Converting a first-time donor into a major donor is easier than you think!

Rachel Muir, CFRE, VP of Training at Pursuant, recently joined us for a webinar in which she shared how to build a portfolio and prioritize major gift prospects, and apply cultivation plans to a calendar to stay organized and upgrade donors.

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

Full Transcript:

 Steven: Rachel, are you still with us?

Rachel: I am. Can you hear me okay?

Steven: I can. My watch says 1:00. Do you want to go ahead and get started?

Rachel: Absolutely.

Steven: Cool. Let’s do it. Good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning, if you’re on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s webinar: Moving a First-Time Donor into a Major Donor.

My name is Steven Shattuck. I’m the VP of Marketing here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion. Just so everyone knows before we get started I just want everyone to know that we are recording this presentation, and I’ll be sending out the recording and the slides a little later on this afternoon, just as long as the technology gremlins stay away. I think they will this time, so look for an email from me a little later on this afternoon with those resources.

As our guest is presenting, please feel free to use the chat box right there on your screen, send any questions and comments our way. We’ll both see those during the presentation and we’re going to save a little bit of time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. You’ve got a great expert here for an hour to answer any of your questions, so do utilize that chat box as you’re listening.

Just in case there are some people new to Bloomerang, we do these webinars once a week. So welcome if this is your first presentation. I just want to let you know that Bloomerang, in addition to being a provider of a lot of educational resources like today’s webinar, we also make some really great toner management software, so if you’re interested in that you can check out our website for more information there.

I’m not going to give too much of a commercial here for you, but I just wanted some new folks to be aware of that in case you didn’t know who Bloomerang was. So now you know.

And now I want you to meet our guest. She is Rachel Muir, CFRE. Hey Rachel, how’s it going?

Rachel: Hi there. Awesome. Thanks.

Steven: Thanks for being here. For those of you who don’t know Rachel, Rachel is the VP of Training over at Pursuant. She’s just a great speaker, great blogger, really awesome person in general. I’m just going to brag on her for a little bit before she gets started. Actually this is really great, when she was just 26 she started her own nonprofit called Girlstart. It was a nonprofit organization meant to empower girl, math, science, engineering, and technology.

She started that in the living room of her apartment with $500 and just a credit card, and several years later she had raised over $10 million and was featured on Oprah, CNN, and The Today Show, so who you’re going to listen to today isn’t just a pundit who’s just sharing opinions. This is a person who has done it and has done a lot of great things.

She has been a winner of Oprah Winfrey’s Use Your Life Award. She’s a three-time finalist for Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

And she was named Outstanding Fundraiser Executive of the Year by AFP. She was also named one of Fast Company Magazine’s Fast 50 Champions of Innovation. Someone just said she’s also a great advocate of STEM.

Rachel, you’re just an awesome person in general. I’m really excited to hear what you have to say. This is going to be really cool, and I’m not going to take any more time away from you. Why don’t you go ahead and get us started?

Rachel: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me. We’re big fans of Bloomerang and I’ve got a huge heart for all the small nonprofits. I know we’ve got a lot of small nonprofits on the call. That was my background, starting and running Girlstart. Welcome everybody. Steven and I are so thankful that you’re joining us today.

I want to let you know that I’m going to be answering questions at the end. I’ve reserved at least 15 minutes for your questions, but please feel free to chat in questions. I’m not going to promise you that I’m going to answer it before the end, but I will scroll through and try to catch as many as I can. So if something comes up for you while I’m going through stuff, please don’t hesitate to type it in to the chat box.

I would really love to get to know you a little bit better. So one thing I’m going to invite everybody on the call to do is type into the chat box, I want to get a sense of everybody’s experience in fundraising, so I’m going to give you three different options.

I’m going to say a newbie is someone who’s been fundraising for two years or less. An intermediate’s been fundraising for maybe three to seven years. And we’ll say an expert is anybody who has been in the field for over eight years. So if you don’t mind, awesome. Thank you guys so much.

We just want to get a, great, lots of intermediate, lots of experts as well. Fantastic. This is really helpful. Everything you’re going to see today is going to be applicable whether you’re brand new to fundraising and today’s your first day — and congratulations, it’s going to be a great one — or whether you’ve been in the field for a long time. But thank you for typing in your expertise. I really appreciate it.

It helps me get a sense of who’s joining us and what their background is like. Also, if you’re tweeting today, go right ahead, of our handle @Pursuant and Bloomerang’s handle, and the hashtag for today’s webinar is Bloomerang. So tweet away, if you want to tweet. We’d love it.

So here’s the agenda of what we’re going to be covering today. We’re going to kick it off with how to upgrade donors, how to move a first time donor to a major donor. I’m going to move into building a major gift portfolio and give you guys some basics for how to do that and how to stay organized building a major gift portfolio and really where to start.

Then I’m going to give you some metrics, some best practices metrics on managing your portfolio. I’m going to show you some really great examples of very simple cultivation plans you can make on your own just using Excel, you can even use a Word document, but some simple cultivation plans you can use to stay organized and get results cultivating your donors. Then of course at the end I’m going to be answering your questions, and I’m really excited about doing that.

This is a little bit about what we do at Pursuant. We are a full service fundraising agency at Pursuant. We are really a merger of all these services that you see here to drive results for our clients. Our goal is to help them move their donors to their highest philanthropic potential. So that’s just a range. We’re not a software company, we’re a services company, and this is just a range of some of the services that we provide.

I’m going to show you guys a few screenshots during this presentation as well of some white papers that we have. Those are free resources for you to download. We’ve got some great white papers that you’re going to see on managing a major gift portfolio.

And I want to give a really quick shout out. If anybody on the call is planning a capital campaign, looking at launching a capital campaign, or may even be trying to finish a capital campaign, we’ve actually got a webinar next Thursday on that topic: How to Start or Finish a Capital Campaign. That’s a free webinar, so if that’s something you’ve got coming up you can visit and you can sign up for that.

It’s a free webinar. So, great, we are going to start off here with how to move a first time donor to a major donor. It’s actually a lot easier than you would think. The biggest step and the most important formula, this is the magic formula for moving a first time donor to a major donor and really, ultimately retaining all of your donors is actually what’s right there on your shampoo bottle. We always see “lather, rinse, repeat,” and I always chuckle because I think, “Who’s actually repeating?”

But it’s asking, thanking, and reporting back to your donors. You want to thank and you want to report back before you ask again. That is the key foundation to you being able to move a first time donor to a major donor.

We know that first time donors are testing the waters with their gift. We know that, from all the research that’s out there, we know that they’re under-giving with their first gift. But they’re testing us. They want to see what are we going to do when they make that gift?

How are we going to respond? And it’s up to us to thank them and let them know in a meaningful way that their gift was meaningful so that we can encourage them and get them to make a second gift and a third gift and upgrade them to eventually making significantly larger gifts and major gifts, which we’re going to talk about also in this presentation.

So this is kind of an outline of the donor experience. They want to make a difference. If I had an animation, this chart would really start with, “hey, you made me aware about your organization. You asked me to help. You said it would make a difference. I believed you. I trusted you. I gave what I could, you told me my gift made a difference, so I want to help again.”

But what happens is, somewhere in this experience, sometimes donors go awry. Things go awry. The reason why they usually do is because our donors don’t know that they made a difference. And that’s why they’re giving, they want to make a difference.

So they’re going to go somewhere else to do it. This is one of the first tools I want to give you guys, and the bottom line is that it’s up to us to make our donors feel like superheroes. What we need is a baseline plan so that you can make every donor feel heroic and you can make every donor feel appreciated and acknowledged and thanked and a part of your organization.

So my encouragement to you is to create some business rules to make it seamless and really help you make that process as easy to implement as possible, and as scalable as possible. We did a lot of this at Girlstart, and I’m going to share some of my tips and tricks, which include this next slide for you. This is an example that I made for Goodwill, for my friends at Goodwill.

Probably the first thing you’re going to say when you see this is, “wow, you have all of this recognition and all of this cultivation happening for every single person no matter what the size of their gift amount.” Let me tell you something about Goodwill. This organization was actually just starting a major gift program. They were actually at the beginning.

This particular Goodwill branch was at the beginning of starting their major gift program, so they had an opportunity and their primary investment was upgrading first time donors, getting to know them, so that they could move them up the pipeline.

My friend Shannon Doolittle, would say, “Saying thanks is a privilege.” And she’s right. Saying thanks is a privilege. A lot of organizations, especially larger organizations would see this and say, “I don’t have time. I just don’t have time to do all this.” We need to make time to thank a donor. You can think of business roles that apply to you, that are specific to you.

For Goodwill some of their cultivation steps, like inviting folks to their annual event, that was specific to them, inviting folks for a tour. Those are things that are specific to them. You can think about what is specific or meaningful for you. Maybe you don’t have a physical space that donors can come in and see, but maybe you can have a webinar where you’ve got your CEO or you’ve got other things, maybe you’re able to show some video clips of your work if you’re a global organization.

But you can think about what are the things that you do and what’s meaningful to your organization. I recommend putting these down on paper so that you know, and you’ve got actual internal business rules for how you want your donors to be treated, so that someone within your organization, whether it’s your development director, your development assistant, your gift acknowledgement person, you’ve got someone who’s making sure, “hey this is our process and this is how we plan to recognize our donors for our gifts.”

At Girlstart we achieved a lot of scalability in many things including, especially, hand-written thank you notes. We would make a lot of them in advance. We had cute stationery made. Digital printing’s so inexpensive. We would shoot out lots of color photos on the color printer, we’d cut them out, we’d glue them in the cards, we’d have volunteers do all of this.

We’d have girls occasionally write thank you notes at program events and we’d put a copy of that in this card. We would change it out. Every month we would change out our copy on our thank you cards, but we had a lot of this stuff pre-made, so sitting down to write a thank you card didn’t interrupt everything else in our day. It was something that was easy, and it was something that was seamless.

So my first piece of advice to you in moving a first time donor to a major donor is create some business roles for how you’re going to steward and acknowledge your donors and make some minimum amounts where you’re comfortable and you feel good that everyone’s getting a thank you.

I would tell you guys on the call today that an email autoresponder doesn’t count as a meaningful thank you. Now, if you went in there and you really worked on that copy and you made it stand out and you made it meaningful, then kudos to you. That’s much better.

But I’ve worked with an organization that said, “Well, we have an autoresponder.” Test your email autoresponder, test your experience at your organization, write a gift and see what happens. Are you thanked? Are you appreciated? What happens? Because this is a huge, huge step in that donor moving forward to make a second gift.

This is an easy tool that you can implement and use yourself. This is just in Excel, to just identify what are some key opportunities that we have to cultivate our donors and how do we want to establish some real business roles that we’re going to follow as an organization. The real key for you in upgrading your donors is really knowing what their interests are.

So for the donors that you have in your portfolio, do you currently know why they made their first gift to you? Do you know what they’re most passionate about? Or what their top philanthropic priorities are? I love asking people what the best gift they ever gave was and why.

And what I love about asking folks that question is, the way that they answer that question tells me how they want to be stewarded, and I can make sure that I’m stewarding them appropriately and maybe exceeding their expectations.

Another one of my all-time favorite questions to ask donors is what do they love about what they do. This one is an opportunity to have your donor tell you so much about themselves and what they care about in their life.

All of these things are opportunities to build deeper, more meaningful relationships with our donors. Asking your donors what they want to pass on to future generations or what changes they think would make the world a better place. How do they involve their children in their giving?

Questions about your performance with them, if you’ve done a good job communicating the impact of your donor’s gift. Are there ways that you could make your donor’s experience more meaningful? These are all meaningful opportunities for you to learn more about what makes your donors tick, how they want to be significant, and it tells you where you can intersect with them. Finding out what matters to them tells you that.

So Julie asks a really good question, “How and where do you ask donors these questions?” I’m going to talk with you about that next. I’m going to actually introduce a process for you to find out more about your donor’s interests. I’m going to talk about this as well when we talk about building a major gift portfolio. Because one of the first things that you want to do is, if you’ve got donors in your caseload that you don’t know why they gave, you don’t know what made them give, this is an opportunity for you to find out more about them.

I’m going to give you some tools to roll out the red carpet to your donors and give you an excuse to reach out to them and have a reason to reach out to them and ask them those questions. So that’s a really fantastic question, and thank you for asking that, Julie.

Picking out what matters to your donors, it gives you that chance to build that relationship, reveal their interests, and upgrade their giving. These are some tools that are free for you to just learn more about your donors. This is like legal stalking. The first one is obviously a Google search. In addition you can set up a Google Alert for your donor’s name. That way if something happens, you’re notified.

I recommend adding your donors to your LinkedIn network. I’ve had people ask me, “Should I add them to my LinkedIn network, Rachel? Or should I add them to my organization’s LinkedIn network?”

I would recommend you add them to your LinkedIn network, because unless you’re also managing your organization’s LinkedIn presence, you’re not going to be noticing what updates are happening with them. So for that reason I would recommend adding them to your network, and I would also recommend changing that cookie-cutter copy that LinkedIn suggests to make it a little bit more personal.

Low hanging fruit these days, I didn’t have this when I was a fundraiser because at Girlstart Twitter hadn’t started yet, when I started Girlstart, but following your donors on Twitter, following your donors on Pinterest, these are easy, non-intrusive ways for you to learn a lot more about what matters to them. I’m a fan of liking their, amateur donor soccer, nice one Steven.

I’m a fan of liking their company on Facebook, and I say their company, and I think to follow them personally on Facebook is a little more intimate, but liking their company on Facebook allows you to get news about their company in your feed, and that just gives you more opportunities to connect with them and congratulate them on their success or progress or changes or updates that are happening.

Zillow of course, real estate, what does that look like for them? Political Money Line, what their political contributions, just gives you more insight into their life style, their giving to political candidates. The last one is probably the most important one, but it’s often the most neglected. That one is examining their interaction and their behavioral data.

So for example, what are your donors clicking on in your monthly e-newsletter? What events that you have are your donors going to? What opportunities are your donors volunteering for?

There may be a lot of information that you already have that you may not currently be minding that can give you great insight into what your donors care about, what programs they care about, and what matters to them and is important to them. So those are some free tools.

My advice to you in this process is to be curious and be strategic. You know when you’re on a flight and you open up that in-flight magazine and you see those ads which have been running since I can remember being able to read, that say “it’s just lunch,” and it’s an advertisement for a dating service and it’s called “It’s Just Lunch.”

Well it’s not just lunch, it is anything but just lunch. Your time with your donors is extremely precious. So I want to encourage you to be thinking about what’s more important to them. Who should they meet in the organization? What should they experience? Are there particular programs that interest them? What must they receive in return for their gift?

Before you have a meeting with your donor, be thinking about all of these things. I see some great questions coming in. I’ve got a great question from Greg about how to identify the best 50 or so to follow. We’re going to talk about that later when I talk about your building a major gift portfolio, and that also applies for you, Corky. How do you do this for a large database?

So you’re going to see, I’ve got a formula for you to use to pull your list and start identifying who are the donors that I want to focus on to really learn more about their interests.

Before I talk about building a portfolio, I’m going to be talking a little bit about how to, this is especially important for you if you are new to an organization and you do not know your donors at all, how do you just have an excuse for opening up the door and finding out more about your donor’s interests? So starting that process, I would recommend that you start with your donors.

We’re not trying to boil the ocean here and focus on the entire universe of anyone who not only is giving but may ever give in the future. So we want to start with a manageable amount. We want to start with your donors.

New donors, donors you don’t know very well, donors that you know but you feel like you could upgrade them, or conversely and lastly donors you think you should downgrade. Maybe you’ve been cultivating a donor, you haven’t been able to upgrade their giving, and you’re wondering, “Should I really be investing my time here? Is this an efficient use of my time?”

So those are the groups, the least important being the donors you think you should downgrade, but the most important being those top three that I would recommend you focus on.

This is kind of a format of what this looks like, determining interests. So this is a low-tech manual way, especially for smaller organizations, to approach determining donor interest.

Now we do a lot of this at Pursuant and we’ve had a lot of success looking at donor interest by creating videos and really understanding more about what donors care about from where they click, and what appeals to them from where they click in the video and what they watch and how long they watch it for. We’ve had a lot of success and gotten a lot of scale and efficiency and impact by doing this through a video format, but you can do this manually through the mail as well.

This is, if you were to do that, this is what this might look like. You send them a letter or you send them an email. I’m a fan of doing this by mail and not by email because I think that it adds a level of, it elevates it if you’re doing it by mail. We get emails all day long, but we’re not getting as much stuff in the mail, so I would recommend doing this by mail as opposed to doing this by email, but for some folks, you may only have an email address and that’s all you have to work with.

You want to make this feel as personal as possible. Use your letterhead of course, but this is really a combination of sending them a series of letters, making phone calls, making emails, then if they don’t respond to you, quote unquote, blessing them and release them, letting them know, “I’ve tried to reach out to you. I wanted to find out more about, I wanted to tell you more about your gifts at work and learn more about what made you give to us. I haven’t heard back from you. Here’s my number. Please come at your convenience. I look forward to hearing from you.” Then a final note.

So I’m going to show you some examples of what this can look like for you. This is an example from an organization in Dallas that actually came to my training, and when this woman started out she sent this letter out to her donors. She was new on her job and she wanted to really get to know her donors and what made them give to Bryan’s House. What inspired them to make that very first gift to Bryan’s House?

This is a very interesting way to start a letter. She talks about Fred Rogers, but we’ll get to the highlights here. She introduces herself, she lets people know that she just became a member of this great organization and lets them know, “you’re important. You’re an important part of our neighborhood here, and I want to know why you chose us as the place for you to share your gifts and talents.” Then she thanks them again for their gift at the end.

So this is a great way to open up the door. I’ve heard about organizations doing this who received gifts from this even though this wasn’t a solicitation. It isn’t that often that a donor gets a letter from you that just says, “Hi. I am here to let you know how your gift is making a meaningful impact in our organization, and I’d love to talk with you about that.” It isn’t that often that a donor gets that. Usually what they’re getting is an appeal letter from us. So this has an opportunity to really stand out.

This is another great example, and the theme of this one is, “every donor has a story to tell, and I want to know your story.” This particular person framed this as, “this is a new program we have at our organization. Our new program is for me to reach out to you and find out your story.”

So there are all different ways you could do this, but the bottom line is that you’re sending some formal communication to your donor to just let them know, “I want to know, I want to tell you how you’re making a difference, and I want to know what inspired you to make your gift.” This is just a way for you to open the door. Not every donor is going to respond to this, but the great thing is, many of the donors who want to have a deeper relationship with you will respond to this. That’s really the whole point of doing this.

If you already do something like this, I recommend doing this in reasonable batches so that you’re not overwhelming yourself, because the last thing you’d want to do is send out a lot of letters to your donors telling them that you’re going to call on them, and then get swept up in your end-of-year fundraising rush or anything else, a big event that you have going on, and not be able to do that follow-up. So do it in a meaningful pace and quantity so that you’re able to give your donors that kind of fantastic follow-up.

Judy, I love what you asked. Judy says, “it sounds like you’re not making an ask for this meeting. Is that right?” Exactly. This is a meeting to just find out what made you give that gift and how are we doing letting you know your gifts are making a difference? This is an opportunity to just find out more about your donor’s interests. If you have objections to your donor taking this visit with you, you can use that, Judy.

You can say, “I want to find out what inspired you make your gift. I just want to hear your story.” I’m going to give an example. I’m going to pick on Steven and I’m going to pretend like I’m a fundraiser for where I went to school. I graduated from UT Austin, the University of Texas at Austin. So let’s just pretend like I graduated from UT and I’m a gift officer and I’m calling on Steven.

If I were to call on Steven and say, “Hey, Steven, I want to visit with you and take you for coffee and I want to tell you about all the great things the university is doing.” That kind of sounds like I’m going to be talking at Steven, and he may or may not respond to that, but if I say, “Steven, I want to hear what your experience on our campus was like and I want to find out what advice you have for incoming freshmen,” I’m really engaging with Steven. I want to hear his personal story, and that’s something that we all like.

Let’s face it, we all like to talk about ourselves and our donors do too. And you want them to talk about themselves because you want to know what inspired them to make that gift and what is important to them. What are their philanthropic priorities? That’s what helps you to determine where you fit in their philanthropic priorities, and knowing about their interests is what allows you to move yourself higher and higher in their philanthropic priorities.

So I had a few folks asking me a little bit about building a portfolio, and I’m going to talk about that now. This is how to not start. A lot of times we can think that the grass is greener on the other side. I would encourage everyone, you really want to start with who’s currently giving to you. It can be tempting to start with who are the most generous donors, but if they aren’t interested in your organization and your mission, then you can spend a lot of time barking up the wrong tree.

I’m from Austin, Texas, and everyone in Austin, Texas wants Michael Dell to be in their major gifts portfolio, of course. And Michael Dell is passionate about many things. We were lucky at Girlstart that STEM was one of his passions, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Vaccines for kids in third world countries may not be one of his priorities, and if that was what your organization’s mission was, you could be wasting a lot of time spending time trying to pursue him. You only have so much time in a day, and I would encourage you not to neglect those smaller donors to chase potential whales who may not have that interest or that affinity to your cause.

So we’re going to talk about what your priorities should be in identifying prospects. We can think about it, a lot of times you hear LIA, linkage, interest, affinity, and another easier way to remember it I think, is ABC. Access, belief, capacity. So the first thing here you’ll notice, is access.

A is for access. Start with who you know, not who’s rich. But a lot of times people start with capacity, they start with C, they start with the very last one. You need to have access to this person, they need to believe in your mission, and they need to have capacity.

It doesn’t matter if Richard Branson has daughters. If Richard Branson is not passionate about encouraging girls in math, science, engineering, and technology, it doesn’t matter how wealthy he is, I’m not going to be successful getting him engaged. And moreover and foremost, if I have no access to Richard Branson, then I’m really spinning my wheels.

The first thing that I need to have is access to Richard Branson. It’s easy sometimes, I know because I’ve been in your shoes, your board members or your CEO can say, “just ask so-and-so,” as if it’s just that easy to ask that person, but if you don’t have access to that person, then you don’t have the ability, and capacity doesn’t equal interest.

Just because they have a lot of financial resources, it doesn’t mean they’re motivated to give those resources to your cause. We’re going to talk a little bit about who should be in your portfolio. This is a great question that someone brought up earlier, who should be in my portfolio, and that’s what we’re going to tackle next. I’m going to give you some actual formulas for you to use, too.

My advice to you is really to start by shopping in your own closet. You likely have some great prospects that are hiding out in plain sight. We see this all the time with our clients where they’re great, great folks with really significant capacity that might be kind of hiding in your file and giving really small amounts and nobody has reached out to them. So start with who is currently giving to your organization first. This is really the best place for ground zero starting out. This is a formula that I would recommend. The first thing is, look at their past giving.

Another way to say largest, loyal, and upgrading is recency, frequency, and monetary value. You can take your database, whether this is in a fantastic software product or whether you’ve got an Excel spreadsheet, however you have it, pull the last couple years.

I would say the last two years, maybe the last three years depending on the size of your organization and depending on how in touch or out of touch you might feel with your file. That might dictate how far back you go. Two years is good, three years is great.

Look at who’s been giving to you over time, because you’re really looking for patterns. What are large, significant gives? Who’s been giving smaller amounts, but giving very consistently? And what are gifts that are going up over time?

The second thing when you pull this list, is look at cumulative amounts. If you just do a search for all gifts of $5000 then you’re going to miss out, or all gifts of $1000, you’re going to miss out. You may have some donors that are giving to you monthly or that are supporting many different projects, and they might total up to what your organization would consider a major donor, but they don’t appear to because you’re only doing a search on $1000 or more. So look for a cumulative amount when you’re doing this search.

Screen for capacity. Of course there are paid tools that you can use to screen for capacity. There are a lot of paid tools out there. There are free tools as well. I talked about some free tools earlier. But screening for capacity gives you a little bit of an upper hand in really being able to see; you may have a donor that you don’t think has capacity, but that really does. So kind of like a millionaire next door type scenario where they have assets you don’t know about.

People can be really good about hiding their assets. We like to look at income-producing assets at Pursuant. That’s something significant to look at, because you’ve heard the term, I think it’s house-poor. So people may appear to have great wealth, but if they don’t have a lot of income-producing assets, it may tell a different story in terms of their capacity to make gifts. So screening for capacity gives you some added insight.

And then finally examining their behavioral data. How are they interacting with you? What interests are they showing? What are they clicking on? What events are they going to? How are they engaging with you? So that was my advice for you in terms of how you can really pull your file and really see what’s in there, and prioritize.

You can make some decisions once you have this information to really effectively prioritize, “these donors are upgrading, these donors have given very generous gifts very recently, these donors are extremely loyal over time.”

These are all three segments that I want to focus my energies on and prioritize. “These folks over here lapsed. These folks lapsed 24 months ago. These aren’t my top priority. I’m going to focus on these folks. And I’m going to get to these lapsed folks and figure out their story, figure out what happened, but first I’m going to prioritize this,” because you may have some hidden gems that you’re not aware of in your file.

I’ll give you guys some advice for managing your portfolio and what kind of metrics you should have in your portfolio. When I talk about portfolio metrics, the first piece I want to share is what makes a great gift officer. The right attributes are that they love people, they’re very self-motivated, they’re confident, they’re organized, and they are not afraid to make the ask.

If you have a gift officer who is always in the office, always chasing new donors, these are some warning signs for you. You shouldn’t see your gift officer in the office 40 hours a week. They should be out in the field doing solicitations.

A good major gift officer is, a great major gift officer, these are some of the most positive people you will ever meet in your life. It really requires a lot of self-motivation, a lot of confidence, a lot of organization to be a fantastic gift officer.

I’ve heard horror stories of employers who have demanded that gift officers be in the office 40 hours a week and really cost the gift officers a lot of what they’re trying to achieve to be successful. So those are some traits of a fantastic gift officer that I would throw out there to you guys.

The other portfolio metric that I would want to share, and I’ve got some more coming up, but it is not humanly possible for a full time major gift officer to manage more than 150 donors in their portfolio. That’s someone who’s doing this full time. This mean they’re a full time major gift officer. They’re not also the volunteer director, and they’re not also the grant writer, or they’re not also the executive director.

So if you have less than 40 hours a week, you can’t manage 150 donors. If you’ve got less than 40 hours a week, maybe you’re managing like, let’s say you’ve got 20 hours a week to devote to major gift fundraising. Maybe you’re managing about 75 donors in your portfolio. If you’ve got 10 hours a week, maybe it’s more like 35. If you’re an executive director, it could be an even smaller number. If you were managing a board and your board fundraising prospects, I never gave my board members more than three prospects to manage at one time.

So 150 is the absolute maximum if you are working full time doing that. So that is my advice to you in terms of your gift portfolio. I’ve got some metrics I’m going to share with you on best practices for performance for a major gift officer. I want to tell you, this is for someone who is a full time major gift officer. Even though these are the goals, in reality it doesn’t actually quite look this.

The reason it doesn’t quite look like this is because usually the gift officer is pulled into a lot of internal meetings that they have within the organization. I know from my own experience this was certainly true. That’s another reason why it’s so important to have really good communication and understanding between the major gift officer and the CEO, and that the CEO really understands the role of the major gift officer.

But some best practices, and this is, for someone who’s managing doing this full time, 125-150 people in their portfolio, 12-15 face to face visits a month, two to three being solicitations, a close ratio of 50-70%, and two visits before the ask certainly could be smaller, fewer visits, especially if it was a first time visit, a first time ask, or maybe you were doing solicitations for a giving circle or a smaller club, like a mid-level giving club.

I’ve got a question from Andrea, “how do I get major gift experience if I can’t get out of the office due to managing other fundraising areas?”

That is a fantastic question. Major gift experience is something that is really hard to get because you don’t just see people . . . I used to joke at Girlstart, it wasn’t really that funny, but of course you don’t see a lot of women engineers on TV and you don’t see a lot of fundraisers on TV either. You don’t get a chance to see a lot of solicitations.

There are a lot of great resources that we have at Pursuant, there are a lot of great resources that Bloomerang has. There are a lot of great educational tools. I’ve got a plug at the end for the classes I do. I do classes every month at Pursuant. It’s really practice. It takes a lot of practice to really have a solicitation and have a lot of these skills become part of your muscle memory, Andrea.

So that’s my advice to you, take advantage of these resources and take advantage of training, especially live in-person training where you get to practice making solicitations in a peer group with your colleagues or your peers in your field.

Those are some best practices for a major gift officer managing their portfolio. Again that is for someone who is doing this full time. I really want to stress that.

I mentioned our website. We’ve got a lot of great resources, this is a really good white paper on gift officer accountability. So if you want to dig a little bit more into metrics and what is appropriate for a gift officer, I really recommend this white paper. Don’t forget too, when you go to the site, if you’ve got a capital campaign coming up, I encourage you to sign up for that webinar.

I’ve got some other great items for you that I want to share with you. Cultivation plans. I am a huge fan of setting ask goals for your donors. Yogi Berra said this, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re going to wind up somewhere else.” That is certainly true in the demands of fund-raising for a nonprofit organization. So I recommend that you set a revenue goal for every donor that you have in your portfolio.

You need to set a goal for where you want to take that donor. You need to have a plan for how you’re going to cultivate them, what you’re going to ask them for, and when you’re going to make that ask.

So I’ve got a really good screenshot here of what they could look like. This is just in Excel. This assumes I am cultivating the cast of Peanuts. I’ve got Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty and Snoopy and Woodstock here.

I talked with you earlier about pulling a file of your donors and looking at what they gave prior. I would recommend that in your tool that you’re using to manage your portfolio, and this is just Excel, but in your tool that you’re looking at, what did they give last year? And what is your goal for this year?

We are huge fans of retention, Bloomerang are huge fans of retention. This is absolutely critical for you. You need to know what your donors gave prior and you need to be having an actual executable plan.

I need to know, if I’m going to be soliciting Charlie Brown in June for a $50,000 gift, what am I doing between now and June to cultivate him to that gift? And engage him more, show him how deep the need is. I’m assuming here, in this example I am an animal care organization and I’ve got some people that are really passionate about dogs and other people who really like cats.

If anyone on the call is in animal care, people know that cat people and dog people have very specific interests. So I want to make sure that the cat people see kitty cats and that the dog people are seeing puppies and dogs, and not cats.

So I’ve tailored all of their communications based on what their interests are. In addition to knowing what programs they care about in your organization, how do they want to be communicated with? Do they prefer email? Do they prefer phone? Do they prefer face to face visits? These are all important things for you to ask when you’re finding out more about your donor’s interests.

I want to answer some of your questions, and I saw a lot coming in, and a lot of chatting, too. Ellen asks, “How do you conduct a mass inquiry of communication preferences?” That question, what we’ve been seeing a lot of success with at Pursuant is using video as a tool for really finding out more about our donor’s interests and then moving on from there.

Sometimes when I share this insight with folks, it can be tempting for folks to say, “I’m just going to do a big email blast. I’m just going to email my whole file. I’m just going to ask donors, all my donors in my file, why they gave to us, why they care.”

So think about how you’re approaching this with your donors. You want to be handling your donors with care. You want this to feel like an extension of a meaningful relationship. So giving them something that is rich in experience, obviously videos are a really rich experience, giving them a formal letter that really lays out how, thanking them for their gift and how you want to serve them and what made them make their gift, and how you want to communicate to them how their gift is making an impact, these are all ways to do that.

Sending out a SurveyMonkey that asks them, “Do you agree with our mission? What is our number one most important program to you?” That is a different experience, so I would encourage everyone on the call to think about that, because these are people that you want to be deepening your relationship with and you want to be appropriately engaging in the invitation.

Let’s see here. So I’m looking at a lot of these questions. “I cover the entire nation,” says Billy. “How do you effectively set up face to face meetings when it’s across the country?” I worked with a lot of gift officers who’ve been all over the country, Billy, so I completely understand. The gift officers I’ve worked with have had a variety of challenges and they’ve tackled it from a variety of different ways.

My advice to you is to tier your portfolio. You want to be looking at “who are my top donors? And how am I nurturing those relationships? And how am I upgrading those relationships?” I would really start from there.

I’ve had gift officers who’ve really tried to just look at it from the most economical, “I’m going to be in this area, so I’m going,” well, not I’m going to be in this area, but they’ve looked at it from, “I have the largest amount of donors in this metro area. They’re giving the smallest amounts. I think I’ll go there so I can see the most amount of donors in the shortest amount of time.” That was done at the expense of seeing the highest value donors and visiting with them.

So I would really start with, there’s an economic cost associated with your time cultivating your donors. Your highest donors require more care and feeding and attention from you, so my advice would be to start with them.

The good news I would give you is, I hear this from fundraisers a lot, where they tell me, it’s funny, I was talking to a fundraiser in Dallas recently and he said, “It’s funny Rachel. I can get a meeting in New York; I can hear back and get a meeting booked in a day or two. It takes me months, literally months, to get a meeting in Dallas, but when I go to New York, I’m telling people, ‘I’m going to be in your area, I’m going to be here for these three days. When can we sit down for 30 minutes? These are the two days I’ve got available.’ And it’s a really different experience for them and it makes them a lot easier to say yes than it does for people who live here in my community with me who can put me off anytime.”

So that is one thing that you’ve got going for you that you may not feel like it all the time, but I definitely have heard that. I’m scrolling through looking for some more great questions, and there have been so many. I love what Lisa says, “the key is to make sure you’re stewarding and building relationships between the asks.” Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more.

Martha asks, “In a one man shop, does it make sense to consider well-trained board members and ED to be the major gift officers?” Yes, absolutely. I used to be a one woman shop myself, and I was definitely the chief fundraiser and executive director and facilities manager and volunteer recruiter and marketing director, so I completely understand, Martha. It does make sense.

I would say, for your board members, it’s fantastic to have board members out doing solicitations, that’s wonderful, and managing prospects. I think it’s fine. I doubt you’re going to have time to manage 150 donors.

I could be wrong about that, but I would say for you, a realistic portfolio might look something like 30-35 people in your file. I’m not sure that, be managing because you really only have so much time in a day.

This is a great question from Andrea. I love this question. “My job title,” this is Andrea Bell. “My job title is Director of Major Gifts. I think that may be a bit scary to a friends-level supporter who I help to qualify. How do you get over that obstacle?”

It’s funny because I was recently doing a training and I had someone give me two different cards because her Executive Director didn’t feel comfortable with the title Major Gifts Officer, so she had another card that said something like Community Outreach Manager or something like that.

I don’t think that it is a problem. I think that it’s fine. I’ve actually found it more confusing when I’ve been solicited by people who didn’t have a title of Director of Major Gifts, but instead had a really vague ambiguous title, because I had no idea what they were there to do.

I had no idea if what we were talking about was a partnership or some kind of collaboration, and I actually ended up being completely surprised when they solicited me. Had they had an appropriate title, I would have known, had a little bit more insight about what is happening.

So I don’t think it’s a problem. I’ve had people even when getting the visit, joke and say, “I don’t know that I’d be considered Major,” and to a response like that you can just chuckle and say, “You are making an impact at our organization, and I want to let you know about how your gifts are making a difference. I want to learn more about you and bring you closer to the organization.”

So I wouldn’t perceive it as an obstacle, I would really use it as an opportunity to let that person know that you appreciate them and you appreciate their giving and that it’s through the generosity and compassion of the community, of the donors in your community that you’re able to do the great work, and that you appreciate their giving. So that would be my advice for you.

“How can I expand my list?” Beverly asks, “How can I expand my list of donors? What tool would you use to ask for donations?” There are so many great ways to acquire new donors. There’s viral online acquisition that you can do. There’s of course always a lot invested into direct mail acquisition that you can do.

There are so many tools that you have available to you. It really depends, it’s a hard question to answer generally because it would really depend on your organization.

We actually have a fantastic webinar that’s going to be coming up and we’re going to start advertising it the end of next week. It’s going to be on online acquisition. Lots of fantastic case studies on online acquisition, so that’s a really great topic and a really great question.

I’ve got seven more minutes here and I’m going to keep going through these great questions.

“How do we increase the number of volunteers who also donate?” That’s a really great question that asked, Marcie. A lot of people can feel intimidated and even boards or CEOs can discourage the development director or major gift officer from approaching volunteers and asking volunteer gift, but volunteers are wonderful prospects for giving and I would solicit your volunteers and invite them to consider making an even bigger impact on your organization by contributing financially as well to your organization.

You could do a special appeal specific to them to really thank them. You could do a volunteer appreciation even where you’ve got some great testimonials and you talk about a fundraising goal that you have and you invite them to participate. That’s another great advice that I would give to you.

Let’s see. “How to turn a one-time capital campaign donor to become an annual fund donor? Restricted versus unrestricted.” That’s a great question, Jennifer, and I hope that you sign up for the capital campaign webinar next week because we’re going to be digging into that topic in depth.

So how do you move someone from making a restricted gift to an unrestricted gift? This is kind of a million dollar question in fundraising, because everyone wants to nail this, but I have to be respectful here and tell you there’s a reason donors love restricted giving, because then there’s something tangible that they can be associated with, that they know they had an impact.

So my advice to you, to everyone, is to always, even if it’s an unrestricted gift, try to be as specific with the meaningful impact about your donor’s gift at work as you possibly can be, because it’s those real tangible stories, and it doesn’t have to be 50 meals or 100 sweaters or eight vaccinations or 30 blood tests, but those meaningful stories behind their gifts at work are really the fuel that satisfy our donors and keep them giving.

When making the unrestricted ask, that’s really another webinar, but I’ll give you the shortest answer I can. When making an unrestricted ask,

[no audio 00:56:03] I would really encourage you to really lay the groundwork of how unrestricted giving is supporting the organization.

So I’m going to give you an example. Let’s say you are doing surgeries for kids in developing countries and people are paying for those surgeries, but there is a bigger opportunity there where you’re trying . . . it’s not just about rehabilitating that child and that family, to get them back on track. And they need more than just that surgery, and they need medical care and they need education and schooling.

So the more that you’re able to paint that whole picture, I recommend using phrases like, “we want to use your gift where it’s most needed,” and then maybe you give an example of what you were able to achieve with some emergency funds that you had available for unrestricted gifts.

Those would be some quick advice that I would have about unrestricted giving for you guys. A few more questions and I want to let you know that we do custom training, too. This is a schedule of some of our upcoming classes if you would like to join us. We do these classes in Dallas. They’re all-day classes and we’d love to have you join us.

We’ve got one in particular that’s coming up. It’s on November 12th and we’re actually doing a really special offer where your hotel is free. This is what we’re going to be focusing on that day, it’s how to build, become a fundraiser in a day. I really covers everything from building a major gifts portfolio, upgrading donors, art of storytelling, lots of practice on making a solicitation, and how to build donor loyalty.

I’m going to take just a couple of more questions. “Do you have any sample letters that do a great job?” I don’t have one in this slide deck, but I’ll tell you one verbally really quick. This is one of my favorites.

This is if, let’s pretend like Steven wrote a check to the Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders, and I was a gift officer at the Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders, which happens to be a real school here in Austin, Texas. Pretend like Steven wrote a thousand dollar check.

I would write Steven back and I would say, “dear Steven, the screams and squeals of the girls in room 401 when they found out thanks to your generous gift they were going to go tour the nation’s capital were positively deafening. Thank you for your gift.” So I’ve made Steven feel like he’s in the room, he’s hearing all these girls screaming and squealing over getting to see the nation’s capital, and I didn’t start out with a thank you.

That’s one example of a great thank you that I would recommend that you consider doing. I would encourage you to go out every month, get a cup of coffee, go to a coffee house, and just let your creative juices flow and come up with different unique ways to thank your donor. Start with a story. Don’t start with thank you; start with a story that makes them feel like they’re there in the room with you.

I want to leave you guys with this thought. We don’t convince donors. We help them realize that they already care. And the more you’re able to find out about your donor’s interests, the more you’re able to connect the dots with them and help them realize that they already do really care a great deal about your cause.

So one more question, I love this one, from Marcie and here’s my contact information while I answer this, “where is the best place to meet a donor? I have heard their home.” I would absolutely agree with you 100%. My favorite place to meet a donor is in their home.

My least favorite place is over dinner or lunch because I’m going to be interrupted by a server and I won’t be able to, I might be interrupted right when I make the solicitation and it could be distracting. So my favorite place is definitely in their home. Their home offers you so many clues to what they’re passionate about and what they’re interested in. I wouldn’t pick any other place, but my home is definitely the favorite, definitely favorite place.

So I want to thank you guys all for joining us today. I hope that we will get to see you again. I pointed out some really great resources that you can download for more learning, and I hope that we get to see you again.

Steven: Thanks, Rachel. That was awesome. Thanks so much for sharing all of your knowledge. I can’t remember a webinar where more people were engaged and sharing some really great comments and questions, so thank you all for listening and being good sports and sending your thoughts over.
Really great to hext Wednesday. We usually do Thursdays, but we’re bucking the trend a little bit because Thursday is actually a Jewish holiday. So we’re going to be here Wednave you, Rachel, for an hour. I just wanted to let everyone know that we do these once a week. We’ve got a really cool one coming up nesday with Susan Axelrod. She’s going to talk about how to get your nonprofit leadership to be a little bit more confident in fundraising.

So if you’re a CEO or an ED or if you’re someone who works with a CEO or an ED, you might find that presentation very interesting. Susan is great. The only way I can describe her is just lightning in a bottle. She’s super energetic. It should be a really good presentation, so check that out if that interests you.

I’ll be sending out the recording in just a couple of hours, just as soon as it’s done uploading to YouTube. So look for an email from me. Rachel, thanks again. This was awesome.

Rachel: You’re welcome.

Steven: All right everyone. Have a great rest of your day. Thanks for hanging out with us, and we will talk to you next week hopefully. Have a great rest of your day.

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.