they fit into your funding.

And so oftentimes I’ll hear, “Hey, this donor gave $5,000 last year and I haven’t heard from them this year. I don’t know where they went.” And, to me, that is us actually not leading the donor. Now, of course, there’s things that happened and, you know, maybe somebody just kind of randomly came into an event and did something and they don’t have interest in our mission. But if it’s a donor that kind of gives here and there with really no regularity and some years yes and sometimes not, that’s what I’m talking about.

And so we have to lead our donors in a way that they, and have conversations with them in a way that they really understand our annual fund need. There’s no one else that can do that. I want to be talking through a combination of metric-based and heart-based giving decisions. You guys are amazing at telling the stories, telling the impacts, showing the photos, all of those good things. Don’t stop doing that.

I also want you talking metric-based. Now, I’m not only talking about your programs here. I’m also talking about the metrics of your business. Yeah, wow, we’re actually planning on growing 18% this year and this is how we’re going to do it. And know your numbers. Remember, we’re sitting down and talking to investment level donors who are running businesses or successful business people. We need to speak their language.

Last but not least, the commitment of time that and the discipline that fundraising takes. If I sold t-shirts they would say, “Fundraising is discipline.” Especially with large gifts and growing into larger gifts, what are you doing weekly? What are you doing monthly? What are you doing quarterly? What are you doing annually? To be in the rhythm that leads to larger gifts so you can grow your organization.

Now, really quick, I do want to answer Kara’s question, thank you. How do you show donors your income budget? Okay. So you’re not exporting in QuickBooks and just, “Here’s our income budget.” But I’ll often have some sort of pitch deck or conversation prompt to say, “Hey, Sue, let’s just take in the time to share with people this year how we’re funded.”

Because I find, and so I’ll pull out like, maybe it’s a pie chart or something just showing, “Hey, you know, last year we brought in $500,000. And so 62% of that was actually from individuals like yourself so today, I want to say thank you for that. And 24% of that is actually from corporate gifts and so that’s an area we’re trying to grow this year. And 12% is from foundations.” And so like a donor needs to know that. Here’s why they need to know that. I’m so glad you asked it, Kara.

Your donors often don’t know your need, but we’re talking about your need right now, right? I am blown away by the assumption a lot of our donors make. Oh, I just figured you were funded by that one foundation I saw you promoting. Oh, I didn’t know you have that much charitable giving. Oh, okay. Or a lot of groups who do have government funding, a lot of their donors assume, “Oh, I just figured you were state funded. Oh, I didn’t realize that or I assumed people pay for that service, right?”

So then we’re not sitting and having clarification discussions just to show the donors where they fit in and where they fit in the giving. That’s on us because there’s a lot of misconception on our need. So I find that the average donor doesn’t always know that if you don’t have a gauge, like, “Oh, are you a $500,000 nonprofit or are you 5 million?” And they kind of don’t know the difference and so it’s our job to tell them, right? So I hope that answers a little bit, Kara.

So I think what I want you to hear here is that you yourself, the fundraisers on this call, are one of your organization’s greatest asset. And what I mean by that is the time and the hours that you spent on fundraising must lead to revenue and it must lead to larger gift. And therefore, often there’s this pivot and this really mean shifting a lot of your time as the leader from activities that are yielding low donations and realigning those activities that actually lead our largest donors to giving their best gift.

So back to my math equation here. Last but not least, this section I want to talk to would be, so okay. So, now, they know our need. They know our plans, they know what we’re doing, they know our programs. We’ve established what that need is. Yeah, okay, so we have a $600,000 need and I’m going to own it and I need that coming out of everybody’s lips. Yeah, we’re so excited. We have a $600,000 need this year. Can I share that with you? What is that look like? So then it really comes down to us serving our donors and what do that look like to create amazing donor experiences for those we’re serving. So I’m just going to walk you through an exercise, again, that you can kind of chart out today and, you know, after this call and say, “How can I lead a couple of my top donors through this?”

And so maybe even as I go through this be thinking about, you know, maybe two or three people. Who you’re thinking, gosh, I know they’re not giving their best gift and they’re certainly not giving every year so how can I drive this a little further?

Okay. So let’s think of this path as an annual path for one of our to 30 donors. And so, you know, if the donor has been giving already year on year, obviously we have their attention, you know, there’s interest in what we’re doing. Do they trust you? All of those things are established. However, if we’re trying to grow and find donors, you know, sometimes I’ll say, “Look, we have to ask a real honest question here.” Like we may have a coffee with them or someone might say, “Hey, have you, you know, again Tom and Sue, this is what I always use. “Have you talked to Tom and Sue?” “No, I don’t. I’d love an introduction to them though.”

Do Tom and Sue even care what we do? You know, we got to figure that out, right? And if they don’t, it’s okay. We got to move on because every hour we’re spending fundraising has to yield money, right? And so this is where, you know, if you’re a board member, this is where that relational equity really comes into play and that’s really trying to figure out are they going to be a donor, right? So that’s a given on this first one.

So, you know, then we’re really moving into building a relationship with them. And sometimes when I show this diagram to people and, you know, board members and even EDs who have some sort of sales experience, like, “Well, this is kind of feels one-on-one, Sherry.” Yeah, it really is. But the key and the win here, and you scaling your organization here is that you are doing common sale steps uncommonly well. And so intentional and a tone of leading.

And so, as you get to know your donors and as you form these connections, my biggest advice to you on this one hour that we’re meeting today is to listen to the questions that need to be answered in that donor’s mind before they’re going to give their best gift. So even that question Kara asked about, gosh, you know, gosh, how you show donors your income budget, “Oh, I didn’t know you needed my best gift because I figured you were funded this way.” Clarification, right?

So what are those things that keep coming up as you’re getting to know them, as you’re engaging with them that are just kind of, you know, hearing that little hang up in the back in this conversation? That’s my biggest advice knowing that, you know, those of you who are like really comfortable forming relationships and you’ve been successful with your donors and they love you and they love what you do, just move into more of an intentionality.

And so, if you feel like, you know, we’re going to ask Tom and Sue in November this year, let’s say it’s next November, I don’t want to say next month or in a year, what are all the steps we need to do in January, in March, in June, in August, in October, so there were asking in November? Chart that out, plan that out, create an amazing donor experience tied to why they’re giving. What do they value? How are you answering their questions? How am I creating deep connections?

So I’ll have, you know, a lot of my clients choose in many different ways. Sometimes they’re keeping it in their software, sometimes they have it in Excel, whatever it feels good to you. But I want you charting out the steps you’re going to take with your top donors every year so that you’re leading them to an act.

And this is an invitation to invest in your organization, this is an intentional. This is a sitting down and asking them to invest in your organization. I was talking last week and someone raised their hand and said, “Can I send them an email?” No, you cannot send them an email. This is a relationship, this is one-on-one. And so I wanted, it’s come to a point where there’s an ask.

And then the next part of this is the decision. Now, what you’re going to notice here, let’s talk about leading our donors. I want you to hear that today. If you noticed, you really have been in control of all these steps all year long. Of course, the decision if they’re going to give, the decision is up to them, of course, you know? But at that point, we’ve done everything in our power to bring them to the decision that we hope they make, right? And so oftentimes like I’m coaching, like I’ll say, “How did you lead the donor in that meeting? What did you tell them you were going to do next?”

Little simple things like, “Thank you so much. It’s so good to catch up with you. You know, you asked about that one thing. I kind of looked that up and I’ll circle back with you here next month about that.” You just led them. You told them what you were going to do next.

Back to even when let’s pretend you are asking them in November and maybe you connected with them in October and you’re telling them what you were going to do. You’re going to leave them until it’s, “Hey, I’m going to ask you in November.” So I’ll say things like, “Hey, Tom and Sue, next time we meet I just would love to share with you a couple different ways you could invest in the organization this year. Can I do that?” I’m leading them, leading them.

Here’s a really important example. During the ask, you know, oftentimes, you know, okay, great. Now, my client is confident they’re doing the ask. They’ve solicited, you know, they’ve asked that you raise their gifts to $20,000, whatever it is. How did we leave it? I’ll say how do we leave it? And sometimes I’ll get, they told me they’d call me. They’d let me know that they’re going to let me know if they’re going to give the gift, right? We didn’t leave the donor. We left it back in their lap. We’ve got to pick it up.

So I’ll say things like, you know, in some scenarios I’ll say things like, “I don’t expect you to make a decision today. You know, think about it, pray about it for two weeks, whatever that is for your organization.” And let’s see here, “Are you in town here in two Fridays? Yeah, okay, the 17th.” Great. So I’ll reach back out that morning and just see what questions what you have and see the decisions been made. So, what have I done? I picked that right back off. So it’s ask and I pick it back up. So, so key.

Now, let’s say they make a gift, [awesome job 00:46:18]. Here’s where, here’s probably the biggest misstep on this that I see. The biggest misstep isn’t how we respond. And so, of course, I want you to send proper and warm thank you’s and all of that kind of stuff. My number one rule is thanking and responding, and reporting to the donor on the impact is exceed expectations. This is donor retention. How did you, like what was the last taste in their mouth, right?

So I see that bar or I guess should have bar low or the poll drop, however you want to say it so often on this. And so, you picking up the same thanking, knocking it out of the park, I love to hear something like, “You didn’t need to do that.” I love that. Of course, you’re right, I didn’t but I did, right? So you thanking and then saying something like, well, I’m looking so forward to reporting back to you in 90 days on how your gifts was used.

I’ll circle back in March. What did I just do? I got them right back in to this path, and I drove them and led them to this annual giving experience. So, if we just send the thank you and then it goes away, we got to try to figure out how to get back front of them. Oh, now they’re not asking my email again. But when we tell them what we’re going to do or have a much greater chance of getting back in front of them and leading them through an annual giving experience, to their best gift and then that gift every year. So we have more control over that than you might think.

So, last but not least, so that’s that whole math equation for you to kind of think about for your organization. And so, what does that ask look like? Sometimes I get, well, okay, this makes sense. I’m feeling confident in this, I think. But what does that ask look like?

And so, you know, that could a whole nother hour long presentation, Steven, on the ask. But I would just say that your confidence will grow when you have this, what we’ve talked about today along with the right tools in place. And your confidence really will grow and your confidence then becomes contagious to your large donors.

So we talked about your number one, experience plans, that’s what I call that path. Chart out what your experience plans are to your top donors. How are going to move this donor from 1K to 5K? How are you going to move your $25,000 donor to a $50,000 donor? What does that look like?

Number two, have some sort of what I would call, man, I have a lot of different names for this, a pitch deck, conversion piece, a conversation prompt, all sorts of things. And that is what I’m saying here is your mid and major level donors do not get the general trifold brochure. They do not. They get an exclusive experience. They get a conversation over presentation. They get, “Hey, I’m going to show you this on my iPad,” to bring out maybe a pie chart that shows that giving that we talked about.

I want us to be leaning in the conversations where we were saying, “Hey, can I share this with you? I want to bring up transparent financial price of investment level discussion that many nonprofits avoid. That means you have to know your numbers. But that means your donors are going to see you differently and they’re going to see you as somebody who will spend their donation well. You are a good investment if you’re bringing up and bringing to the table these types of discussions.

And then a lot of my clients we use a gift chart, something very specific where you can actually have very open conversation about the sized gift that you need. And so I want you to hear on this slide that our mid and major level donors have to be communicated to differently. They need to see different things from us. This is not a presentation. This is us sitting down and having that business level conversation.

I don’t know about you but I’m going to take a deep breath right now as I push through that. So as we gather some questions here in the chat that you guys have been asking. I’ve been trying to address some as they go by. But I just wanted to quickly share with you and that way it will allow us to have maybe seven minutes for questions, Steven, if that’s all right. If you’re curious about what it looks like to have me come alongside you and your nonprofit to implement this kind of methodology that I’ve been sharing with today, I just wanted to share with you.

I have a 90-day program that I work virtually with nonprofits all over the country and I call it Let’s Grow. And how it works is it’s just actually you and me. You and me and sometimes the board member and they’re all live. It’s not recorded. And so we spend the first 60 days really putting all of the structure in place for you and translating a lot of your strategic assets into things that you can use in solicitations. And I’ll give you all the guidelines and templates, and previews, and all the kind of stuff that you need to do that. And I do that so that in the last 30 days, we can actually move into true solicitation and you actually can go talk to donors, connectors and donors. And so you can actually put into practice quickly what you’ve learned. And a lot of my clients even are soliciting gifts by the end of our time together which is super exciting to see.

And so my clients are getting awesome results, you know, their board members’ gifts are growing. People are using it to grow their corporate gifts, you know, using the kind of the same strategy doing event asks. I had a donor the other day call me and tell me they had tripled the donor donation and so this methodology works well and it works quickly.

So I asked if you want to go to my website and check it out, I’ve got lots of information on it. My website is And then you say /letsgrow and that goes straight to my 90-day program. That’s my maiden and my married names mushed together. I have people apply because I just want to chat with you and see what’s going on in your nonprofit. I only take clients who I know, like okay, yep, I can help you with that. Yep, we can do this. This is going to work.

And so I just invite you. After you apply, you’ll get a bounce back and you could top up my schedule, and we’ll just talk about what’s going on in your nonprofit, what’s keeping you up at night. Totally not a sales call, nothing you have to buy. And if I can help you, I will certainly let you know.

I did tell Steven, I said, “You know, Steven, I’ve never done this but I’m feeling kind of . . . And maybe it’s pre-holiday cheer. If you register for the 90-day program in about a month time by November 15th, I’m actually giving the third month free. And so, if you mention that you were on this Bloomerang webinar, it’s a pretty significant discount and so I literally have never done that but I’m super thankful for Bloomerang for this opportunity to share with you. And so hop over there and reach out to me and I’d be happy just to chat with you and learn about what’s going on in your world.

Okay, Steven, here’s my last slide and so maybe there’s some other questions that people have coming through.

Steven: Yeah. We got a few but first, I want to say thank you, Sherry. Thanks for sharing all this knowledge with us. I knew this is going to be a good one and it didn’t disappoint me. I have a feeling everyone else enjoyed it well. So thank you, thank you for doing this. This is awesome. We got a few questions here. If you haven’t asked your question, now is the time. Probably got about maybe four or five minutes. Cookie here is wondering, how do you get that donor meeting, Sherry? And tips for actually getting a donor to agree to meet with you in the first place? I know it’s kind of hard.

Sherry: Cookie, this is the core question, isn’t it, Cookie? You know what, fortune is in the follow up. I did not make it that phrase. I got it from somebody else but I use it a lot. There is no magic bullet. I’m going to be very honest with you. I believe in honesty. Fundraising is hard, there is no magic bullet. It is continual follow-up and there’s a fine line, isn’t there, between like we don’t want to sound too salesy. We don’t want to sound like we’re begging. We really want to sound like we’re moving into this kind of peer-to-peer relationship where, “Hey, I love to share with you what this looks like. I’d love to get a little bit of your time.” Sometimes just not knowing your exact scenario you’re asking about but sometimes I’ll make it feel like . . . Again, this is leading the donor, right? I’ll make it seem really easy.

I’ll say, “Hey, Tom, I know we haven’t connected in a while. I’m in your area or near your office area on Wednesday morning. Are you ever in early? I’d just love to stop in for 10 minutes and just share with you what your gift did. I’ll make it feel like, well, okay, or do you ever take a lunch hour, because I’m in your area and I’ll just . . . and literally I’ll take 15 minutes of your time.

And I’ll just keep it really like, hey, this is not a two-and-a-half-hour coffee. I’d like to share X with you. And just get back on their radar. You know, don’t think it has to be this big thing and I ask him again, just try to get back in front of them and sometimes my biggest advice will be your goal in that meeting is if they like you. Was it warm? Would they do it again? Sometimes don’t have any other expectations than that because then it’s like, “Oh, right, Cookie. Yeah, she’s good and she knows her stuff. Yeah, I like her.” That’s the win sometimes, right? So that would probably be my biggest advice but I’m the first to tell you there’s no magic bullet but it is really persistence, persistence, persistence.

Steven: I love it. I’ll leave this question anonymous but the asker is asking, “What’s the best way to communicate to their ED that you got to invest in these things? They got money to make money. You know, they want to focus on the gifts you’ll giving and, you know, getting better software, professional development, all those things. Any tips for getting buy-in from leadership whether it’s, you know, the ED, founder, board member? Probably run into that I assume, Sherry.

Sherry: Yeah, this is a tough one. You know, other than can you send them a link to this webinar.

Steven: Right, right, maybe.

Sherry: You know, and so at the end of the day I mean you’re only going to convince people who actually want to grow and change, right? So I have to say like we got to be a little realistic here. You know, I’ll . . . you’re doing. And so sometimes a leader is resistant to change and you don’t want to grow. And it just seems overwhelming or scary. You know, gosh, this is a really hard and good question, Steven, because I think, you know, I alluded. Go ahead. You’re going to say something?

Steven: Oh, no, I was just chuckling. I agree, yeah.

Sherry: Oh, yeah. I mean I’ll give you an example. I’m literally doing one of these to a board tonight who, you know, if ED wants it, she wants to grow and they’re saying, “No, no, no. You just need to be doing more of doing more asks. We need to be submitting more grant proposals. Like you don’t . . . Why do you need this?” This is maybe what I’ll say. I find that and I think the question was like how is our ED? That’s why this is a little different angle but I’m hoping it translates.

Steven: Okay.

Sherry: Yeah. I find that there’s so much education that has to happen, like either in educating a board on, “Hey, it’s okay. Like your ED is kind of lonely and the lone ranger out here fundraising.” And they’re asking for help, and so we need to invest. And if they’re asking for it, let’s be respectful and respond to them and say, “Okay, you’re asking for this. You know, you haven’t had. You know, you’re a social worker. You haven’t had traditional fundraising coaching. So I guess we are going to invest in that.” And so these are long conversations that sometimes happen over years where it’s like, “Okay. Good, Sherry, I got some money put in my budget for professional development services and I want to spend it on fundraising because I know if I have stuff to do, I could do it.”

But I also feel like, step one, probably this is the best way to answer the question would be the understanding that nothing will grow when we have a scarcity mindset. And when we are in reactive mode, when we are in, oh, gosh, I hope we can do this mode, like, you know, with anything else in life. We have a goal, there it is. What are the steps I need to take towards it? And so that’s a hard position to be in and I would say take it slow, take it step by step. You’re not going to, you know, convince this ED to go from, 500 to 700 even if you really need it. And everybody needs raises and everybody needs more staff, and everybody needs technology. It’s going to be probably slower and steadier than you need, than you want it to be.

Steven: I love it. Sherry, this is awesome. It’s about 3:00 so that might be a good way to end it. But would you be willing to take questions maybe by email or how can people reach out to you? Is that okay?

Sherry: Happy to. Yeah. Even if they hop on website at or my email is [email protected] They can reach out to me or you can go to the contact. I’ll put my email here in the chat room. Even they can reach out on my contact page and reach out to me, I’d be happy to answer any follow-up questions.

Steven: I love it. This is awesome, Sherry. Thank you so much. Thanks for doing this, great advice.

Sherry: Thanks for having me.

Steven: Yeah. This is going to be a good one for our archive. So, if you’re watching the recording, hope you enjoyed it. Thanks to all of you for listening live. Always cool to see a full room. I know it’s going to be a busy time of year so I appreciate all of you taking time on your day to hang out with us. Definitely reach out to Sherry, she’s obviously a wealth of information. And we’d love to see you again next week. We got a special Wednesday session for you. 2 p.m. Eastern, my buddy, Rachel Clemens and her colleague, Caroline, from Mighty Citizen are going to join us and talk about millennials. I know millennials can be a little bit of an annoying topic but this one can be really cool. We’ve got some, I’ve seen the slides, some really interesting studies are referenced in this session and I think that you’ll find it’s not the typical advice you hear on millennial giving.

So join us 2 p.m. on Wednesday, just six short days from now. And if you’re too busy to join us, that’s okay, we got other sessions lined up through the end of the year. We’ve got some great stuff coming up over the next few weeks so check out our webinar page and you might find a session that might solve a problem for you that you’re experiencing right now. So we’ll call it a day there. Look for an email from me with all the goodies, slides, the recording. I’ll get that out today, I promise. And hopefully, we’ll see you again next week. So have a good rest of your Thursday, have a safe weekend, stay warm out there and we’ll talk to you again soon. Bye.

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.