If you’re like most people working with a small nonprofit, raising a big chunk of money for a special project, program, or piece of equipment can be a daunting challenge. You may be puzzled about where to start or how to do it. You’re probably scratching your head over who to approach and how to do it. And you’re probably wondering what to say to get someone to make a large donation to your organization.

Sandy Rees, CFRE, recently joined us for a webinar in which she showed us exactly what to do to create and run an organization’s first really big fundraising campaign. In case you missed it, you can watch the replay here:

Full Transcript:

Steven Shattuck: Well, Sandy, I have 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started?

Sandy Rees: You bet.

Steven Shattuck: All right. Cool. Let’s do it. Well, good afternoon, everyone if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for joining us for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “How to Start and Run Your First $100,000 Fundraising Campaign.” My name is Steven Shattuck and I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I will be moderating today’s discussion.

Today, I’m really excited to introduce our guest. She’s Sandy Rees, CFRE. Hey there, Sandy. How’s it going?

Sandy Rees: Great. Thanks so much for having me today.

Steven Shattuck: Oh, thanks for coming back. You were actually one of our first webinar guests. I don’t know if you remember that from last May. But we’re really happy to have you back to share all your knowledge with us again. Thanks for being here.

Sandy Rees: Great.

Steven Shattuck: For those of you who don’t know Sandy, she is a coach and a consultant. She provides clients with the how-to of fundraising as well as help with personal and professional development. She is the author of “Get Fully Funded: How to Raise the Money of Your Dreams,” “6 Figure Fundraising,” “Fundraising Buffet,” and “Simple Success Fundraising Plan.”

She frequently contributes to Fundraising Success Magazine and she authors the blog “Get Fully Funded,” which is really an excellent blog. You all should check that out for sure. She’s an accomplished presenter and an AFP Master Trainer. She’s led fundraising seminars for AFP, for the Chattanooga Center for Nonprofits and many other organizations, national and international. So, it’s really great for you to be here, Sandy. This is going to be a great presentation.

What she’s going to do is she’s going to take over here in just a second. When she’s done presenting, we’re actually going to jump into a little interactive Q&A session. So, as she’s presenting, go ahead and send any questions or comments our way through the chat box. We’ll both see those there and we’ll try to answer just as many before the 2:00 Eastern hour. Just so everyone knows, we will be sending out a recording of the presentation as well as Sandy’s slides a little later this afternoon. So, if you have to bounce early or maybe you want to review the content later, you’ll be able to do that.

So, Sandy, I’m not going to take any more time away. Why don’t you get us started?

Sandy Rees: Okay, great. I’m happy to jump in and do that.

So, let me add a welcome. I’m so glad you all are here. It always delights me when I have a webinar or a class that I’m teaching and people show up and they’re eager to learn. So, yay! Thank you for being here with me.

This stuff is something that I learned myself. I wanted to tell you a little bit about me. I’ve been working as a coach and consultant for about the past eight years. But I got my start in fundraising in the late ’90s. I think I had a very similar experience to a lot of other people. I fell into it. I was doing marketing for a staffing company and my local rescue mission had an opening on their board and I had the opportunity to go sit on their board. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. It looked like fun to me, so I said, “Yes.”

A year later, a job opened up in their development office and they said, “You know, you really have the skills for this. Would you be interested in taking this job?” And I said, “Okay,” because I didn’t know any better. I didn’t have a clue what I was getting into. I jumped into that and it’s been the most fun ever since.

What I want you to know about this is I didn’t have any experience at all in major gifts before I started working in it. I think a lot of us are that way. We know we need to do it. We don’t have necessarily a lot of experience and we have to just jump in at some point. So, what you’re going to hear today in this presentation is a structure and a format and some encouragement so that you can go get started raising money through major gifts.

What I’m going to show you is a campaign that you can use. I’m going to shoot for $100,000, but the nice thing about this campaign is it’s very scalable. So, you can scale it up to $1,000,000 if you need to. You can scale it down to $50,000 if you need to and it will work every single time. So, that’s the really good news.

Now, you all know, you’ve probably heard of the 80/20 rule. It came from an Italian economist named Pareto. He observed that there’s this relationship between 80 and 20. In your case, your donors, 20% of your donors are going to generate 80% of your funding. Eighty percent of your donors are going to generate 20% of your funding. Twenty percent of the tasks that you do during the day are going to bring you 80% of your results. It’s fascinating if you start watching it.

We find it to be very true in major gifts, except that it’s actually probably more like 90/10. It’s probably more like 10% of your donors are bringing in or generating 90% of your funding. So, doesn’t it make sense that we should spend more time with that 10%? It does. That’s why we’re here. We want to make sure that you’re spending your time on the right people.

One of the things that I have observed over time in working with clients and thinking about how I work is that we tend to just deal with whatever comes during the day in terms of fundraising. A lot of times we don’t stop long enough to look around and say, “Are we spending our time on the right thing?” So, good for you that you’re here because you’re going to hear this and you’re going to get that, “Gosh, we really should be very purposeful about where we’re spending our time.”

A major gift is defined by you. A lot of people who are new will say to me, “Well, how much money does it have to be before it’s a major gift?” If you’re wondering that, the answer is it depends on your organization. What might be a major gift for you might not be the same thing for another organization. So, a lot of small organizations defined a major gift at about $500. You may have another organization that it’s got to be $5,000. For a university or a hospital it may be $5 million before it really counts as a major gift.

If you’re not sure, here’s a way that you can go have a look. Go pull a report of everybody who’s given to your organization in the last year. Throw it into Excel and sort it by largest gifts down to smallest gifts. Count down ten, draw a line and have a look at those numbers above the line. What you’re going to see is that they’re probably very similar. Somewhere, it might be exactly at that line or slightly above or slightly below, there’s going to be a natural break and you’re going to be able to tell where your major gift line is for right now.

Does it change over time? Absolutely. You go implement some of the stuff I’m going to share with you today and you ought to be able to increase that line. It may go from $500 to $5,000. You may go from $500 to $1,500. But absolutely, it is moveable.

I think one of the most important things about how a major gift is defined is that it is a stop and think kind of gift. I want you to think about this for a second. I’m hopeful that all of you donate to some other organization. If you don’t, you need to. You need to get that experience of being a donor. I want you to think about the last time that a direct mail piece came to your home or came to your office and you had a look at it and you wanted to give.

How did you make the decision of how much to give? You probably looked in your check book, thought about how much money you had. A lot of times we’re thinking about, “Well, what do I have left over after everything is paid that I need to get paid?” And then there’s some amount that we’re comfortable with. We write the check, we send it, we’re done or we go online, we make the gift, we put our credit card information in and we’re done. There’s not a lot of thought that goes into it.

A major gift, on the other hand, is a stop and think kind of gift. A major gift comes as the fruition of a lot of time and attention that you spent with a donor in cultivating a relationship. You’ve asked them to think about something bigger than they normally think about. It’s a stop and think activity for them. It usually brings them great joy. I can’t tell you how many people that I have had give really large gifts and then say to me, “Thank you for letting us do this.” I’ll go like, “Really? No, no, no. Thank you because you just gave me $25,000 that we desperately needed. Thank you.” So, they’ll usually tell you thank you because they love it. It makes them feel really good.

Okay. So, what we’re really looking for when we start down this path with major gifts is we’re looking for the one. Let’s say you have 1,000 people who give to your organization. Not all of them are capable of making a major gift and that’s okay. We need all of them. You need everyone. I believe that every dollar counts. As long as every dollar counts, you need every donor and every one of them is valued and precious to you. And you’re going to use some kind of software like Bloomerang to keep up with all of them and where they are and when they’ve given last and that sort of thing.

When we start thinking of major gifts, we’re looking for the one. It’s kind of like looking for one red M&M in a big bowl full of green M&Ms because that one is the one that has the ability to make a gift that can be game-changing for your organization. How do we figure that out? I’m going to give you some hints as we go today. There’s some science about it and there’s a lot of art about it and I can teach you some of the science. You’re going to have to pick up some of the art. But the more you do it, the better you’re going to get at it.

It’s not just about the money. It is not just about the checks that somebody’s going to write or the gift of real estate or stocks that they’re going to give. It’s really about the relationship. The relationship is actually worth more than the gift. Think about that. I know some of you are going like, “No, I’m pretty sure that $25,000 gift is important or that $100,000 gift,” or whatever it is.

Think about if that person loves the work your organization is doing–by the way, that’s the criteria that are going to have to place before they whip out a big check. They’re not going to do it just because. They’re not going to do it because you’re a good organization. They’re not going to do it just because you asked. They’re going to do it because they believe in what you’re doing and they want to support you. They want to get behind you and see the vision that you have come to fruition.

When you start building a relationship, that person is going to be there for the long haul. They’re going to give you that big gift now and then they’re going to be ready to do another one in an amount of time. It might be a year. It might be two years. It might be six months. They’re going to give again and again and again and again. The relationship is worth way more than the single gift. So, we have to focus on the relationship and not on the money. Don’t get so focused on the money that you forget everything else.

Okay. So, let’s dig into how this campaign works. There are 12 steps. As I looked at how I’ve gone about raising money myself and how I’ve helped clients, I’ve narrowed it down to 12 steps and then I had to kind of laugh like, “Okay, it’s a 12-step program.” It is. I wanted to make this super easy for you if you could see exactly what needs to happen and get really clear about it because I believe that clarity will help you have the confidence you need to try this yourself. That’s what I’m really about. I’m all about giving you the skill set and the confidence and the mindset that you need to go be successful. So, buckle up. If you’re making notes, you should be able to follow along pretty easily here through all 12 steps. Like Steven said, he’s going to share the slides with you.

The first thing is you’ve got to define the need. You’ve got to know how much you’re raising money for. You can’t do this backwards. I’ve seen a lot of organizations try to do this. They’ll say, “We just need to raise as much as we can.” That’s no good. That is way too vague. It’s not anything that anybody’s going to get excited about. You’ve got to define the need first. You’ve got to get real clear. Ask yourself, “What are we raising money for and how much is it going to cost?”

So, let’s say that your organization is an animal shelter and what you really need is to build a new shelter. You can’t just say, “Well, we’ll just raise as much as we can and once we see how much we’ve got, we’ll figure out what we can build.” Nope. That’s not going to work at all. You’ve got to start with a vision. What do you need? I like to start with what’s the need you’re trying to address?

In this case, are you trying to house as many animals as possible? If you’re working with a food bank, are you trying to eliminate hunger in your area? If your organization provides after school support for kids, are you trying to improve their reading scores? What is it you’re really trying to do? Figure out what that’s going to cost and that will give you a better idea of how to go after how much you need. You need to think about when you need this money and maybe even the most important question of all is, are you ready to undertake this kind of campaign?

We’re working with a group right now who’s getting ready to embark on a campaign like this. One of the very first things we’re going to do is have a look at their internal systems and their capacity because the last thing that I want to do is encourage them to go start raising money if they are not ready to handle the data. If they can’t keep up with who gave what and when and how much, if they can’t crank out a good thank you letter, I don’t want them starting out a campaign.

So, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got the resources in place, that you’ve got staff time or volunteer time that you can allot, that you’ve got a good software program in place like Bloomerang, you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got systems in place that you know how to crank out a thank you letter or a pledge form or whatever it is and that you can keep up with this information. This is not anything that you want to do haphazardly. Do not do a half-ass job of this and be successful. You can’t. You’ve got to be ready for it. I’ll get off my soapbox now.

Okay. Step two is you’ve got to agree on the amount. Now, this may seem really silly, but you have to. You’ve got to have a clearly defined amount of money that you’re trying to raise and everybody involved has to be in agreement on that. That means your board and your staff and your volunteers, you’ve got to all be in agreement about how much you’re raising. I have seen situations where the staff thought we were doing one thing, the board thought we were doing a different thing and it was a mess. So, you’ve got to all be on board.

Now, if you’re already rolling your eyes because I mentioned board, listen, I know. I know there are a lot of people who are on board that don’t get it. They don’t understand how this works. I could spend the rest of the afternoon talking to you about how to fix that, but let me just say; a little education goes a really long way with a board. Get them excited. Try to treat your board members like major donors and see what happens. Keep that in mind as we go through this. So, step two, agree on the amount. You have to be very clear.

All right. Step three; you’ve got to develop a case. If you’re not familiar with a case, what I mean here is a case statement or a case for support. It’s basically all the reasons why somebody should give to you.

So, let me go back to the animal shelter example. The group that wants to build a facility, they need to be able to talk to people about why this is important. Why do we need a new shelter? Are we not able to do maintenance on the current shelter? Have we outgrown the space? Has the need increased? Do we need to be in a different section of the community? What’s the real reason here?

You’ve got to think through all this stuff and you need to write it down because you’re going to need to give that to somebody at some point to tell them exactly what you’re trying to do and what you’re vision is. You’ve got to talk about the need you’re trying to address, how it’s going to impact lives and why you need somebody’s help.

You’ve got to be able to position your organization as the one that’s uniquely qualified to address this need. Maybe the most important thing of all is you’ve got to create the sense of urgency. You’ve got to be able to answer that question, “Why now?” in a way that people get and are excited about. So, why is now the time to build a new shelter? Why is now the time to fill in the blank, whatever it is you’re trying to do? You’ve got to create the sense of urgency.

Urgency in the situation of the shelter could be, “If we don’t build a new shelter, we’re going to have to continue to euthanize 100 animals a day because we don’t have enough space. If we build this new shelter, we’re going to have enough space. We’re going to be able to take care of more animals. We’re going to have a special place for quarantine. We’re going to have a nursery so we can handle the kittens and the puppies better. We’re going to have a training room where we can do better education with volunteers and our foster families, etc.” What I’m doing there is I’m helping somebody understand why this is important right now.

All right. I hope you’ve got that. It can be a little daunting. I remember being pretty intimidated the first time that I put a case together. What I had to understand was, “You know what? I need to speak from my heart as much as anything and be very sensitive to what the donor is interested in. That’s what’s going to care me a long way.” I had in my head, “This has got to be really polished and it’s got to look really fancy.” So, if it’s your first one and especially if you don’t have a lot of resources to spend on it, it’s okay. Do the best job that you can and it’s going to be fine. If you have the resources to hire a writer and a designer and get it printed in color and all that, that’s great. Do that. Do those things you need to do to make it look as good as you can.

Now, let me go back to one thing that I’ve sort of mentioned and I want to make this really clear. That is when you write this sort of thing, when you write your case and actually when you write anything for your website, your newsletters, it’s not about what you’re interested in, it’s about what your donor is interested in. Way too often, we write these things from our point of view. We come at it from the point of, “Well, if we’re interested in it, everybody ought to be interested in it.” And that’s not how it always works.

So, we have to really think about it. We have to put ourselves in the donor’s shoes and say, “All right, if I’m a donor, if I’m a prospect, what do I care about? What matters to me about building a new shelter? What matters to me about increasing the amount of kids who are served in the afternoon or whatever your story is?” You’ve got to really think about it that way.

All right. Step four, recruit leadership. The bigger your campaign is, in other words, the more money you need to raise, the more important this one becomes. What you really want is somebody who can help you head up this campaign that key donors can’t say no to. That’s who you want in your court.

I was part of a capital campaign for a local Habitat for Humanity a couple of years ago. This was a question that we really wrestled with. We said, “Who is it in the community that if that person went out and did the asking or if that person were part of a team who did an ask, people couldn’t say no?” We finally narrowed it down to a gentleman in the community who is a state representative. We asked him and he said yes.

It was amazing to watch. There were people in the community that some of the other volunteers had tried to get in front of or tried to make an appointment with and couldn’t do it. Jimmy could call them and they would answer his call, they would take his call, they would take his appointment, they would meet him for coffee, whatever it was, they were there, and when Jimmy said, “Look, this is important. Here’s what we’re trying to do for Habitat. We need your help. We need you to jump in on this,” everybody did. Everybody did.

This is not an easy one to identify always. You may identify the perfect person and they may say no. They may not be interested. But go after it anyway. Go think about who can help you. Here’s what I know. If you’re on this call and you’re a staff person, if you’re an executive director or a development director or some other juicy title that you have, there’s only so much you can do. You probably don’t have all the relationships you need to get out in the community and talk to people. You may have a number of relationships that you need, but if you have somebody who can help you open doors, if you have somebody who can help make the appointments, if you have somebody who maybe has a little more credibility or a little more prestige or a little more celebrity status, it’s like greasing the skids for this campaign. It’s making everything so much easier.

Now, if you’re in a situation where you can’t think of anybody or you go and ask two or three people and they all say no, can you still do this campaign and be successful? Absolutely. Absolutely, you can do it, just you and whatever volunteers and whatever donors you have. You can do it and be successful. So, don’t get too hung up on that one.

A lot of times I get asked if that person has to be a board member. No. In the situation I was just telling you about with Habitat, Jimmy was not a board member. He was a supporter. He cared about what we were doing. I think he had made a few gifts along the way. Was he a major donor? No, not until then. One of the first things that we did with him before we asked him to be the honorary chair of this campaign and to go along and make some of the visits, we asked him to make his own gift. We asked him for a big gift. He said yes. It was the biggest gift he had ever given to the organization. That put him in a situation where he was much better able to go out and talk to people.

One of the things that happens is–and I tell the boards all the time–don’t go out and somebody else for money if you haven’t made your own gifts first. Make your gift first and then go ask other people because it’s incredibly embarrassing if you haven’t. Like if Jimmy had not made his gift and he had gone out and talked to somebody that he knew and that person asked him, “Well, how much did you give?” and he couldn’t answer that, that would have been really embarrassing for him. I never want one of my volunteers to be embarrassed. So, you’ve got to set them up for success and part of that is asking them to make their own gift first.

All right. So, you can see we’re starting to put the pieces in place for this. Step five is to develop a plan. You need to really think through a lot of the details of how your campaign is going to work. You need to think about not only the goal but the start and end dates. It’s really easy sometimes for organizations to do the start date and to leave off the end date because they’ll think, “Well, I don’t really know. I don’t know how long this is going to take or I’m not sure. What if we can’t get done in a year? What if we can’t get done?”

Think about the start date and the end date. Make sure you’re clear about your reason for money, your leadership. Put all this stuff in writing. You can’t have it in your head. It’s got to be in writing because then it’s a whole lot easier to get staff and board and leadership and everybody all on board together with it. If it’s all in somebody’s head, it’s not real. It needs to be in writing in order for it to be a real plan.

So, you write all the stuff down and the next step is to create a gift table. If you’ve done any kind of campaign work before, you’ve probably seen this. If this is new to you, then I think you’re going to love it. The first time I saw this, I thought this was the most brilliant thing that I’d ever seen. Think about this.

If you’re trying to raise $100,000 for something very specific, maybe it’s for a facility add-on, maybe it’s a program expansion, maybe you’re starting a new program, whatever it is, you could go find one person to write you a check for $100,000 and be done, right? Or you could get find 100,000 people to each give you $1. That works too, right? Well, most of the time, it’s going to fall somewhere in between. You’re going to have a number of people who are going to make gifts of all kinds of varying amounts. It works out best if you can start from the beginning to think about what kind of gifts you need and how many.

So, what I’ve laid out here is a sample of how you can get to $100,000. Do you have to do it exactly this way? No. You don’t. You can’t structure it a different way. The interesting thing to me–and I’ve laid out a lot of gift tables for a lot of different organizations–it never happens exactly like the table. The money never comes in exactly like this. But this gives us a place to start. That’s the important thing. We need to know, we need to have an idea of where to begin.

So, let me walk you through this one. Over on the left, you’ll see the number of gifts that are needed and then next to that, the amount of each gift and then next to that is the total at this level. So, basically, we’re doing math here. We’re doing multiplication. Cumulative total means we’re adding up that line and anything above it. And then over to the right, we see the number of prospects that we need at this level.

Now, I’ll go ahead and tell you that for every gift that you want, you really need three prospects. So, you’re working with a three to one ratio. Some really interesting things are going to happen with those prospects. Let’s start at the first level. We’re looking for one gift of $15,000 to get us started. How did I come up with $15,000? Well, typically you start with a lead gift or a top gift that’s about 10% to 15% of what your total goal is. So, if your total goal is $100,000, you could have a lead gift of $10,000 or it could be $15,000. So, if you scale this up to $1 million, your lead gift could be $150,000. What if you have somebody that you think could give you $25,000? Would you take it? Oh, hell yes. You’d take that and then adjust the rest of the table, right?

Okay. So, we need to find three prospects that we think are capable of giving $15,000. We start there. You always start with the biggest gift and then work your way down. Things get easier as you go. The other really interesting thing that happens is usually if you’re doing your homework right and you’re cultivating correctly, those three prospects you start with at that top level, none of them will say no. If you have one that will say yes to that level and the other two will say, “Well, I can’t do $15,000, but I can do $10,000. Would that be okay?” Would that be okay? Oh, yeah. We’d take that all day long.

So, you see, what happens there is one of those people then automatically slides into a lower level down the table and that’s how this goes. You keep working all the way down. You see on the next slide, we’re looking for two gifts of $10,000 and the total at that level is $20,000. We add the $20,000 to the $15,000 above it and our cumulative level now, our total, is $35,000.

I’m hoping this is making sense to you. For me, this was incredibly illuminating. This was like the heavens parting and the angels singing like, “Holy crap! Here’s a way to think about this. Here’s a way to start thinking about donors at different levels.” What I like about this is you can see there’s a place for everybody to fit. If you look all the way down at the bottom, we’re looking for many gifts below $500 for a total of $5,000. Well, that means that the person who can only give you $25 counts. That money counts too. It’s going to add to the total just like the person who gave you $15,000. I’m all about that.

All right. So, I’m hoping that this is making good sense for you. If you have questions, we’re going to have a chance to chat about those in a bit. Let me go on so I can make sure we get through all the material. We’re only at step six. We’ve got six more to go.

Once you get your gift table together, the next thing is to start thinking about the people who could give gifts at each of those levels. So, step seven is about identifying prospects. There’s something that we teach in basic fundraising or fundraising 101 that this is another one of those incredibly useful tools called LIA. You’ve got to have each of these present before somebody’s going to make a gift. Here’s what they are.

L is for linkage or connection. Somebody’s got to have some connection to your organization so they’re going to make a gift. Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll give some money away. I guess I can find a really good nonprofit today who can take my money.” It doesn’t happen that way. People hear what you’re doing, they get excited about it and then they’ll make a gift.

Interest is, I think, maybe the most important one. People have got to be interested in what you’re doing before they’re going to make a gift. Here’s a good example. Twenty-four years ago, my dad had cancer and passed away. Before he died, we had hospice coming out to the house every day to help my mom take care of him. They were there. They were great. The hospice workers were fantastic.

Do you think that I would be a good prospect to make a gift to hospice? I’ve certainly got the link, don’t I? But the answer is no. I’m not a prospect for hospice. The reason is because I’m not interested. That cause, while I appreciate what they did, is just not one of my top causes. If you follow me on Facebook, you can figure out real quick that I’m all about my animal causes. I have three horses, a dog and three cats and almost all of them are adopted. I love Habitat, I love food banks, I love things that help kids. There are a lot of causes that I’m interested in personally as a donor and hospice is not one of them. So, somebody’s got to have interest before they’re going to make a gift.

Ability is the other thing. It’s not going to do you any good to find people who have a connection to your organization and are interested if they can’t make a gift. But you never want to discount people because somebody could win the lottery tomorrow or it could be somebody who’s best friends with somebody who can make a giant gift to your organization. So, you never write anybody off. You never treat them as if they can’t help you unless you know different.

Okay. Now, here’s what I want you to think about and use this as a tool. This is what I consider a great litmus test. If you have been sitting around with some board members and somebody goes, “Oh, we just need to go talk to fill in the blank. We just need to write a letter to Bill Gates. He’ll give us money.” Uh-huh. You know what I’m talking about? Every community has these usual suspects. “We just need to go talk to them.” I can tell you who they are in my community. It’s kind of funny.

Here’s what you do. You say, “You know what? That’s a great idea, but let’s think about it.” Do they have a connection to our organization? If the answer is yes, we keep going. If it’s no, we stop. Are they interested in what we’re doing? If the answer is yes, we keep going. If the answer is no, we stop. Do they have an ability to give? Bill Gates–is there a link to your organization? Probably not. Is he interested in the work you’re doing? Well, you can get on the website and find out real quickly what they’re interested in. How about an ability? Yes. Yes. You’ve got to have three yes’ or positive responses there before that person is going to make a good donor.

This is why it’s best to start with people who have given to your organization. Start with your current donors before you go out into the community to start basically cold calling people. I’m hoping that makes sense. What we’re really trying to do is find the one. We’re looking for that one person who really can make a great game-changing gift. That’s not going to necessarily be everybody. You find that one that can make that great lead gift and then you look for the next one then you say, “Okay, now whose next? Now who is the one that can help?” And when you get done with that one, say, “Now who is the next one?”

Step eight is about cultivating relationships. You’ve got to build it with your donors. That means you need to get to know them. You need to find out what they’re interested in, what they care about, what matters to them. When it’s the same as what matters to you, now we’re talking.

Now, if you can see this slide, I have this great picture of this couple in their wedding clothes on the beach. Now, let me ask you, I bet a lot of you are married. If you’re not married, you probably know somebody who’s married or you’ve at least heard of this concept of marriage. Now, think about it. Ladies, did we show up on the first date in our wedding gown? Not so much. What do we do? We spend a lot of time with somebody first. We get to know them. We got to the movies. We go to lunch. We find out what they like to do. We look for hobbies in common. We spend a lot of time in the relationship. And then when we see that this is really going to work out, that’s when we start talking about getting really serious.

Think about that as it applies to your donors. You don’t want to go for the big gift on the first visit. You’ve got to spend some time and get to know them. You’ve got to find out what matters to them. You’ve got to share your vision and see if it’s something to get excited about. If it’s not, it’s okay. Go on to the next one. If it does look like magic, then keep going, keep going. But you don’t show up and ask for the $15,000 gift on the first visit or on the first call.

Now, one of the things that I like to do is work a cultivation plan. We’re really used to relationships growing naturally. Sometimes in fundraising, it can feel a little awkward because we’re building relationships on purpose. What I want you to get over right now is that you’re not being manipulative; you’re not doing anything unethical. All you’re doing is building a relationship on purpose with somebody who cares about the same things that you care about. That’s it. The only difference is you’re doing it on purpose.

With a cultivation plan, it gives you a way to sort of think through. I’ve got a sample one here for you. So, let’s assume that I work for a food bank and that I called donor Betty Jo Smith today to thank her for her support. In my cultivation plan, I’m going to write down, “Here’s the result of my call today. She mentioned that her parents struggled through the Depression and she can’t bear the thought of anybody going hungry.”

So, as a next step, I invite her for a tour so she can come see first-hand what we’re doing. She said, “I’d love to. I’m coming June 30th.” Great. So, that’s what’s next in my plan. On that day, she’s coming for a tour and I need to find out what her hot-button is. Everybody has one. There’s something about your program and it may surprise you. Never assume that you know what it is until you find out for sure.

Find out what her hot-button is and what her favorite program is and then I’ll know which way to take the conversation. I’ll know better what to share with her. I don’t want to just throw a ton of general information at her. What I’d rather do is customize it. If I find out that she’s all about our kids programs, I want to tell her about the kids programs. I want to tell her more about them. I want to share our vision with that. I don’t want to share something with her that she doesn’t care about. So, that’s the facility tour.

Then probably in mid-July, which would be a couple weeks later, I want to arrange lunch for her and have our program director talk more about her favorite program. So, we’re going to take that deeper. Then a few days later, I’ll give her a phone call just to see what she thought and I’ll start to think about how I want to ask her for a gift based on that. Then in about mid-August or so, I’ll probably be ready to meet with her to give her an ask proposal. At that point, I should have all the information that I need to be able to ask her for an amount for her favorite program.

So, that’s my plan based on my phone call today. Will it happen exactly like that? I don’t know. It might or it might not. I need to leave some room in there. I need to leave some time and I need to leave room for anything unexpected. So, for example, what if she calls me on the 25th and says, “You know what, I’m not going to be able to meet on the 30th.” I’ve got to adjust my plan a little bit. But what I know from having done this myself is when I at least have a general idea of where I’m going with this donor; I feel a lot more confident about the steps along the way. I feel better about making asks when I feel better about what I’m doing with it. That’s really important because if I don’t feel good about it, if I get scared, I’m going to back off.

Another nice thing is you don’t necessarily have to do it in a table format like this. You can absolutely plug it in. If you’re using Bloomerang, you can use the software to keep up with things. If you’re not real sure what kind of things you should do, I want you to look at the intersection of what you feel comfortable with and what works for your organization and for the donor. Facility tours are great. For a food bank, that’s a slam dunk. But maybe you don’t have a facility that you could do a good tour of.

So, you figure out what you can do. That’s the important thing. The most important thing is you always have to know the next step. That’s the thing. You always have to know what’s coming next. So, when I take Ms. Betty Jo to lunch, I don’t want to take her to lunch and then just do nothing. The minute that I’m at lunch, I have to know, “What am I doing next with her?” If it’s as simple as, “I’m going to call her in a couple of days,” that’s fine. That is fine. Call her and follow-up and see what she thought.

Okay. I hope this is making sense for you. Step nine; this one’s actually pretty simple. Once you get to the cultivation and you’re working that relationship, you’re getting to know them, step nine is it’s time to ask for the gift. You do have to ask. You can’t cultivate and build this relationship and then expect them to take the initiative and then simply write you a big check. It’s not going to happen. You have to ask.

Here are some things I want you to remember when it comes time to ask for the gift. As you’re spending time with this donor and building relationships, listen for gift noises. Gift noises are things that they’re going to say or questions that they’re going to ask that will indicate to you what their interest is. They may start asking you things like, “How many people do you serve with this program? The waiting list? Doesn’t the government pay for this? Where does all the money come from, then? You’re raising it all? Well, doesn’t the Rotary Club in town help with this?”

They’ll start asking all kinds of questions around the program. The best one they can ask is, “What does it cost you to run this program? What does it cost to run this program?” That’s when they’re really interested. You know that they are right there with you. They care. It’s awesome.

You want to make sure that when it’s time to ask for the gift that you’re asking for support for the right thing. That’s why spending time with the donor and paying attention to them and figuring out what they’re interested in is so important. You don’t want to ask them for the wrong thing. You’ve got to ask for the right amount. That can be a lot of art in figuring out how much to ask for, how much they’ve given in the past, what you can find out about what they’ve given to other organizations. You’ve got to be a little salesy to find some of that out. You might pay attention to other organization’s newsletters and annual reports and things like that.

I remember this one time when I was working at the food bank, I had gone to the symphony. In the symphony program in town, they listed out all their donors and supporters. So, I went, “Huh. Let’s see if any of my big donors are on this list.” Sure enough, there was one of them on there. This couple was also giving to the symphony. That gave me a clue about how much I could ask them for. Okay. So, hopefully that’s helpful.

One of the things that really stumped me when I was a development director was figuring out exactly what to say. I could see myself going to lunch. I had invited people for tours all the time. But when it came time to actually ask, I just felt like I got really tongue-tied. I didn’t know what to say. “What if I say something dumb?” If that’s you, I’m here to tell you it’s okay. You can actually screw this up and people will still give. It’s okay. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It needs to be authentic and you need to come from a place of caring about them. Again, don’t focus on the money, focus on the relationship and you’ll be fine.

I wanted to share with you a conversation formula that I learned that really helps me a lot. Here’s how that conversation formula works. Let’s say that I’m at that visit in August with Betty Jo Smith. I’m ready to make an ask. I know exactly what program she loves. I’ve got an idea of how much to ask for. It’s time. So, the first thing I’m going to do is some kind of warm-up. You may call this chit-chat or small talk. I’m going to do that for maybe a minute or two and then I’m going to move on.

Don’t get caught up in the chit-chat and do so much of it that you don’t leave yourself enough time to make the ask. So, the warm-up may be something like, “How is your summer going? I know you were going to spend some time with your grandkids. Did you enjoy that visit?” I’ll listen to what she says and I’ll say, “That is so wonderful. Well, Ms. Betty Jo…” and then I go right to the transition. “The reason I wanted to meet with you today is to talk about something that I know is important to you.”

A transition into part three, which is that information relationship building, I may say something like this, “Over the last several weeks, we’ve spent some time talking about our kids program. I remember you telling me how much that matters to you. I know that after you met with our program director at lunch, you seemed really excited about that.” I’m going to explain to her what our vision is and where we’re trying to go with that and I’m going to say to her, “Ms. Betty Jo, I’m here to ask you if you would consider making a gift to support our kids program today.”

So, in that transition, I’m going to lay out again, “I’m here to ask you…” and then I go right for it. Now, here’s the important thing. You need to find your words. The words that I normally use are something like, “Would you be willing to consider a gift of $20,000 to support our Kids Café program?” So, those are the words I use. You can figure out what words feel good for you.

What I’ve found was the more that I practiced, the easier it was and the more I figured out what felt comfortable. It’s not the same for everybody. If my words work for you, great. Use them. It’s no problem. But find your words. You might ask other people, “What do you say when you’re asking for a gift? What do you say when you’re asking for a major gift? What are the words you use?” Ask some other people and hear what they say.

Another really important thing is once you ask, you must be quiet. You’ve got to let that silence fill the air. I know that’s very uncomfortable, but you have to do it. Here’s what’s happening. The minute you ask for that gift, they may be shocked or flattered. There’s some initial emotional response they’re going to have. And then they’re probably going to start thinking about how much is in their checking account, what other obligations they’ve got, what other things they need to pay for, what other resources they can get into. If you start talking you, you interrupt their train of thought and you just derail them. So, you have to be quiet to let them think. They’re processing. They’re thinking. Let them say the next thing.

Now, if they say, “You know what? I think we can do that.” Great. Thank them and move on to wrapping up that gift and those kinds of things. You may need to say, “That’s wonderful” and then figure out if they’re going to write you a check or if it’s going to take some time to get their hands on the money. Sometimes that happens. Sometimes they need to self-stock or they need to pull it out of a money market account or there’s something else they need to do. If they say, “No, I just couldn’t do that,” then you misread something somewhere along the way.

If they say, “Well, you know, I’ll have to think about that. Let me talk to my fill in the blank spouse, sibling, parent, child, financial planner, accountant, attorney, somebody. Let me talk to so and so and get back to you.” That’s fine too. What I want you to do if they say, “Well, I need to talk to somebody then get back you,” say, “Great. I certainly understand that. When would be a good time for me to follow-up with you?” You basically ask their permission to call them to find out their answer. You nail down exactly when, like, “Next Thursday at 1:00? Great. I’ll give you a call.” That’s what you do.

Sometimes they will have questions. You’ll use this time to sort of answer their questions or maybe negotiate something. When I say negotiate, what I mean is sometimes you may have a donor who says, “Gosh, that’s a lot of money. I couldn’t do $20,000. Let me make it over three years. Would that be okay?” So, you’re trying to figure out what will work for them.

If they just flat-out say no, then what you might do is back up and think about, you could even ask them. You could say, “You know, I’m really kind of surprised. I thought from our time together that this was something that really mattered to you. Did I misread that?” Or you might say to them, “Is there a different part of this program that’s more interesting to you than that?” You’re going to ask questions. You can start asking them questions, get them talking. That’s where you’re going to find out where you kind of misread it.

If you’re doing a good job with the cultivation questions, you shouldn’t have that problem at this point. Cultivation is a time to be asking lots of questions about what’s interesting to them and how they see themselves fitting in, etc. So, if you get to a no, you didn’t spend nearly enough time cultivating. The next time you work with a donor, you can learn to ask better questions.

All right. So, let me go on to step ten. Step ten is thanking the donor. You’ve got to thank those donors immediately. A warm, prompt, sincere thank you letter is important. Listen, if you ask somebody for a $15,000 gift and they say yes, don’t go back to your office and wait a couple of days to write a note. You need to go back and put a letter together right then and you need to hand-deliver it. Hand-deliver it later that day or the next day to let them know how much you appreciate that. Don’t let that one sit. It’s got to be prompt, warm, sincere.

Think about other ways that you can thank those donors. That’s really important. You can get really creative with this. If you can see the slides, there’s a great photo of a bunch of kids holding up letters that spell out “thank you.” Listen, anything where you can show your organization in action is powerful. Kids and crayons–oh, man. Crayons melt donor’s hearts. Crayon drawings that kids drew themselves doing whatever they do at your program–reading or learning or playing sports or whatever it is and saying thank you or just having them write a thank you, that’s powerful.

Thank them in multiple ways over time to let them know that you really appreciate what they did. That leads right to step eleven, which is follow-up. You’ve got to keep a donor posted about the project. Let them know what’s going on. Keep them in the loop. Share the success stories.

So, let me go back to my animal shelter example. Let’s say we go through the campaign, we raise the money we need, we’re building the shelter. We need to have some kind of grand opening or something. We need to have a big to-do and I may want to have a private preview party for my donors who have made the big gifts so they can come and get the first tour of the facility. As we’re building that facility, I probably need to be sending them updates and letting them know how it’s going. They like knowing what’s happening to their money and that you’re using it wisely and that it’s having the impact that you wanted it to have.

The other thing that happens when you do this step well, when you’re doing the follow-up, you’re actually setting up the next gift. If you do a really good job and you help that donor feel great about their experience, they will give again. That is some magic right there. So, don’t drop that one. After the gift, remember, you’re not done. You’ve still got more to do. You’ve got to stay in touch with them and let them know and understand that it meant a lot what they did.

Step twelve is to celebrate. That’s where you have the ribbon-cutting or you invite the news media out. You send a letter out. You let everybody know you’ve reached your goal and that you’re well on your way to making a huge impact in your community.

All right. So, there you have it, 12 steps. I hope that you see that this is something that’s real doable. My intention for you is to feel like you’ve got some superhero powers now to go out and make this happen. I can tell you that the more you do this, the easier it gets. I was really nervous when I first started working with major donors. I was so afraid I was going to mess something up. The more I did it, the more I saw that it was okay. They’re really just people. They care about the same things I do. It’s all good.

Now, if you’re listening to some of this and you’ve really got some specific questions, I want to offer you something. I do something that I call a Strategy Session where I jump on the phone with an organization and we talk about your campaign and I can give you some suggestions. If you’re interested in a 20-minute strategy session with me, you can go to this website. It’s TalkWithSandy.com. You will see my online calendar. You can pick a day and time that works for you. We can talk about your campaign and you can ask any questions that you want and I’m happy to do that for you.

Now, let’s see what questions you have while we still have a few minutes left.

Steven Shattuck: Cool. That was awesome, Sandy. Thanks so much, a lot of information. I hope people do take advantage of that offer. Sandy is one of the best consultants, experts that we work with. So, please do reach out to her if you do want to take advantage of that very kind offer.

So, we’ve got a couple of questions in here in the chat room. I think a couple of them may have gotten answered later on through Sandy’s slides. Sandy, we’ve got one here from Poppy. Poppy is saying, “If your organization is a national virtual organization, are there differences in how you would approach the campaign of this kind.” So, they’re a volunteer-only organization and the board members are scattered across the US. So, a virtual organization that still has some national reach.

Sandy Rees: Okay. So, here’s what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to think about what you can do instead of what you can’t do. If you’re a national organization, it may not be feasible for you to jump on a plane and go get face-to-face with a donor. So, you’ve got to figure out what you can do. You can Skype. You can shoot video. You can get on the phone. You can email. There are a lot of things you can do to cultivate and build relationships. You may have one or two that you really do need to get on a plane and go visit. If you’ve got somebody who’s capable of giving you a very large gift, you might need to do that.

So, what I want you to do, it doesn’t matter if it’s all volunteer. It doesn’t matter if it’s virtual. You’ve got to focus on what you can do in order to build these relationships and get your donors excited and involved in what you’re doing.

Steven Shattuck: Great. That makes a lot of sense. We’ve got one from Juniper here. I think that Juniper asked this question while you were hovering over step four, I think it was. Juniper is wondering, “Does the leader need to be a part of your board?” So, does that leader need to be a board member necessarily?

Sandy Rees: No. No, they certainly don’t. They just need to care and they need to be willing to spend some time with the campaign. They don’t have to be on the board and most of the time they probably won’t.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. I thought that’s what you might say. That’s good. Here’s one from Jared. Jared is wondering, “Can an individual prospect ever be in more than one gift range?” So, could they be in maybe the top two ranges or is it just in one?

Sandy Rees: I’d put them just in one. If you’re trying to put them in two that tells me you’re not sure where to put them. Go for the higher level because what could happen–let’s say you can’t decide if somebody’s going to be a $15,000 prospect or a $10,000. Put them in the $15,000, cultivate them and then ask, and then what if they say, “Well, gosh, I couldn’t do $15,000, but I could do $10,000.” You still get something that you need.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. That makes sense. We’ve got time for one more question. I hope people will reach out to Sandy via email and on Twitter if they have any additional ones. We’ve got one from Mary. Mary had asked this when you were talking about what to do when a donor says no during an ask. Mary’s wondering, “What do you do when they say they have to speak to their HR person or someone else in the organization before they can make this decision about giving or volunteering or helping out. What would you do in that case?” It’s not a hard no, but it’s not a yes either.

Sandy Rees: Okay. So, it sounds like in that situation, we’re talking about a corporation, which is a slightly different thing. What I would offer to do if they say that they need to talk to their HR person, I would offer to go with them. “Can I help you with that? Can I help you explain this to them? Can I meet with you? Could I provide you with some materials?” Ultimately, what I want to do is I want to be the one to get in front of that person as well. But if I can’t, I’m going to give them whatever resources I can to help set them up for success.

Steven Shattuck: Cool, all right. Well, great. I know we’re approaching the 2:00 hour and I don’t want to keep folks longer than we said we would. So, Sandy, maybe you can tell folks a little bit more about where they can get a hold of you and your offer there.

Sandy Rees: Yeah. If you want to see what else that we have at Get Fully Funded, certainly go to the website. It’s www.GetFullyFunded.com. We have a wide range of stuff. There’re all kinds of free resources. We have a blog. I’ve been blogging for years. You’re going to find tons of great resources. All of this information today actually comes from a book that I wrote called “6 Figure Fundraising.” You’ll find the book on the website. So, there’s a lot of stuff you can take advantage of there and I encourage you to do that.

Steven Shattuck: Yeah. Please do. Sandy, thanks so much for hanging out with us for about an hour and sharing all this info. We definitely appreciate it.

Just so everyone knows, we do these webinars once a week. We’ve got one coming up next week, a really cool one actually. We’re going to talk about mobile fundraising and how to optimize your website presence for mobile. It’s definitely a hot topic. So, check that out if you’re interested. It’s totally free. It’s totally educational. There are a few other webinars on there through the month of July that you can check out and register for if it catches your eye. So, check that out.

As soon as you exit this webinar, you’re going to get sent a little feedback form. I’d love to hear what you thought of the webinar. You won’t hurt my feelings. I don’t think you’ll hurt Sandy’s feelings. So, do share some feedback with us. I definitely would appreciate that.

Just so everyone knows, I will be sending out both the slides and the full recording a little later on this afternoon. So, look for an email from me probably in the next couple hours or so.

So, Sandy, thanks again. Really great to have you. Thanks for being here.

Sandy Rees: My pleasure. Thank you so much.

Steven Shattuck: Cool. And thanks to everyone else for hanging out with us for an hour or so. Have a great rest of your day and a great weekend. We will talk to you next week.

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.