In this webinar, Claire Axelrad, J.D., CFRE will show you where to begin (even if your budget isn’t huge), which prospects to prioritize, how to develop and manage a major donor pipeline and cultivation plan, and how to get and stay organized so you reach your goals.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Claire, my watch just struck 4:00 here in East Coast. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started?

Claire: Ready to go.

Steven: All right. Awesome. Well, welcome, everyone. Good afternoon to all of you. This is a special Tuesday edition of our webinar series, our first of 2020. And I was telling Claire earlier, it’s also the biggest webinar we’ve ever done. So welcome to all of you. So glad to have you all joining us. I know it’s a busy time of year coming off of the year-end, so I really appreciate all of you making the time to join us today. We’re going to be talking about major gift fundraising on a shoestring budget.

My name is Steven Shattuck, and I’m the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang. And I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. And just a couple of housekeeping items here real quick before we get going, just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll send out that recording to you later this afternoon. A couple hours after we adjourn, you should be able to get that in your email inbox. So just be on the lookout for that. I’ll also include the slides if you didn’t already get those. So if you have to leave early or maybe you get interrupted or just want to watch the content again, don’t worry, I’ll get all that good stuff in your hands later today, I promise.

But most importantly, if you are listening today, please feel free to chat in your questions and comments. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q & A. So don’t be shy. Send us your questions and comments. I’ll see those. Claire will see those. And we’ll try to get to just as many of them before the 5:00 hour. I’ll also keep an eye on the Twitter feed if you want to send us some tweets there just @BloomerangTech. I’ll keep an eye out there.

And if you have any trouble hearing us through your computer speakers, we find that the audio by phone is a little bit better quality than the internet audio. So if you have any trouble, if it won’t be too uncomfortable for you to dial in by phone, try that before you totally give up on us. You should be able to find a phone number just for you in the email confirmations from ReadyTalk. So check that if you have any audio issues.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say an extra special welcome to all of you joining us today. Like I said, first webinar of the year. We do these webinars, just about every week. Usually we do them on Thursdays but we’re doing something special this month. We’ve got actually eight webinars for you. We’re doing Tuesdays and Thursdays the next four weeks.

So if you aren’t busy, same time, same place on Tuesday and Thursday, join us we got some great presentations coming up. We love to do these webinars. One of our favorite things we do at Bloomerang. But what we are most known for is our donor management software. And it’s a new year, maybe you’re looking for new software, check us out if that’s the case. You can get a quick look at the software in action. Just download our video demo. Don’t even have to talk to anybody to see that. So check that out later on if you’re interested or just want to learn more.

Wow, what a great year a way to kick off the year with one of my favorite people. She is a friend of the program. Way more than a friend of the program, that’s underselling it. Claire, how’s it going? You doing okay? You survived the year-end I assume.

Claire: I did. I did and I’m looking forward to a new year.

Steven: Yes, me too. I couldn’t think of a better way to get things going. You’re one of our favorites. More than that, you’re a fundraising coach. You have been contributing awesome, awesome advice to Bloomerang for years. And if you are not subscribed to that, you’re going to want to get subscribed to that after listening to this presentation, for sure. And I was excited to tell her early, Claire is now the reigning champion of webinar registration. This is officially our biggest webinar we’ve ever done in eight years. So you’re not going to be disappointed afterwards. I promise you that. She’s got some great advice for you.

If you don’t know Claire, I don’t know how you managed to avoid her but she a great contributor of advice. She’s a writer for lots of the leading outlets here in the nonprofit sector. She’s been in your shoes. She’s worked as head of fundraising, head of organization in her illustrious career. And you’re going to see a lot of that advice come into play here. So Claire, I don’t want to take up any more time away from you to talk all about how to do major gift fundraising on that small budget. So take it away, my friend. The floor is yours.

Claire: Okay, thank you so much, Steven and thank you Bloomerang for having me. And, as Steven said, I work with Bloomerang a lot because I really think they’re the best and their software is awesome. It’s built by fundraisers for fundraisers. They don’t pay me to say that but they’re so supportive, and we all need a little support doing this work, right? So today, we’re going to talk about my favorite fundraising strategy because it’s where 80% to 90% of philanthropy comes from.

And I know that there may be lots of obstacles standing in your way that may prevent you from truly committing to develop a robust major gift fundraising effort. And you may think that you’re just too small, too under-resourced. But I truly believe every nonprofit can and should have a major gift program. And it shouldn’t be something you’re just pushing to the backburner to get to someday, someday when you have some time because someday really should be today. You really do not have time not to do this. Not if you’re smart, not if you want a sustainable source of contributed income. And I know you’re smart, because you’re here. So I was going to give you a bit more about why you should listen to me, but Steven did such a good job. I think I’m just going to skip right over that and talk to you about some of the things I have learned in my 38 years of doing this.

So this is what we’re going to cover today. There’s six learning objectives. And kind of as a bonus aside, I’m going to give you a little tip here that I believe will help you with all of your fundraising, not just major gifts, all of your nonprofit marketing, all of your planning and just about everything else you do in life, which is always ask the six reporters’ questions. The why, the what, the how, the who, the when, the where before you finalize anything. It’s just the smart way to work. And it kind of reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Lewis Carroll in “Through the Looking Glass,” which is something to the effect of if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there or not.

I used to be an overall director of development and marketing and for five different organizations. And when program staff would come to me and say, “Oh, Claire, we need a brochure. Make us a brochure,” I’d say, “Well, why? Why do you need it?” And often they would say something like, “Well, it’s because my boss told me we needed one.” So then I’d say, “Oh, okay, who do you want to reach?” And they’d be like, “Well, I’m not sure.” And then I’d say, “Well, what do you think is the best way to reach people?” “Well, I don’t know, maybe by letter or maybe an event or maybe a phone call?” And then I’d be like, “Okay, so why are you coming and asking for a brochure?” And then I say, “Let’s say you got these brochures, where would you distribute them?” And they’d be like, “I don’t know.”

So these are really, really important questions to ask. So we’re going to be kind of looking at how to develop your program, your major gift program through the lens of these questions. So let’s start. We’re going to go through all 10 of these. But let’s start by looking at why you need a major gift program. The bottom line is it’s where most of the money is. And if you don’t have an individual major gift fundraising program, you’re ignoring some really important facts, which is that 80% of all fundraising comes from individuals. And this chart here is from Giving USA. You can see 68% from individuals, 9% bequests, which is also individuals. And then if you look at the foundation piece of the pie, there’s a lot of individual money in there too because it’s people who have private foundations and donor-advised funds.

And the Fundraising Effectiveness Project study has found that 88% of all philanthropy comes from just 12% of donors. There’s another study that shows that 76% of all household charity in the United States comes from the top 3%. So I’m going to quote now the guy who is the project manager for the Fundraising Effectiveness Project, Bill Levis. And he said, “When so much in the way of revenue can be derived from either 3% or 12% of any donor database, extra focus on identifying and building relationships with both groups is time well spent.”

So now I hear some of you thinking, “Well, okay, yeah, this costs money, though, and we don’t have it.” So I want to launch poll right now to find out where you are focusing most of your fundraising resources right now. Steven, can you launch that? Great. Okay, I see the responses coming in fast and furious. It looks like benefits and special events is leading the way followed closely by direct mail acquisition and then grants to jumped ahead of direct mail acquisition. So interesting. I feel like I’m watching one of the Democratic polls to see like who’s jumping in front of each other, but it looks like benefits and special events by a long shot. Then grants then direct mail then major gifts, very, very small percentage on planned gifts.

Okay, yeah. So now, I want to find out what you think costs more than 50 cents to raise $1. So, Steven, if you launch that poll people get some choices. So it’s either benefits, special events. It’s direct mail acquisition, it’s major unplanned gifts, or it might be events and direct mail, direct mail and major gifts, or all three, events, direct mail, and major gifts. So give me the answer you think. So far, we’re getting a lot of people think special events cost more than 50 cents to raise $1. A lot of people think both events and direct mail cost 50 cents to raise $1. Very few think that it’s major and planned gifts. So I’m getting the sense you feel like you might get a bigger bang for your buck with nature and planned gifts. So very few of you are focusing your resources there right now.

So we still got a few more responses in, but it looks to me like most of you think it’s events or events and direct mail. And it turns out it is events and direct mail. And here you can see two different studies. One by the AFP and one by James Greenfield, who is my go-to guru on cost benefit. And you can see that in terms of bang for buck, major gifts and planned giving and to an extent, renewals are where you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. And I really want you to make your mantra for 2020 to put more resources into retention and upgrades. And you can do this on a shoestring. So let’s look at how you do this to make sure your shoestring is strong enough that it keeps your shoes laced up.

It’s a rare organization with a mailing list large enough to raise a million dollars from the million different dollar donor. But most nonprofits do have major donor prospects hiding in plain sight. And it’s just up to you to find them. And then once you do, you move them along the cultivation path that prepares them and you to make an ask that results in a win-win, a value-based exchange between you and them. And just so you know, I cover all of this in excruciating detail in my Winning Major Gift Fundraising online course, which is specifically designed with small and medium sized nonprofits in mind.

It happens to begin this year on January 21st. It’s eight weeks. If you’re interested, you still have time to grab the early bird discount, which ends this Saturday. And spots are filling up. I limit them so I can spend more time answering people’s questions. So if you have any questions about whether that might be right for you, email me.

Okay. Even if your budget isn’t huge, deploying some of it to develop major gifts makes a whole lot of bottom-line sense. Because if you do it right, you’re going to see a significant return on investment. So I want to cover these three preconditions to major gift fundraising so that you put in place a structure that supports your efforts.

Stop making excuses. Excuses are a way to place blame for an internal problem on an external condition. And it may comfort you to tell yourself, “Well, you’re not doing what more of this because you don’t have enough time, you’re waiting to hire a major gift officer or a development director. We don’t have the right prospect.” Or, “We’re saving our reserves for a rainy day.” Think of it this way, if you are a successful nonprofit and people are relying on you for what you do, then it is your responsibility to grow your nonprofit, to grow the love so more people can benefit and that means figuring out how to steward your resources in such a way that you fulfill your mission to the greatest extent possible.

And if you’re raising money in efficiently, if you’re putting it all into special events, where you’re lucky if you even break even, you’re preventing your nonprofit from fulfilling your potential. Even if you only have one major donor prospect, you should be asking that person to make a passionate gift. Otherwise, you’re leaving money on the table that could be doing a lot of good work. So I want you to make major gift fundraising a strategic priority. And that means you have to commit both internally and externally. You have to tell yourself and the world that you value major gift fundraising, and it’s just not going to happen because you think it. If it’s not an organizational strategic priority and it’s just in one person’s head, it’s not going to work. And I do find that more of a problem than resources is this lack of expressed and mutually-owned commitment.

Because I think you’ll find that once you commit to wear lace up shows, you will find the shoestring. So you want to put it all in a written plan. You want goals, you want measurable objectives, you want clear strategies, you want to know who is responsible for what and when they’re going to do it. And then you have to commit to hold your feet to the fire. And that means whether it’s you or several people spread throughout your organization, you put major gifts tasks into job descriptions. And then you commit to hold other people’s feet to the fire as well. So you create a team that holds people responsible to commit these assigned major gift fundraising tasks. Then you announce your commitment both to your board and to your staff.

And you ask other people, maybe it’s your board chair, maybe it’s your executive director, or your development director or your admin assistant, you ask them to hold you accountable. And you commit to a plan to report back on your progress at predetermined points over the course of the year. Because what gets measured, gets done. So I want you to really commit to not having a wing and a prayer, major gift fundraising strategy this year. And you do that by deliberately dedicating some resources. And you might not have a full-time major gift officer doing this on a shoestring, but you can commit to dedicate something.

So one of the things that I suggest that you get creative trying to find some resources. You might apply to a foundation or a capacity building grant where they’re going to be happy to give you some money for one or two years knowing that it will mean you can raise your own money moving forward and won’t have to keep coming back to them for grants. If you can’t find a foundation for this, maybe you can ask the board to pitch in and commit as a group. Maybe you have one major donor who will do this. Or I do find a lot of organizations do have reserves but they’re sitting there saving for a rainy day and I can’t think of any better use for that than to help you build your capacity to grow your fundraising by leaps and bounds.

So I’ve suggested on the screen some ways you could allocate percentages of people’s time. These are just ballpark suggestions. But you’ll see here that by spreading it out over the executive director, the development director, the admin assistant, the program director and the volunteer manager, it adds up to 100%, the equivalent of a full-time person working on this.

Ideally, you want to get this 100% using staff because it’s very hard to hold volunteers’ feet to the fire because you can’t fire them. But you do want to include volunteers on your major gift development team, and you do want to give them specific jobs. And then you want to meet regularly with your team so that all the activities are coordinated, and you stay on track.

Caveat, to make this work, if you’re taking 10% of someone’s time and putting some major gifts tasks in there, you’re going to have to take some other tasks off their plate. And I hear you say, “I can’t do that.” But yes you can because everybody is currently spending time on things they really don’t need to be doing. So just give that a little thought.

All right. Now you want to know how many prospects and donors can you handle. You’ve dedicated time, you’ve dedicated resources. Now you need to dedicate to a manageable workload. In other words, you don’t want to live in Imelda Marcos’ closet. If you try to do that, no one pair of shoes is going to get the attention that they need and deserve. And you’re never going to be able to really find what you’re looking for because it’s just too much. It’s very inefficient. So you need to narrow your major gift prospect universe.

That being said, you’re going to need more prospects than you think. Because a little bit later, we’re going look at qualifying donors for cultivation. And usually only about a third of the people you begin with as prospects in your portfolio will respond to becoming more deeply engaged in relationship with you. Not everybody wants to do that. So this means you have to multiply your prospect pool. So if you think, “Well, I think I could handle working face to face with 10 donors,” you’re going to need 30 prospects to start out with. So you’re going to add more folks in as you need using a range of qualifying factors like how long they’ve been giving to you, how frequently they give to you during the course of the year, other ways they’re affiliated or engaged with you or affiliated or linked to your leadership, all signs that they might be good prospects for you which we’ll cover a little bit more.

Okay, so there’s more than one way to figure out the number of donor prospects that you can actually manage. And I’m going to start since you’re on a shoestring, I would imagine, that’s why you’re here, I’m going to start with the quick and dirty way to select the best prospects. And that’s to look inside your own database and choose roughly the 10% of the folks who give you 90% of your budget is kind of the Pareto rule. I got this guideline from Jay Love, who’s the founder of Bloomerang. And I found it works really super well. But you can use 80/20, you can use 70/30 depending on what makes sense for you.

The other way is to use your math. And I use the rule of 150 which is that a full-time major gift officer who is tasked with doing nothing more than cultivating, soliciting, and stewarding donors can handle 150 prospects. And that means this person is doing nothing else. No research, no writing grants, no writing annual appeals, no managing events, no social media, just what’s called in the major gifts business as touches, moves, and asks.

So take the percentage of time that you have determined that you can dedicate. Maybe you’ve decided you could do 40% of your time, if you’re the executive director, then you could handle 60 prospects. You divide that into 150. And if it’s 10%, you could handle 15 prospects. Be realistic. And again, understand that if you’ve got 60 identified prospects at the beginning of the year, by the end of the first quarter, you’ll probably have qualified just about 20 of them, a third for further cultivation. And now you can dedicate yourself to getting to know these 20 people better. And some people in the biz called this loverizing. It’s you just shower this donor love. You really get to know them and love them. And then maybe half of those will be ready this year to be asked for a face-to-face gift and then the rest of the next year. So you don’t need to get crazy thinking this is going to eat up all your time. It won’t because you manage it, and it will certainly be time well spent.

And then finally, you can use your judgment. This isn’t rigid science. There’s art to it, too. And if you feel like, oh, well, doing it the quick and dirty way or the math way I’ve got too many people or I’ve got too few people. You can change your parameters. You can look in your database not at people who gave for 24 months but who gave for 18 months or who gave for 36 months. Or instead of using 90/10, you can use 70/30, or you could change your major gifts level, which we’ll look at in a little bit. I could talk for days on this, but we have to move on.

So who are your best prospects? Okay, they’re people who care about what you do. They’re people who are close to you. And they’re people who are philanthropic, especially to you. So I think of it as building up to the buffet and you want to make sure you’ve got enough to eat but you don’t want to let your eyes be bigger than your stomach. But you can do this. And we’re going to look at the three ways how.

The first is identifying the prospects you’re going to endeavor to upgrade to a major gift. And this is a really important guideline that I have used forever, which is that once you’ve got the number you know you could manage, then you need three things. But I use the acronym of LIA, L-I-A, to make someone a viable candidate. One is linkage to your cause. In other words, they’ve given before or they’ve been a client, or a patron, or they know one of your board members or one of your staff. They’re linked.

The next interest in your cause. And they’ve shown some interest either by giving to another organization that does something similar or something else they’ve done with you. And finally, its ability to give. Sometimes you’ll see people call these the three C’s. They’re committed, they’re caring, they have capacity. I like LIA better because they they’re all different letters and can remember what they mean.

So most of your major gifts are going to come from your current donors. That’s a really important concept because your current donors already have linkage and interest. And so you shouldn’t worry that these people are not currently getting at what you consider to be your major gifts level.

You want to dive into your database and think from your donor’s perspective. So let’s say I give $500 to you. And maybe that’s the largest gift I’ve made anywhere. I really feel like you should notice that. You should call, you should thank me. But to you maybe your major gift threshold is $1,500. So you’re treating me with my $500 the same way you would treat a $25 donor, which is not inspiring to me at all. So I’m probably not going to give you more. So you’re going to find stuck in the middle of your database are a lot of potential major gift donors who often don’t get the attention they deserve. And these are the absolute best prospects you can find.

So another way that I look at who you should work with and who you shouldn’t is the difference between pie in the sky, pie in your face, and your piece of pie. So for best results, you want to center yourself. You want to think of your constituencies as concentric circles. And those who are closest to you are in the middle, your board, your staff, your current major donors, people who are known to these people, known to your volunteers and so forth, out to this universe that may be known to care about your cause, even though they have no connection to you at this point. And then finally, beyond, the folks way out there in outer space.

And these space cadets are the pie in the sky. And too often, I’m sure many of you have had this happen, where a board member suggests, “Hey, what about Elon Musk?” I think of him because of SpaceX,” or, “Bill Gates. You know, these people are wealthy.” Well, maybe, but these people don’t have any known interest in your cause. Nobody knows or has any link to them. They seem really sexy but the likelihood of getting to them and getting a gift from them is very remote. Pie in your sky.

Pie in your face, that’s the reason that you qualify and tier your donor portfolio which we’ll look at in a second because not all donors have the same economic value. And that may sound cold, but it’s just practical. I mean, would you spend $10,000 to raise $1,000? I hope you wouldn’t. And for the same reason, I don’t want you to waste your resources on your low yielding prospects, because it’s just frustrating. It’s fruitless. You don’t want pie in your face.

You do want your piece of pie. So, again, if you have a major gift portfolio of 150 prospects, only about 10% to 15% of them like 15 to 22 prospects will make it on to your top tier of people to work with. That’s where you want to spend half of your time. I’m not kidding. It makes good economic sense to put your resources where the greatest promise lie.

So let’s say you’ve selected your initial portfolio people you’re going to work with. Now you want to qualify them to find who is most likely to be a major gift donor. And this is the step that I think is most often overlooked because it means taking a preliminary stab at some cultivation moves and touches to see who bites. And if after three to six attempts or four to eight attempts, something like that, you get crickets from these people, they won’t respond to you. This is a sign that you need to move these people down a tier, down more to the bottom of your list and move other people up to the top. Because it’s pointless to keep working with folks who don’t want to work with you, that won’t really get you to your goal.

So qualification helps you know when to cut your losses. And here are some practical steps for doing this. You send out a letter or an email that introduces yourself to your prospect. And you thank them, and you tell them they’re important to you. So it’s like, “Hello. You know, thanks so much for your past generous support. I’m writing to let you know I’ve been assigned as your contact person moving forward. Your support means so much to us. We want to make sure you always have a direct contact. If you ever have any questions or need anything, I’m your person. And I’d really like to get to know you better and learn more about what draws you here. Please feel free to email me or call my direct line. And if I don’t hear back from you, I’ll give you a call in a week.”

So you’ve given them something, you’ve given yourself away to reach out again, and then you want to make sure you make that follow up phone call. And if you get them, of course you want to try to learn a little bit more about their passions, what got them involved, ask them open-ended questions, not yes or no questions. “You know, tell me what draws you here. I’d love it if you would elaborate on that a little bit.”

If you don’t reach them, leave a warm and friendly message. Mention that you’d love to find a time to set up a quick in-person meeting because their support means so much to you. They’re just so important. You just want to put a face to a name. And then, if you get no response to either of these, send a survey and you can send this by email or snail mail. There’s a great article on the Bloomerang blog about doing donor surveys. And, you know, how you send it depends on what contact information you have for them now or what you know about their communication preferences. You just want to ask a few questions about what programs are of greatest interest to them, what kinds of communications they prefer. Sometimes I like to ask what adjective best describes our work from your perspective.

Not too many questions because response will be depressed if you do that. But try to think from your donor’s perspective like why might they want you to know these things about them. And also even would they have fun answering these questions because this is an experienced them. And then finally, if you get no response to the survey, send a handwritten note card and mention you’re sorry you’ve been unable to connect and ask the donor to let you know their preferred method of communication. And then give them lots of ways now to contact you email, phone number, mailing address, even social media accounts. And then if they don’t respond to this, you can send an invitation to an upcoming free event, a tour, a volunteer activity. You can follow up to let them know that this has been sent and you can ask them to RSVP to you directly. And then finally, for top prospects who have alluded you up to this point, you might try a final phone call or an email or a text based on what you know about their preferences.

Okay, if after all of these attempts they don’t bite, it’s time to call a spade a spade. They don’t want to be cultivated. They don’t want to build a closer relationship with you. They just want to give and not be bothered. That’s their right. Respect it. Now, take all of your qualified donors and put them into a tiered portfolio. If you can’t fit every prequalified major donor prospect in the percentage of time you’ve allocated to major gift development, you’re going to want to begin with your very best prospects. And as I said, that’s about 10% to 15% of your caseload. You want to spend 50% of your time there. And you make these A, B and C groupings based both on capacity to give but just as important, if not more important, how close they are now to being ready to make a major gift.

And when things start to feel like they’re not working you’ve dropped people down a tier and you move others up and begin focusing more of your cultivation and solicitation resources on them. So I want to take a closer look at what it takes to get to the point of readiness to be cultivated and solicited. I really like to use this Goldilocks rule where you think of taking your donor on a journey and both of you are seeking the just right fit and timing. And they’re going to be ready for cultivation after you’ve qualified them. They’re going to be ready for cultivation after you’ve set some revenue goals for them. Because if you know where you’re going, then you can take the road to that place.

And then you want to begin to plan some targeted cultivation outreach to reach the dollar goal that you have established. Once you’ve got your prospects and set your revenue targets, next, what you want to do is put a specific cultivation plan in writing. And some of what you do, some of the strategies you’ll use might be similar for your tier B and tier C donors, but very, very personalized for tier A. So let’s take a look first at setting revenue goals.

So you want to do this for every qualified prospect. If you don’t set goals, you’ll end up settling for less than you need and likely less than you could get. So if you need to raise $100,000 from 10 people and you have only 10 major gifts qualified prospects, you need to figure out how you’re going to make this work. You want to be realistic about this, but you also want to stretch, you want to ask people for the most passionate gifts that they can make because they’re going to feel really good about it once they’ve done that. And you’ve probably seen gift charts for capital campaigns. You can do the same thing for your annual campaign, your major gifts portion of your annual campaign.

So here, they’ve decided they’re going to ask George Generous for $30,000. And they think that they’ve got 2 prospects for $15,000 Philomena and Barney, and then maybe 3 for $10,000, Maggie, Bennett, and Mural. And then they’ve got 5 other prospects that they think they can ask for $5,008. Now, if you need donor A give you 30,000 and they’re the leader that everyone else is going to look to, what happens if you accept the $15,000 gift from them? I’m going to tell you a story.

So I worked with this nonprofit where we worked very closely with the board and they got very excited about committing to a growth budget, all the things they could do and this meant that they would have to as a board, commit more two major gift fundraising. They all agreed they would upgrade their own gifts and they would go out and ask other people for gifts. So then we sat down as a staff and outlined a revenue goal for every single person on the board beginning with the chairperson. The executive director then went to the chairperson in person to ask for this gift. And before she got the ask out of her mouth, the guy said to her, “I talked with my wife last night and we’ve decided we’re going to double our gift.” He had been giving $1,000, and she was going to ask him for $4,000, and we were very, very sure he could afford that.

So she called me up and she was all excited. “Claire, I got this donor to double his gift.” And I said, “Well, that’s great. But how much were you going to ask him for?” And she said, “$4,000.” And I said, “Okay, and what’s going to happen if everybody on the board gets half of what we decided we wanted them to give?” And she went, “Oh, I’ll go back to him.” And she did to her credit, and she explained, and he took a night and then he came back and committed to the $4,000 gift. And I have to tell you, he was like a house on fire after that. He was so passionate about having done this that he got all of the other board members to join him and step up to the plate.

I hope something like that happened for you. So I want to show you this pyramid another way based on the A, B, C tiers that we looked at earlier. Just so you see again that the top strategies are the ones that are most individually tailored and up close and personal because that’s where the greatest promise lies. And here, they’re looking for six or seven figure gifts at the top. You might be looking for four or five figure gifts at the top. That’s okay. That’s one of the reasons in my major gift course I help you figure out a realistic major gift level for you because it’s not the same for every organization. That’s the point is that this is all about raising more money for your organization. And just because you don’t have million-dollar prospects doesn’t mean you can’t have a major gift program. But you do have to target an ask goal for each prospect and then build a cultivation plan for each prospect, so you get them ready to say yes when you ask. So let’s look at putting this plan in writing.

Ideally, you want to reach out and touch or move your prospects on a monthly basis, more or less. And each plan is going to be slightly different because no two donors are alike. There is no one-size-fits-all cultivation plan. It’s going to be a combination of what I call low touch, medium touch, and high touch moves. And I’m going to go into this more deeply tomorrow in a webinar that I’m giving with Qgiv, so you might want to sign up for that. Of course, I do it a lot in my course. But if you’re not sure whether you want to take my course, check that out. And keep in mind that whatever you do is designed to move your prospect along a continuum from awareness that you exist to interest in what you do to some kind of involvement engagement, finally, to greater investment.

So if you simply think, “Well, I’m just going to include everybody in a mass e-newsletter or send everybody a holiday greeting cards,” that’s not going to get it done. You have to add some personal touches that show you are thinking specifically of them. And if we have time later, I can tell you a story about personal type of cultivation plan I did with one donor when I worked at the Conservatory of Music. I want to make sure we get through to this, so you have time for your questions.

So the next step is basically where does the rubber meets the road? In other words, how do you get to the ask? Who decides that it’s time and who actually utters the words, “Will you consider a gift of W, X, Y, Z?” You don’t want to endlessly cultivate. I call it cultivation paralysis. Donors who are willing to be cultivated really do want to give at some point. And it’s actually disconcerting to your donor if you cultivate them endlessly and then never do the favor of asking them to do something that’s going to end up bringing more meaning to their life and making them feel really, really good. And if you follow my blog, you know I talk a lot about making donors feel good. I feel very strongly that that’s part of your mission. And people are very much on a meaning quest. So everything that you do is designed to bring people meaning.

And by the way for your masters, I have developed a point system so that you can kind of assign points to different moves and know that when you get to a certain number of points, that’s time for the ask and I cover that in my course but we don’t have time to cover it today. But let me tell you a story about what happens if you don’t define roles and accountability. And then we’ll talk a little bit more about doing that. But I was working at a nonprofit where the executive director left and they brought in an interim ED. And during this transition period, I happened to already have a meeting set up with a major donor, and he was including his philanthropic advisor. It was a big deal that we had this meeting. So I told the interim ED about the meeting, and I said, “You know, I can still go to this.” And she said, “Oh, I have to absolutely be there. And I think we should bring the board president too.”

And so we did that. But I had a very uncomfortable relationship with this new ED. She wanted to feel like she was responsible for everything. And everything good that happened happened because of her. And so we went down there, but it really wasn’t clear who was going to ask and how much we were going to ask for. And she began with thanking this donor and saying, “I want to update you on what we’re doing.” And it just was kind of on and on. And what we had been hoping to ask for was a $200,000 gift. And this person had been making multiple $50,000 gifts. And we thought it was within the realm of possibility. But finally, the donor was like, “All right, so what do you want from me?”

And the ED said, “Oh, no, no, we don’t want anything from you now. You’re so generous. We just wanted to come here and update you.” At which point the philanthropic advisor who knew me from another organization said, “Well, I’m sure Claire has a number in mind. I’ve never known Claire not to have a number in mind.” It was really awkward. At which point the board president blurted out, “We were hoping we could ask you for a million dollars.” And, oh, my gosh, it was so clear that that was way too much to be asking for. And the donor kind of just turned off and we said our goodbyes, and two days later in the mail, we got a check for $5,000. So please learn from my mistakes and clearly define accountability.

And this really gets back to making major gift fundraising a strategic priority for everyone. So you want to decide who’s going to wear the shoes and the shoelaces that walk us to the asker and say it’s time. So you walk up to your ED maybe and say it’s time to ask or you walk up to your board president and say it’s time to ask. Who is going to wear the shoes and the shoelaces that walk up to the donor and make the ask? Who’s going to wear the shoes and the shoelaces that walk together with the asker to provide answers to factual questions? Maybe you bring a program director with you.

Who is going to wear the shoes and the shoestrings that walk together with the asker to provide testimonial? I find that to be a wonderful way to engage and involve board members who are not comfortable making the ask themselves, but they provide a role that nobody else can match of saying, “I do this freely and voluntarily.” They’re not being paid for it. And then once again, you need to assign someone to hold you and anyone to who major gift fundraising responsibility has been assigned accountable and you need to make sure this person really buys into major gifts as priority. So if the director of development is going to assign the executive director to be the one that holds them accountable, it’s only going to work if the executive director has committed publicly in a statement to the board and the rest of the staff to prioritize major gift fundraising. Otherwise, they’re likely just as likely to tell the development director, “Yeah, yeah. But I need you to write this grant first.”

If the executive director assigns the director of development to be the one to hold them accountable, to be the one to nudge them to be what we call their moves manager, then the executive director has to commit to not always putting the development director off and saying they’re too busy. If the executive director asks the board chair to hold them accountable, you have to make sure the board chair is really on board to do this and not shy about it and not cowed by you.

So just to summarize then get to questions. Here’s the 10 steps I found to be pretty foolproof, no matter the size of your shoes. You commit, you write down your commitment, you tell everyone, you follow these 10 steps. And then you meet regularly as a team to hold yourself accountable and stay on track. And if you do this, I can assure you, your shoelaces will support you and stand you in good stead as you march down the road towards greater financial sustainability.

And just, you know, I want to just kind of hammer this in, which is that major gift fundraising is the most cost effective and most rewarding strategy there is. And without it, in my humble opinion, you’re just working around the edges of your potential. And then not to get all salesy on you but please consider my upcoming e-course. I’m told by just about everyone, they would have paid more for it. You’ll make back your investment and more with just one major gift. And the skills that you’ll learn will put you in demand as a fundraiser. So if you think your major gift program could be more robust, this is a real opportunity. And, again, I’m doing a more in-depth webinar with Qgiv tomorrow. If you want to see what getting more into the weeds might start to look like, you can do this. And I would really love to help you. And now I would love to take questions.

Steven: All right. I told you all that was going to be a good one. Wow, that was awesome, Claire. Thank you so much. Great info here. We’re going to get everybody the slides, the recording. You will send out the link to your course. Claire, we’ll send that link out. It will also be clickable in the slides, so they’ll get it for sure. And we got a lot of questions here, Claire, and only a few minutes before 5:00. So I hope it’s okay if I give a shout out to the Ask an Expert series that you’re doing for us on the Bloomerang blog. If any of you have a question, we don’t get it answered today, submit it to us and Claire will answer it in writing and turn it into a really awesome blog post that everyone can benefit from. We work with her to provide all that so check that out. She’s already answered a lot of really awesome questions on our blog.

I’ll put that link out there to the chat. But let’s get to questions now, Claire. So we had a lot of people asking when you were talking about qualifications, do you recommend software like wealth screening software? What if you can’t afford wealth screening software? How do you actually go about maybe doing that qualification process? Any tips there, Claire?

Claire: Okay, so the wealth screening is going to help you with one thing, mostly, which is capacity. And it’s a useful tool but it’s one tool. And if you’re on a shoestring budget, I would not start there. If you have a small database, you can really figure out just by looking in your database at people’s patterns and habits who is the most likely to be giving you. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t use that software but it’s one tool.

Steven: I’m glad you said that. It seems like a lot of people gravitate towards wealth screening, and just say, “Oh, these people are wealthy so they’re qualified,” but that’s missing a huge step is what I’m hearing from you.

Claire: It’s not. And I can talk to you a lot about wealth screening because I’ve done it. And it’s helpful but you have to take the results with a huge shaker of salt because you get a lot of inaccuracies.

Steven: Okay. Here’s an interesting one from Robin, knows that major gift will mean a lot of different things to watch for people. You know, one organization may consider $1,000, a major gift versus one where if it’s a million dollars or more. Is there a middle ground for the average nonprofit, Claire, in terms of the dollar amount that people should be maybe gravitating towards if they’re just starting the process? Is it like three . . . I know it’s a loaded question, but . . .

Claire: Yeah. I spend like a module on that in my course. So figuring out what the best major gift amount is for you, but just, you know, anecdotally, I don’t think there is any one amount out there, and I think that’s a big mistake that a lot of organizations make because, I mean, I don’t believe this, but I started out in this business 38 years ago and major gifts amounts were generally thought of being $1,000. They still are and I don’t get that. I mean, you think there would’ve been a teensy bit of inflation by now. So partly it’s just you look at your own database. You go like, “Where’s the 90% or 80% of my fundraising coming from and what are those people giving?”

So from that, let me figure out what seems like a good major gift amount. And then let’s look a little bit lower and see like, “Oh, do I have people that are close to that that I could get up further?” I’ve worked at many organizations where we started out with $1,000. And then the level just kept moving up, because we started getting more donors at that level. So then we started to think, “Well, maybe we could upgrade those. So maybe now the level should be $2,500.” And then it became $5,000 and so forth. And that’s how you grow. But it’s okay to start where you are. I mean, you actually have to start where you are.

Steven: Right. That make sense. This is from Jacqueline, “Do you think it would be more worthwhile to dedicate resources to upgrading donors to major donors? Or would it be better to maintain resources to encourage them to give monthly?” Which do you kind of value there? Do you think that’s a good way to kind of divide your time? What do you think of the premise of the major gifts versus monthly giving?

Claire: So I think you can do both at the same time. I think that you can be basically trying to upgrade donors and you should give donors the choice of the best way to accomplish that for them. So if you’ve got a $100 donor that you think could become $1,000 donor, you could ask them to give $100 a month, which means they’d be a $1,200 donor or you could ask them to give a single gift of $1,000 and it’s really a different process. I do think that in addition to major giving, I would put monthly giving high on my list of the types of fundraising program that nonprofits don’t have that they should be putting more resources into because it’s an almost automatic way to upgrade people. Because, you know, you get you take people giving you, you know, I don’t know, $100 and you ask them to give $10 a month, you’ve already upgraded them to $120. So I think you should do that, but you shouldn’t do one at the expense of the other. You shouldn’t be doing them both. And considering that that is one way, one tool, one strategy for getting people to make major gifts.

Steven: I love that idea of, you know, yeah, like you said $1,200 dollars put out 12 times. That accomplishes both. That’s cool. What about recognition, Claire? Chuck is wondering when you’re asking a major donor when and how important is it to discuss what the recognition for the gift should look like. Is that something you should do maybe after you get the commitment, during? What do you think there?

Claire: I think it really depends on the donor and what you know about the donor. So that’s why a lot of the cultivation involves connecting with the donor, talking to them, talking about their life, talking about what things are important to them, what else they do when they’re not involved with your organization, what kind of legacy they would like to leave in the world. And you’re going to find out things about them. You’re going to know because they’re going to talk about, “Well, I named a wing over here.” Okay, now you know that putting their name on something is important. Or maybe you’re going to find out that they just lost a loved one and then you could suggest, “You know, you might want to make a gift in memory to honor this person.” You’re going to know when it makes sense. And you’re going to be able to . . .

If somebody gives $1,000 gift, most people aren’t really expecting any kind of recognition except being listed on your donor Honor Roll if you have one. But if somebody makes a million-dollar gift, it’s totally appropriate and wise to say, “Would you like us to recognize this gift in any way?” And then you can figure out if it’s going to be on a building or if it’s going to name, you know, a program or how you’re going to do it.

Steven: Great. I love feeling that out while you’re getting to know them. That makes a lot of sense. Wow. Well, there are a lot of questions in here that we haven’t answered. And I’m so sorry for that. There’s a lot of really good questions actually. I’m going to chat that link again for a way for people to maybe submit questions to have them answered by you, Claire, but any parting thoughts before we wrap things up here since it’s about 5:00 on the dot? Give you the last word, Claire.

Claire: I guess that I would say to you that is that anyone can raise major gifts. And it’s just a combination of knowhow and commitment that’s going to get you there. And so even if you’re not big on New Year’s resolutions, try to put 80% to 90% of your efforts this year into the prospects and strategies that are going to give you 80% to 90% of your fundraising goal. I just can’t think of any way that doesn’t make sense. And so that’s why I’ve given you these 10 steps. I want to answer your questions so I will endeavor to get to them. If we didn’t have time for them today, Steven will give them to me. And if I can help you in any way, please let me know. My motto is if I know it, I want you to know it, too.

Steven: I love it. Wow, what a great way to start off our webinar year. Thanks for doing this, Claire. This was really awesome. Thanks for being here.

Claire: My pleasure. Thank you, Steven. Always a pleasure.

Steven: And speaking of we got a great webinar coming up on Thursday. Our buddy, Brian Lauterbach will be talking about how to put together a little donor engagement plan for the rest of the year, 12-month plan. So if you’re not busy next Thursday afternoon, this Thursday, I should say, check it out. We’d love to have you back. And we got lots of other webinars not only in January but scheduled throughout the year already. We’ve got a lot of cool topics coming up. Things we haven’t ever covered before even though we’ve been doing this for about eight years. Check it out.

We’d love to see you again on another session. So thanks for being here. I know it’s a busy time of year. Thanks for hanging out for an hour or so. Look for an email from me with the slides, recording. We’ll put in a link to all Claire’s stuff, the classes. All that great content we’ll get to you today. So we’ll call it a day there. Have a good rest of your Tuesday. Have a good week. And we’ll hopefully talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Kristen Hay

Kristen Hay

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