There is huge potential for impact when you connect your organization to individuals with the capacity to make a significant gift.

Kathie Kramer Ryan recently joined us for a webinar in which she outlined seven steps to starting (or improving!) a successful major gifts program. Watch this replay to learn how to plan and prepare, what to say during a solicitation visit, and how to follow up to maximize donor cultivation and stewardship.

Full Transcript:

Steven Shattuck: Right, cool. All right. Let’s get started. Well, good
afternoon everyone, if you’re on the East coast. Good morning, if you’re on
the west coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s
webinar, “The Sky is the Limit: Build a Rockin’ Major Gifts Program From
Scratch.” My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the V.P. of Marketing here at
Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion.

Just a couple of housecleaning items before we begin. Just want to let
everyone know that we are recording this presentation and I’ll be sending
out that recording along with the slides a little later on this afternoon.
If you have to leave early or if you want to review the content, you will
be able to do that later on, so look for an email from me later on this

Just so everyone knows, this webinars are interactive, so if you’re
listening, feel free to send any questions to me and the presenter. Along
the way, we’ll answer those questions in the formal Q and A session towards
the end of the presentation. I want to head in and introduce our guest. She
is Kathie Kramer Ryan, M.S. Hey there, Kathie. How’s it going?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: I’m doing well, Steven. How are you?

Steven Shattuck: Good. Thanks for being here. This should be a lot of fun.
For those of you who don’t know, Kathie, she’s worked in Development in
leadership positions in the non-profit sector for about 15 years. She
served as a Development Director where she raised over 40 million dollars.
She has a passion for connecting donors to the causes they care about. That
led her to launch her consulting business, Arroyo Fundraising in 2011.
There she enjoys sharing her knowledge of non-profit management and fund
development with other fundraising professionals.

Kathie is a past-president of the A.F.P. chapter in Colorado. She currently
serves on the Steering Committee and chairs the Mentor Committee for The
Institute for Leaders in Development at the University of Denver. She’s
also held numerous board, committee and advisory positions. This should be
a lot of fun. This is going to be a really great presentation. I had a
chance to look at the slides a little earlier today. This will be really
good and I want everyone to please be encouraged to send some questions our

Kathie will be available at the end to answer any of your questions for
about as much time as we have before 2 o’clock, Eastern hour, so if you
send those our way through the chat box there on your screen. Kathie, I’m
not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and
get us started.

Kathie Kramer Ryan: OK. Will do. Thank you so much, Steven, for that great
intro. I’m so happy to be here. Thanks to Bloomerang, or course, for
hosting. To everybody out there on the webinar, thank you for taking the
time to be here with us. I’m truly thrilled to be able to share this time
with you and hopefully make it worth your while. Developing this webinar, I
really did it with you in mind and packed it with lots of information that
you can walk away with, some solid next steps on how to build a successful
major gifts program for your organization.

Just a little bit more about me. Steven did give a great intro, but I
wanted to just share with you that before I started my coaching and
consulting business, I did work in the non-profit sector as a staff person
as Steven said, for about 11 years. I really do understand the challenges,
or at least many of the challenges that you are facing every day in your
job. I’m fortunate to have had a wide range of experience.

I was a one-person shop for several organizations, but I’ve also worked for
larger organizations such as the Denver Art Museum, which is a pretty big
cultural institution here in Denver, which is where I’m based. I’ve done
just about everything there is to do in fundraising. I’ve done capital
campaigns. I’ve run events. I’ve written grants, I’ve built annual funds,
and of course, major gifts fundraising, hopefully I have that experience is
like teaching this webinar.

I learned about major gifts by doing this work myself, day in and day out.
Before we go on, I just wanted to find out a little bit about you all —
this working? If you are comfortable and went into the chat boxes, a great
way to be a little bit interactive on the webinar, even though I can’t see
all of your smiling faces out there, I’d love to learn a little bit more
about you. Let me know if you are raising major gifts now at your
organization, or if this is something that is brand new to you and you are
just trying to get some more information, so you’re brand new.

Also, – wow, you guys are really off in the distance, really the results
are really coming in, so it looks like a lot of new folks. That’s
fantastic. Also, what sector are you working in? Are you in education,
social services, the environment, et cetera. I like to get a sense of who’s
in here. Oh, yeah, some folks have lots of experience. You could probably
be teaching this class. That’s great. Okay, a good mix. Fantastic. Well,
great. Thank you again all of you for being on here.

I want to get started now with the need of the talk. I call it The Sky is
the Limit because I believe that major gifts fundraising is limitless
because of the passion and the capacity of people in your communities so I
like to say the sky’s the limit. I believe if you have a system for raising
major gifts and you’re putting in the work, you can start raising more
money for your organization than you may have thought possible.

My next slide is this quote from Tony Robbins, which I love. I actually
have a painting in my office. “The only limit to your impact is your
imagination and commitment.” What I love about that quote is that it really
says it’s in our hands. We have the power and the control to make whatever
we want happen in our lives. I challenge you to apply this quote to your
work with major gifts.

The next slide are these stats, which I’m sure are familiar to some of you,
if not all of you. The first is 87% of philanthropic dollars in the U.S.
are donated by individuals. I apologize. There are folks on the webinar
that are outside the U.S. and I don’t have that stat for outside the U.S.,
but I would suspect that it’s going to be similar. This is put out by
Giving USA every year and it includes family foundations, so it varies by a
percent or so each year, but it’s usually around 87 to 88% of giving comes
from individuals.

A lot of times folks who don’t know a lot about fundraising think that all
of the money comes from foundations or corporations because a lot of times
we see those big gifts in the news. This is clearly not the case. The money
is really coming from individuals. The second stat really speaks
specifically to major gifts. What this is, is that 80% of funding comes
from 20% of donors. This holds true for a lot of organizations. I probably
shouldn’t say all organizations, because I’m not sure, but I think it holds
true for many.

I actually wonder, again, if you want to use the chat box, since you guys
are so comfortable with it, putting in if you know the breakdown of your
organization of what percentage of funding comes from the top donors. This
is an interesting stat to know. What I hear from a lot of non-profits is
that they’re actually seeing more like 90/10, meaning that 90% of funding
is coming from 10% of donors. That’s a pretty significant statistic.

I mention these because I encourage you to put your time and energy where
it’s going to have the biggest payoff for your organization. Knowing how
busy you are and how many things you have going on as a fundraising
professional, it pays to be as efficient as possible. It would make sense
that you’re going to spend 80 to 90% of your time working with 10 to 20% of
your donors. These donors are the ones that can really make a big impact on
your work and on your mission. I just encourage you to spend time where
you’re going to have the greatest results.

Next, I’m going to talk about this seven steps system pretty much
throughout the webinar today. The steps are easy to learn and easy to
follow and it’s also a repeatable cycle. I know and believe that if you
follow these steps, you will see results in major gifts fundraising for
your non-profit. These are just the steps and we’ll do a quick overview,
then we’ll get into them in a little bit. The steps are assessing where you
are, making a plan, prospecting, but that I mean developing your prospect
list, four is cultivating your prospects and donors, five is preparing to
make an ask, six is actually asking for a gift, and seven is thanking your

Like Steven says, you’re going to get all these

[inaudible 00:09:06] of all
this information in detail. Before we get started though, I would love to
just talk about what is a major gift for your organization. Because we have
– oh, I’m just looking now at these results, so, 90% from five, yeah,
that’s a lot, 10%, 30%. Great. Thank you for putting those in. I’m
wondering if you know where major gifts is for your organization. Since a
lot of you are new, you might not, and that’s fine. We’re going to talk
about that and help you figure it out.

One thing you probably know is that it varies organization to organization.
If you have a friend who works for ABC non-profit, it might be completely
different from what a major gift is for your organization. I have a full
chart which will get our head in the game a little bit. This looks at total
fundraising income, which is – Okay, last 10,000 and up, 5000. Great, thank
you for all that.

If your budget – [inaudible 00:10:06] total fundraising budget and then
giving per donor over the course of the years. If your budget is a million
dollars and under, a major gift for you might be 5000 and up. It might even
be probably lower than that, but if you’re well over a million dollars.
I’ll say that when I started my very first fundraising job, I worked for
Denver’s Rape Crisis Center. It was a very grassroots organization. Our
budget was 1.3 million dollars and for us, $5000 was definitely a major
gift. In fact, I remember one time we received a check for more than I
expected, for $10,000.

My Executive Director and I were literally jumping up and down in her
office with joy because we were so excited that we had never, I had never,
actually the biggest gift I had ever raised to-date, at that time. From
that job, I went to the Denver Art Museum, where $5000 was a pretty common
gift. Don’t get me wrong, we definitely appreciated that gift, but they
were common. We didn’t jump up and down for $5000 gift, or even for $10,000

The Denver Art Museum has a budget of well over 10 million dollars, so for
them a major gift was 100,000 and up, for sure. This is a frame to give
your head in the game. I want you to think about what is a major gift for
your organization. A really simple way to do this, we’re going to go to
your database and you’re going to run a query or a report of all of your
giving to your organization for the last year to two years.

Then, you want to sort these gifts from highest to lowest. Then, look at
those highest gifts. Usually, though, the top 10, 20 or 30 gifts will clump
together. They’ll be a little separate and you’ll be able to see where that
cutoff is. You don’t want to look at just the top one to two gifts. Those
probably aren’t an indication of everybody at that highest capacity for
your organization. Just look at where that natural break is, and that’s
about where your major gift is for your organization, at least at this
point. Of course, that can change, how your budget changes and how your
fundraising changes.

We’re going to step right now into those seven steps and really get down to
brass tacks here. Step number one is assessing where you are. This, as you
can see, has five parts to it. I could have broken it into five parts, the
five different steps, but I really feel that these are all [inaudible
00:12:33] in a way. They’re those fundamental elements that probably most
organizations should have in place to do fundraising. When you start
getting into major gifts, these things get to be super critical.

We’re going to talk about these separately. We’re going to talk about case
for support, gift acceptance policy, a donor tracking system or database, a
process to acknowledge your donors and then having the right people. Case
For Support. The Case For Support is really telling your prospective donors
why they should donate to you. Why are you so great? Why is your mission so
critical to your community? You want to start with a compelling big picture
view and then support that with facts and statistics.

Then, I always caution, don’t get too heavy with the facts and stats. That
can get a little bit dry. You want to have an emotional pull. You want to
use maybe a client story or something to really draw your prospects and
donors in emotionally. These also include your vision and how their gift to
your organization is going to help you to reach that vision. They want to
know how they can make an impact.

If you don’t have a formal case for support, I suspect that you have bits
and pieces of it already at your organization, especially if you’ve been
writing grants. Grant proposals often request the types of information
you’re going to put in a Case For Support. They want to know your history.
They want to know your impact, whatever results that you can show. These
are the same types of things you’re going to put in a Case For Support.
There’s resources online. In fact, I have a free download on my website
about how to write a Case For Support if you want to get into more of the
nitty gritty of that.

Once you get that drafted, edited, maybe your board needs to approve it,
whatever process you need to go through, then you can move on to the next
step, which is having a gift acceptance policy. A gift acceptance policy
outlines the types of gifts that your organization is equipped to accept.
There probably some things that you may not want to accept. For example, do
you take cars? Do you take boats? Gifts of land, gifts of art, these types
of things. Some unusual donations like that.

For example, if you get a car, how are you going to deal with that car? Are
you going to sell it? Are you going to keep it for your clients for
transportation? Are you going to use it for your staff for transportation?
Anything specific like that that you can put in writing is great to have
for your donors to know how to ask how it’s going to be used once it’s
donated. When I worked at the Denver Art Museum, as you might imagine, lots
of people wanted to donate their gifts of art. We would get these calls. “I
found this painting in my grandmother’s attic. It’s beautiful. I really
want the Art Museum to have it.” Well, the Denver Art Museum, because of
this, had to have a very detailed policy about accepting art. They had an
appraisal process, a curator had to weigh in on all of this.

This is obviously much more detailed than you would need about accepting
art, unless of course, you’re a museum or art center. These are just some
things to think about. How are you going to handle these things. Another
example is that an organization I worked with had a board member who
donated a time share. It was a time share for a condo in Hawaii. They had
never gotten a gift like this before. It was a board member and they
certainly wanted to be respectful of that gift, so they decided to use it
as an auction item at their gala, which turned out to be great. They could
sell that year after year. It got to be a thing.

These are just a couple of examples of things to think about. You certainly
don’t have to think of every scenario in the world, but I just wanted to
get your head thinking of things besides cash and stocks. Just think about
that and get those things in writing. The next thing is a donor tracking
system. Hopefully, you’re not using a rolodex or a filing cabinet anymore.
Hopefully, you have an electronic database. If not, now would be a great
time to start looking at those and thinking about investing in one for your
organization. With major gift fundraising, there’s just a lot to keep track
of. You really want to be able to move your program forward. Having all of
that donor information captured in a database is just super important.

Of course you’ll use it to track donations, but there’s so much more
information that you can use databases for, especially when it comes to
your donor information. You can record their interests, what programs are
they most interested in. What are their interests in general? Do they like
to attend events? All kinds of info like this. You can also upload pledge
forms. You can save email exchanges with your donors. You can log phone
calls. There’s just a lot that you can do. I just think it’s so helpful to
have everything in one place that all of your development staff can access.

As long as they all access the database, you’ll all be on the same page in
terms of donor relations for each donor that you’re working with. I think
it also really helps when your fundraising staff moves on to another
organization, which we know happens, or they separate, folks move on to a
different position, which is great. But, instead of taking all their donor
knowledge with them, they’re going to leave it with your organization in
the database where it belongs.

Of course, the relationship with the donor is really with the organization,
so all of that information should stay with the organization and not go
with the fundraising officer. To wrap this up, if you haven’t invested in
donor database or you feel yours is maybe inadequate for the work that
you’re doing, think about investing in one now. Major gifts are too
important to not be able to have that data saved and accessed.

The next thing is a process to acknowledge your donors. When you’re doing
major gift fundraising, you don’t want to send out the same form letter
time and time again. You want to have a more sophisticated acknowledgement
process. The system should specify not only how soon a donor letter, but
also who’s going to sign that letter. Sometimes I see donor acknowledgement
systems where internal levels dictate who’s going to sign the letter. It
may be you as a development officer or development director is going to
sign at 1000 and below or 500 and below, whatever would make sense.

Then at 1000 and above or 5000 and above, you would have your C.E.O. sign
it, your Executive Director. Then maybe at some point, a board member would
sign or sometimes you would have two signatures. You want to just figure
that out. Then sometimes a donor might actually get a phone call. If that’s
the case, then who’s going to make that call. These are the types of things
you want to think about ahead of time and just document so everybody

One organization that I know is an afterschool program for low-income kids.
They send a photo of this year’s class of students to donors of 25,000 and
above. Other donors to this organization receive a hand-written thank you
note from a student. Think about what special things make sense for your
organization and what you might do for your highest donors.

The last element of step number one is to have the right people. You can’t
do this work on your own. There’s a lot that goes into it. It takes a lot
of time. The best thing to do is to pull together some key volunteers,
including some board members, to form a Major Gifts Committee. You could
certainly use your Development Committee for this work, but I like to have
a focused Major Gifts Committee if you have the volunteer capacity to do
that. This committee can be super helpful if you engage them in the right
ways. I’m going to talk about that as we go through the rest of the
webinar, ways you can pull in these key volunteers.

We’ll just take one more look at the things we’ve talked about, these five
things, case for support, gift acceptance policy, donor tracking systems,
process to acknowledge donors and then the right people. Once you have
those five elements in place, you can really start with your major gifts
program in earnest.

Step number two is to make a plan. I have these two graphics here to
represent what I think are the two most important parts of your plan. The
first is your goal, of course. How much are you trying to raise? The second
is your timeline. We’ll talk about both of these. I’m going to start with
the goal because it’s probably the most important thing. You’ll need to
know how much you’re going to raise. There’s a whole process about how to
set a fundraising goal, but let’s say for this exercise that you set a goal
of $200,000. How do we get to $200,000?

Here’s a Gift Chart. I’m going to spend a little bit of time on this slide.
Here’s a Gift Chart for raising 200,000. There are Gift Chart calculators
online, which is actually how I made this one. Just Google gift chart
calculator and you’ll find them. Then plug in whatever your goal is and
then it will spit out a Gift Chart similar to this. A few things about a
Gift Chart that I’d like you to keep in mind.

One is that a Gift Chart is really just a place to start. You really want
to tweak it for your own organization. You need to think about the capacity
of your own donors and prospects to be sure that these gift levels really
make sense for your organization. Just know that it’s just a place to
start. It’s not set in stone.

Second, you definitely want your target, your largest gift to be at least
10% of your overall goal. Something closer to 20% is actually better. In
this case, if we’re raising $200,000, you might want your largest gift to
be $50,000 instead of the $20,000 that they show here. If you have a donor
with that capacity, then you might want to shoot for that $50,000 gift.

The third thing I’d like you to look at is the third column, which is the
number of prospects. We all have more prospects than gifts because not
everybody is going to say yes. It’s generally accepted that you should have
four prospects for every one gift. Some people say three and three can work
at those high levels where you really know your prospects well and you’re
pretty certain that they’re going to donate at the level you have them
plugged in for. I just like to have four just to be super conservative.

The last thing about a Gift Chart to keep in mind is, don’t get too caught
up in it. Like I said, it’s a tool, but I think I can safely say that
campaigns never, ever will really run exactly how the Gift Chart predicts.
It’s just a way to get your head in the game on how many donors do you need
to use for these goals. These things can be tweaked along the way. As
you’re starting to raise money and you see where the gifts are coming in,
you can tweak the Gift Chart accordingly.

Now, here’s a question I’ve been asked. “Do I really need to get these big
gifts? Can I just raise $200,000 from getting a bunch of smaller gifts,
say, $100 gifts.” Now this question makes perfect sense. Of course it’s
much easier to get $100 gift than it is to get a gift for $20,000, right?

I had to learn this, all about how this works in my very first fundraising
job at the Rape Crisis Center. I mentioned before I worked at the Rape
Crisis Center very gradually. I was planning our annual fundraising
luncheon. Our fundraising goal was something like $30,000. I said to my
boss, the Executive Director, “Well, this is going to be easy. We’ll just
sell a bunch of tickets to the luncheon. I’m going to write the best
solicitation letter ever and lots of people will want to attend our

Well, my Executive Director – I just have to laugh when I think about this.
My Executive Director was very kind and she did not laugh at me. She said,
“Well, let’s get the sponsorship package put together and sent out.” My
Executive Director knew that at $50 a ticket, we would need to sell 600
tickets in order to raise $30,000, which meant I needed to send about 2,400
letters because I need four prospects for every gift. For any of you that
have done this type of fundraising, I will probably have to make hundreds
of follow-up calls for those letters, because letters in and of themselves
have not always been effective.

In the end, we did raise the $30,000, but it came from selling 300 tickets
and then we raised another $15,000 in sponsorships. That’s when I learned
that you don’t make big money on events through ticket sales. The real
money comes from sponsorships. That’s exactly the same thing with major
gifts. You really need those big gifts in order to reach those big goals.
We talked a lot about the fundraising goal and your Gift Chart.

The next thing I want to talk quickly about is the timeline. You want to
have some basic parameters some place before you get started, otherwise
these things tend to drag on and on. Make sure that your board is on the
same page with this, your Major Gifts Committee, everybody agrees on the
timeline. What is the start date? What is the end date? Are you going to
have, is this going to go for a year? A small campaign, is it going to go
for six months? Are you going to do it for three years? Think about all

Then, what is the milestone? When do you think you’re going to be able to
secure that lead gift? That lead gift really sets the stage for everything
else. Knowing these types of milestones, when these gifts are going to come
in, is going to help you to back out from there all the stuff that you need
to take, especially meetings and all of that in order to reach those goals.
That’s pretty much step two.

Step three is your major gift prospect list. The major gift prospect list,
if you don’t have one, there’s an easy way to start one and I know that
there’s a lot of folks here just starting this, which is great. You’re
going to go to your database and you can run a report, actually two
reports. You’re going to run a report of your highest donors, which are
donors making the largest gifts and also your most loyal donors.

The loyal donors are those that have been donating to your organization for
a long time. Their gifts may not be large, but they’ve been with you for a
long time, even for maybe five years, ten years, even twenty years or more.
These folks are super invested in your mission, so it really makes sense to
put them on your major gift prospect list. That’s it. That’s your list to

The next thing I’m going to talk about is qualifying prospects, which I
think is something that gets missed oftentimes. After you have your
prospect list, what is qualifying process? This is the way that you can
figure out to use your list wisely and where you’re going to have your best
chance to raise the most amount of money, which, knowing how this . . .

To qualify prospects, you’re going to engage your major gift committee.
It’s a great place to pull them in. You want to think about Linkage,
Interest and Ability. You may have heard this term LIA, that’s what it
stands for, Linkage, Interest and Ability. You had your Major Gifts
Committee meeting. For each person at the meeting, you have a copy of the
prospect list. After each prospect name – I’m sorry, I have a call coming
in. I thought I had turned that off on my phone.

After each prospect name, you want to have three columns. You have Linkage,
Interest and Ability. As a group, you’re going to be rating each prospect
for these three qualities. You can use a scale from zero to five, where
zero is no connection and five is the best connection, or zero to ten,
whatever makes the most sense to your organization.

We’re going to start with linkage. Linkage is an indication of your
organization’s relationship with this person, with the prospect or donor.
For example, for prospect A, let’s call him Bob, and Bob is best friends
with your Board Chair. Bob’s score for Linkage might be a five, because you
have a way to connect with this person. After you’ve done Linkage, you’re
going to go onto interest.

Say prospect Bob is well-known in the community as a patron of the arts.
You work for a public school. If Bob doesn’t generally support education
causes, it may not matter how good a friend your Board Chair is, his
Interest score is probably only a zero or a one.

Then you go to Ability. If Bob has high capacity, give him a four or five
for Ability. You can also check your database, because if this person’s
already a donor, just look at any clues you might have, especially their
ability to give and other things in order to help you score these folks on
Linkage, Interest and Ability.

After you’ve done this exercise, for all of your prospects, you can total
up scores and the prospects with the highest scores should be your initial
targets for major gift fundraising. I hope you see that it’s important to
have all three qualities present for someone to be a good major gift
prospect to your organization. It really doesn’t matter how much money
someone has, because if they don’t have an interest in you mission or if
you don’t have a way to get an introduction to them, their money is
probably a moot point.

In fact, you probably have someone in your organization that’s always being
projected as a potential donor. I know we have some of these folks in
Denver that are high profile in the community and so the folks are saying
why don’t you get so-and-so? If there’s anybody . . . an example. If
there’s anyone on the webinar from Seattle, person I’d keep Bill Gates, the
board members, or anyone trying to help, they might say, “Let’s get Bill
Gates. Let’s ask him for a gift. He’s got money.”

Well, of course, because Bill Gates and his wife have capacity and we know
they’re philanthropic, just because of that, it doesn’t mean they’re
interested in supporting your mission. In the . . . ask Bill Gates on
mostly education and access to information technology. But, even if you’re
in the education sector, you would still need to get a connection to access
Bill Gates. He’s probably pretty hard to track down. Maybe someone in your
organization does have a connection to Bill and Melinda Gates, and then
that will be great. Otherwise, it’s challenging to get to some of those

Again, going back to those three qualifiers, Linkage, Interest and Ability,
you need to have all three present in order to have it make sense to have a
prospect on your list. Just want to swing back around to this process, just
to see where we’re at. We talked about assessing where you are. We talked
about making a plan and we talked about your prospect list.

The next thing we’re going to get into is cultivating your prospects.
Cultivating your prospects is essentially building a relationship with your
prospects, helping them to learn about your work and mission. For each of
your top prospects in major gift work, you want to have an individualized
cultivation plan based on your prospects interests. This is a pretty
critical step. It’s a great place to get help from your Major Gifts
Committee. You want to be thoughtful about each step in the process and
choose the right staff person or volunteer to complete step.

On the next slide, I have this Sample Cultivation Plan. I realize that
there’s a lot of information on here. This is just a sample and yours will
probably look completely different with some similarities, but this is just
to get you to think about the types of things that you should be adding to
your Cultivation Plan.

This is for a donor named Jane Simons. She’s a fictional donor who is
interested in the Aurora After School Program. For each cultivation or
touch point, you see that I created some goal, and agenda or goal for that
particular thing. Then I have another column for notes to put in a
database. I really think it’s important to track all of these steps.
Here I have things like coffee meetings, site visits, email follow-up, et
cetera. Everything, every touch that you’re going to have with a donor or
prospect should go into the Cultivation Plan. Just looking at a couple of
these things, we have a coffee meeting. I want to ask Jane questions about
here interests, other organizations that she supports, ask her if she’s
interested in a facility tour. Then document anything that I’ve learned in
the database. You can just do help a student computer access college,
that’s great.

Then, I sent an email thank you, the same day if possible, or the next day.
Just thanking her for her time, it doesn’t have to be long. She’s
interested in a tour, so if you can get that scheduled right then and
there. You do this facility afterschool program. I make sure that I have a
couple of students there that can talk to Jane about the program.

Again, anything you learn, put that in the database. You learn that Jane is
interested in the Math program. Great. Put that in the database. Follow-up
phone call thanking her for her visit. Log the call. Any notes that you
learned, put those in the database. We just keep going through, step by
step until we’re ready to ask Jane to make a gift and that completed the

Fundraisers often ask me how long should we cultivate a donor before we ask
for a gift. That is a great question. Unfortunately, there’s not a great
answer because it really varies. It depends on a lot of things. It depends
on how much money you’re going to ask for. Generally, you want to cultivate
longer if you’re going to ask … gift. How well you know the donor to
start, and the donor’s wishes. Some donors don’t like to be cultivated.
They don’t want to spend the time having coffee with you and making small
talk. It’s just the way that it is. They want you to speak about the
program. They want you to cut to the chase. Hopefully, you’re going to
learn that early on while cultivating your donor if they’re not interesting
in the cultivation.

This example shows it went about four and a half months. It might take much
longer. For example, I worked with a charter school network in Denver. They
were introduced to a person with significant capacity who they eventually
asked for a 7 million dollar gift, but it took a full two years, actually
longer than two years, a little bit longer, from the day that they first
met the person until they asked for that $7 million.

A lot of visits at the person’s office, at the school, and then even after
they asked for the gift, the donor asked a lot of questions about how the
money would be used, super detailed things, a lot of wanted a lot of
financial information. Stuff that had been provided partially in the Case
For Support and then the proposal, but still, he wanted things in a
different form. Then had to go back and do this written proposal according
to his specifications and then it was submitted.

My point is that major gifts take time. You probably wouldn’t ask someone
for a seven figure gift just a few weeks after meeting them. You just
really need the time to get to know them and what’s important to them.

The next thing I’d like to talk about is preparing for the ask. I believe
there are four things you want to do to do a good job in preparing for the
ask. I like to make this step by step because I do think that it’s super

The first thing is you want to make sure that the donor knows why you’re
meeting. This makes perfect sense. Going back to Jane Simons, . . . knows
that we’re meeting to talk about her support of the afterschool program.
What you don’t want to do is ask Jane if she wants to meet to ask for her
advice, when in fact you’re going to ask her for gift. That’s a sure way to
get things off on the wrong foot. You really want to set up the expectation
up front that you’re going to be talking about support.

The second thing is think about who’s going to be at this meeting. Is it
going to be you with your C.E.O., or possibly you with a board member? Or
maybe because Jane likes the Math program, maybe you want to get the Math
Program Director involved somehow in the meeting. Figure out who has the
best connection to your prospect and also think about who your prospect
would have the hardest time saying no to. That might be a person you want
to bring on this visit.

If it’s going to be you and another person, and I actually do strongly
suggest that it’s a two-person ask for a number of reasons. I’ve written a
lot of posts about why it’s good to ask in pairs that you can find on my
website. But, if you aren’t doing it with another person, think about who’s
going to say what. You really want to have those talking points ironed out
before the meeting, that you’re not stumbling over what you’re going to say
or you’re saying what your partner’s supposed to say. Figure out what that
is and you might even do some role playing, especially if you have a
volunteer to join you. Volunteers, they don’t … your organization day in
and day out the way that you do. They’re as not comfortable with the
talking points. Think about what the talking points are going to be and
then think about maybe role playing.

The third thing is think about the questions that your prospect might be
asking. I have found that once you ask for gift, they suddenly have a whole
bunch of questions. They may be asking how much are you trying to raise?
What are you going to be using my money for, specifically? How many
students are you going to be helping? How many dogs are you going to be
helping? Clients? Wetlands? Whatever your mission is, whatever your
mission’s addressing, how many of these things are going to be impacted by
my gift? How soon do you need this money they might ask.

You might be asked to answer a bunch of these questions already in your
Case For Support, you probably did while you were talking through the
opportunity, but sometimes they don’t hear everything so you want to be
prepared to answer all these question. Just think about what they’re going
to be and be prepared to answer them.

Then the fourth thing to think about before, as you’re preparing is how
much do you ask for? This is something you don’t want to be thinking about
at the last minute or trying to figure out during the meeting. You want to
have that nailed down before you get into the meeting. I recommend a
[inaudible 00:39:22] on your database. If this person’s a current donor,
what are they giving to your organization now and in the past.

Let’s go back to Jane Simons. If Jane’s been giving $25 to $100 in the
past, consider asking her for $5000. I also recommend doing some outside
research. You would of course doing some outside research if this person
was a prospect and not a current donor because you want to see what they’re
giving in a community. See what Jane’s giving to other organizations. If
she’s giving more, 10 or 20 thousand to other organizations, then consider
asking her for more than 5000.

Here’s another place you can pull in your Major Gifts Committee, for a
couple of reason. Pull them in and consult with them on what you want the
ask to be. First reason is you want to have a lot of brains on this. Your
Major Gifts Committee is out in the community as much or more than you are
and they may have some great information on Jane and her capacity to give.

The second reason you want to pulling your volunteers is you don’t want to
make this decision on your own. You want everybody to be on the same page.
Let’s say you’re asking for a $1000 gift. You go out and you ask for that
$1000, but you didn’t consult anybody. Then your Major Gift Committee says,
or your board, or your Executive Director, “Why didn’t you ask for $2000? I
thought that person had more capacity?” You just want everybody to be on
the same page.

After all that preparation, here you are, at the ask. The big moment that
you’ve been working up to. . . . major gift often ask, “What do I say?
What are the words I actually use to ask for this big chunk of money?”

First of all, my biggest piece of advice is just to relax. This is just a
conversation. If you’ve been doing that cultivation right, you’ve had a lot
of conversations with this donor already, and you know something about
them. They’re a friend. They’re a friend to your organization. You’ve let
the prospect know that the visit is to discuss support for the
organization, so he or she is not going to be caught off-guard. They’re
expecting you to ask for a gift and they’re ready for you to ask for a

The other thing to keep in mind is that you’re presenting this person with
an opportunity to make an impact in this world. In Jane Simons’ case, Jane
can help more kids access the after school Math program that she believes
is important for their education. You know this better than anyone.
Fundraising is super fulfilling for donors. They’re making an impact and
major gifts are even more so, because it can be a bigger impact. When they
can make an impact that they care about, this makes them happy. You are
helping your donor to feel that happiness by connecting them to a cause
that they care about. That is just magical. I just love that part of major
gift fundraising.

I am going to get into more specifics for you about what after the visit
can look like or should look like. This is an outline of a basic ask
conversation. I’ll walk through everything. The first thing is just some
small talk. Just like if you were going to go for coffee with a friend or a
colleague. You’re not going to just jump right into it. You’ll make some
small talk. How are your kids? How are your grandkids? Whatever makes sense
for this process that you know because you’ve been cultivating, so you know
a few things about them.

After the small talk, you’re going to thank them for something. If they’re
a donor, then you thank them for their past support. If they’re new to the
organization, you can thank them for their interest, thank them for taking
the time to meet with you. Thank them for something.

The next part is opportunity. Here is where you’re going to explain how
gifts like theirs have helped your organization in the past. You can tell a
story about someone who benefitted from your services. You can also share
that your goals or the goals of the campaign and how gifts are going to
help move them forward. I like to have this step for involving a prospect
because you really want to make sure you involve the prospect in the
conversation as much as possible. I know that . . . about our mission
because we’re doing such great work that we . . . keep that conversation
super one-sided and you really want to involve your prospect, which is why
I call it out in a separate step.

You’re continuing to build a relationship with this person. So try to
answer whatever question they have as you go along. You can also ask them
open-ended questions such as, “What are your thoughts about our plans for
next year?” just to keep them in the conversation. After you explain the
opportunity, you’re going to actually make the ask. This is the big step.
If you’re doing a visit with two people from your organization, generally
one person will do the opportunity part and the second person will do the
ask part.

We talked earlier how to determine how much to ask for and I forgot to
mention that I don’t recommend for a range, such as 5000 to 10,000 or 500
to 1000 or whatever the range is for your organization. Inevitably, the
donor or the prospect will go for the smaller amount. If you really want
$1000 and you believe they have the capacity and the inclination to give
you 1000, then by all means, ask for that 1000.

After you ask, super important, cannot say anything else. I have it as a
separate step two. Sometimes askers get nervous at this point. They’re
thinking, “Oh my goodness. I just asked this person for $50,000 or whatever
the amount is. Maybe I need to say something more. Maybe I need to explain
things better. I don’t think I did a very good job. The silence is awfully
uncomfortable. I really want to say something.”

My advice to you is please don’t say anything else. You need to give the
prospect time to think about what you just asked. If you start talking
again, they’re going to lose their train of thought, plus it makes you look
unsure. You want to appear confident and comfortable asking this person to
support the work and the mission that you both care so much about. You let
the ask sink in and you wait for a reply. If the donor says yes, well
that’s fantastic. Then say thank you so much. Great, . . . pledge form
together. If the donor hedges, then says, “I need to check with my
financial planner,” or “I need to check with my husband or my wife” or
somebody or something else, you say, “I completely understand. May I call
you next week to follow up?” of course, you want to be sure to make that
call. Maybe put a reminder in your calendar in your database to make sure
that that call happens.

Before you leave the visit, you want to just answer any final questions and
then make sure that you’re clear on your next step and then wrap up. The
next thing is this step seven, which is thinking of stewarding. After
you’ve received a pledge or gift, you want to thank your donor and get that
initial thank you letter or phone call out the door A.S.A.P. Within three
days for letters that are best practices, but I like to shoot for 24 hours
if at all possible, especially for major gifts. If it’s a truly major gift,
you might ask your Executive Director or Board Chair to make a thank you
call within hours of receiving the pledge.

Whatever stewardship you plan, make sure that’s documented so that you
don’t lose track of it. Put it in your database or put it in your calendar
to make sure that you’re doing that follow-up.

As I wrap up and I want to make sure we have enough time for Q and A at the
end, I’m not going to go through all the steps again, but just to get those
in front of you one more time. The great thing about this system like I
mentioned earlier is that it’s repeatable. After you’ve done step seven,
thanking and stewarding, you want to go back again to assessing. You want
to look at your Case For Support and think does this still make sense for
my organization? You don’t want it to get stale or not make sense for where
you are in your development. Your acknowledgement letter’s the same thing.
Keep freshening those things up. Keep personalizing those as much as

Finally, I want to say thank you all for being here. I have a gift that is
for you. If you go to my website, which is,
there’s a free guide, “Conquer Your Spirit Asking For Money” and all you
need to do is put in your email address and then I’ll get that sent off to
you immediately. That’s it. Thank you, Steven, I think it’s going to get
back on and we’re going to do some Q and A however much time we have left.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah, that sounds good. Thanks, Kathie. That was really
awesome information. We had a lot of activity in the chat room. Thanks
everyone for talking and asking questions. We’re going to try to get to
some questions now. We probably have nine or ten minutes for questions.
Kathie, is it fair to say that you’re available to take questions vie email
if we can’t quite get to everything?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: Oh, of course, yes. People can always email me.

Steven Shattuck: Let me just roll through the chat here. Amy had a question
about cultivations. She says, “Sometimes it can be very difficult to make a
personal contact and there’s not a personal connection. No obviously
interest. How many and within what time frame would you call, write and
email to ask for a meeting with a potential donor.” Actually, a couple
people were asking about the timeframe to get a meeting. What advice would
you have for the cadence on that?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: That is a fabulous question. There’s a little bit of an
art. It’s not super science. There is a little bit of an art to that. You
want to be persistent, slightly persistent. You need to keep pushing them a
little bit, but very politely. It depends on the donor. It depends on how
well you know them to start.

Say if it’s a new prospect and you email and you don’t get a reply. Then I
would probably follow-up with a phone call. There’s a whole debate about
should you leave a message, do you not leave a message. I suggest playing
around with both. One thing you do if you’re not getting a response is,
“Hey, I’m going to be in your neighborhood this date at this time trying to
stop by your office or your home for 20 minutes.” Just make it as easy as
possible for them and see if that can get you anywhere. As far as how long
you wait, it is a little of a trial and error thing, I would say.

Steven Shattuck: Jill has a question here. Jill says, “We raise money for
international efforts, which means they can’t conduct any sort of tours or
introduce a potential donor to someone in person. What ideas would you have
for making that personal connection when they can’t necessarily visit a
physical facility or meet someone who’s impacted?”

Kathie Kramer Ryan: That’s a great question. I’m guessing calls are
probably tough too. You could always Skype. I like to think about if you
are challenged in those types of ways, focus on the things you can do and
not the things you can’t do. We are blessed with great technology now and
is there a way that you can Skype? Can you put things on your website that
they can pull off of there? Is this a private on your webpage that they can
put in a code and can be super personalized for them?

You’re always trying to have major gift work be as personalized as
possible. What are those types of things that you can make it super
personalized by having special access pages on your website or special
calls, special sites. Hopefully you can work some of those things in
because you don’t have the opportunity to have the one-on-one, but could
some of your clients connect with them via Skype or via the mail?

Steven Shattuck: Cool. We can make that happen. We’ve got an interesting
question here from Lanny. Lanny is wondering “Is it possible to pursue a
major gift for operating support or do you have to present a special
project, maybe like a building or something like that for the gift? Is it
better to have a specific, tangible purpose, or can you actually get this
for just the operating budget?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: I think it’s possible to get it for the operating
budget, but it’s probably more challenging. I think the donors just seem to
be getting more and more sophisticated about their giving now, and they
really want their money tied to a specific theme, so something in your
operating support that you need that money for anyway.

Say you have a specific program that is part of your general operating
budget that you can present that as an opportunity for a donor to support.
I actually like to go to donors with a menu of options, where they can plug
into. Depending on your organization, if you’re environmental it might be
helping to support this particular conservation cause, or that particular
conservation cause, either geographically or whatever the parameters of the
organization, but I do like to give donors options as much as possible for
places that they can plug in.

You learn a lot about their interest that way too, by presenting them with
different opportunities and they can tell you what they’re leaning toward.

Steven Shattuck: Right. Cool. We’ve got one from Carrie here. Carrie’s
wondering “Should you qualify someone as a major donor based on their total
annual giving, or are there other criteria you would use to qualify a
potential major donor?”

Okay, so I’m guessing Carrie, if this person gives a number of gifts over
the year, let’s say that they’re giving smaller gifts over the course of
the year, I’d say that it does count, because their accumulative giving is
still significant. Let’s say they’re giving $100 monthly. That adds up to
$1200 over the course of a year, which is pretty significant.

I actually do like to look at accumulative giving and see where that amount
is for different donors.

Steven Shattuck: Okay. Here’s a really interesting question from Rich. Rich
says “If our organization is not well known, but an influential peer of
theirs gives us a strong recommendation, and there’s affinity and capacity,
how well does the strong peer influence go in overcoming the person not
really knowing your organization?” Is that pretty powerful, is that just a
little bit of help? What advice would you give to Rich there?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: I think that was actually fantastic, because
influential peers are who you are trying to get involved with your
organization, you’re trying to get them on your Board and on your
Committees, because what I’ve found is that a person like that that’s a
volunteer, is likely going to get better results than you will ever get,
because they hang out with these people. They are friends with the people
you’re trying to get to. It’s probably the best thing you can have. I’d say
if that person is going to help you, then want them to be a part of your
major gift team, that would be fantastic.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. So Jenny here had a question while you were talking
about doing the ask. She’s wondering “If someone says no, but there’s a
connection made, maybe you can sense something there, what should you do to
continue to cultivate if someone says no?” Certainly, it doesn’t have to be
the end of the road, it seems like.

Kathie Kramer Ryan: Definitely, that is a great question. When someone says
no, I think the most important thing is to just try to gently ask them why
they are saying no. Is it the program, are they interested in different
programs, is it the timing, is it okay to come back to them in three months
or six months?

I think there are a lot of reasons that people say no. Sometimes they are
maybe caught off guard. Mostly you’ll get a no or left off during the
cultivation, leading up to that point, but you’re definitely still going to
hear a no, as we all do as fundraisers.

So, I think it’s important to understand is this really no, or is it just
no for now? Then gently asking is it okay to contact you in three to six
months and see where that takes you.

Steven Shattuck: That’s great, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve got time for
one more question, I want to get to the topic of prospects research,
because a lot of people asked about this. Do you think that it’s necessary
that someone pay for a screening service or a prospects research type of
service or software, or do you think that information can be collected from
other places? What’s your opinion on that?

Kathie Kramer Ryan: That is a good question. I think that depends on a lot
of things. I think it depends on your budget, first of all, because those
type of research tend to be a little pricey. I think it depends on the
capacity of your staff, because there is a lot of free research online.
That can be a blog post about free research, but it takes a lot of time.
You’re Googling people and you’re tracking all these leads, and trying to
research these companies and all this stuff. It takes a ton of time.

So, it’s out there, but it depends on how much you have time for it. I’m
not going to say that you shouldn’t do it, but I think you should think
carefully about what can you get before you go there, because there is
stuff out there that you can find, and I wouldn’t start out by doing that,
let’s just say that.

I’ve certainly done it, I’ve certainly used donor screening, and you can
get information, but it’s not the first place I would start.

Steven Shattuck: Okay. Cool. I’ve got just a couple of minutes left, and I
want to give you a chance to tell people where they can find out more about
you, maybe sing up for your newsletter or send you an email. I know we
didn’t get to queue all the questions and I apologize for that, but
hopefully I’ll be able some offline, after the presentation here.

Kathie Kramer Ryan: That is fine. Thank you Steven. Yes, my website is, so if you go there, there’s a box on every page that
you fill in your email address and you get my free gift card. I’m also
going to put you on my newsletter list. I will only send one newsletter a
week, you’re not going to get things from me every week. The newsletter
talks about the fundraiser in it.

I do a weekly blog, so there you can get all the information, you can
search for different topics that you are interested in, I have some choices
there, and you can visit our contact page and you can send me an email any
time. I’ll try to answer all the questions that you have about fundraising
and where you at. I’ll often do free strategies sessions, you can sign up
and have a 20 minute strategy session with me to talk about whatever you
want to talk about. So if you’re interested, please go to my website,
there’s all kinds of stuff there.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah, definitely, I would encourage everyone to do that.
Really good blog post, I’ve been sharing a couple of them as you’ve been
talking Kathie, and really good stuff there. So I hope everyone checks that
out and takes advantage of that opportunity. Just so that everyone knows,
we do these webinars once a week, we’ve got some really cool ones coming up
in the rest of August. Next week we’re going to be talking about donor data
and then a little later on this month, we’re going to be talking about
silent auctions.

I know event season is fast approaching, so if you’re doing events in the
fall, definitely sign up for one of those, totally free, totally
educational. I would love to see you on one of the next webinars. I just
want to thank you again, Kathie, for joining us for an hour, and thank
everyone else for taking an hour out of their day. Thanks again for being
here, Kathie.

Kathie Kramer Ryan: Thanks so much Steven, and Bloomerang, for hosting. I
really enjoyed it, I really had fun connecting with everybody, and I hope
to connect with you via my newsletter ‘Moving Forward.’

Steven Shattuck: Yeah, this is a lot of fun. So just that everybody knows,
I will be sending out the recording just a little later on this afternoon,
so look for an email from me. When you exit this webinar, you’re going to
be sent to a feedback form. I love to hear what you thought of the webinar.
You won’t hurt my feelings, I don’t think you’ll hurt Kathie’s if you share
some feedback with us, so please do that.

We’ll call it a day at that. Have a great rest of your day and we’ll talk
to you next week. Bye now.

Major gift fundraising

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

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