Victoria Dietz will show you the proven steps to have meaningful conversations and build stronger relationships with your donors by keeping them engaged and properly setting expectations.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right. Victoria, is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially?

Victoria: Absolutely. Do you want me . . . Not share my screen yet though, right?

Steven: Not yet. I’ll give you the cue.

Victoria: Okay. You’ll flag me. Okay, great. Let’s do it.

Steven: All right. All of you, welcome. Thanks for being here. Good afternoon if you’re on the East Coast. Good morning if you’re out on the West Coast. Thanks for tuning in. We’ve got a special a Tuesday webinar here, maybe all days have lost meaning for you like they have for me, but it is Tuesday and we have an awesome webinar, so I’m glad you’re all here. I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as we talk about real conversations with major donors. We’re going to have a real conversation about real conversations. It’s going to be awesome.

So just a couple of housekeeping items, want to let you know that we are recording this session. We’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on today. So if you have to leave early, got another appointment, if a toddler interrupts you, it might happen to me, it might happen to Victoria, we’ll see. But no worries. We’re going to send that stuff to you today. We’ll send you the slides, we’ll send you all the goodies. I’ll get that email to you later today. But most importantly, please feel free to chat in any questions or comments throughout the hour. We’re going to try to save some time at the end for Q&A. So don’t be shy. We’ll see those chats. There’s a chat and there’s a Q&A. They are different, I don’t know why they split them up but whatever one you use, we’ll see the questions. So don’t be shy. We also got Twitter. You can tweet to us. I’ll keep an eye on that. But we’d love to have feedback because we like for these to be interactive.

If this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say an extra special welcome to all you folks. We do these webinars . . . used to do them every Thursday but we’ve been doing webinars, seems like every day since this whole coronavirus crisis started because we want to get that good information out to you. We love doing these webinars, but what we are most known for is our software. We’re actually a donor database provider. So check that out if you’re interested or just want to learn more. But don’t do that right now because one of my favorite people of all time joining us from beautiful . . . Yeah. It’s true. Victoria is great. Curtis Group is great. Victoria, you’ve been a friend of the program for a few years now. How are you? Are you doing okay? That’s what we’re most worried about. You guys are staying healthy up there?

Victoria: All things considered, we are well here in Northern Virginia. Thanks for asking. Very happy.

Steven: Yeah. We’re thankful for that because I know you’re closest to some hotspots. Normally, Victoria is on the road helping her clients. Awesome work over there at Curtis Group. You’re going to want to check them out. They really know their stuff. We have some mutual clients. Everybody’s always happy. And they got a great blog too. They’ve been on top of like . . . all of the current events stuff that’s been happening, they’re one of the first places I checked because I know there’s going to be a good post up there.

But what can I say about Victoria? She’s awesome. She’s super involved in the kind of fundraising community in Virginia statewide. She’s out there helping her clients and she’s got some really good advice for you. We scheduled this webinar a few months ago. We did not anticipate a global pandemic to be here when we are presenting.

Victoria: We weren’t the ones to call it, Steven.

Steven: No. Exactly. But we said, “You know what? Let’s still do it.” It’s still relevant information. You all are going to love it. So I’m going to pipe down because you’re not here to hear from me. So I’m going to stop sharing, Victoria, and I’ll let you start yours. Let’s see if it works.

Victoria: Great. Give me just one minute here.

Steven: Looks like it’s working.

Victoria: Get this into full screen.

Steven: I’ll shut this one down too.

Victoria: Perfect. All right. I’m going to ask Steven to help me because I am not at this point seeing our comments, so if there’s anything that pops up . . .

Steven: Yeah. I’ll keep an eye on.

Victoria: . . . you keep an eye on that. So welcome, everyone. I am thrilled to be here with you all today. We’re going to talk about having real conversations with major donors. In the true spirit of things, I’ll warn you that I’ve got two toddlers, a puppy, and a husband roaming my house, so hopefully, we’ll make it through this together with no interruptions, but apologies in advance if something happens.

So today we’re going to talk quite a lot about what we’re, you know, what we’re looking to have conversations with in terms of getting them started with our donors. I want to say though, just to get started, there is a tremendous amount of content available right now on how to talk to donors around the crisis, how to communicate with people electronically, how to be asking for gifts around this COVID-19 crisis. And I am certainly going to reference the fact that we are in uncharted territories, but for today, we’re all going to simultaneously sort of close our eyes and imagine a time when we’re actually able to get out of our houses. And we’re going to talk about meaningful donor conversations.

Just a little bit about the Curtis Group, we’ve been in business for 31 years now. We’re based in the Virginia Beach, Virginia area. However, as I mentioned, I’m located in Northern Virginia and our client base spans Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and down into North Carolina. And thanks, Steven, for the plug on our blog. We have been publishing quite a bit around the pandemic and really how to navigate these waters. So I’d encourage you to check out our newsfeed there. But, again, for today, we’re going to talk about a time when we’re able to get in touch with donors and, of course, we can have some conversation at the end if you all want to ask any specific questions around COVID-19.

So what are our goals today? First, we’re going to talk about who the heck we should be talking to, right? Who are our donors that we should be focusing on and how are we going to build meaningful relationships with them? Then we’re actually going to talk a little bit about, you know, practical things to say to them, which sounds very 101, but I find it really interesting that some of our more seasoned volunteers and occasionally even some of our more seasoned fundraising staff members still have questions about this. And so we’re going to take a very practical approach and hopefully you’ll leave this webinar with really some great things that you can into practice right away. Nothing’s worse than spending an hour of your time and feeling like, “Okay, that was great conceptually, but I’m not quite sure how to implement that.” So we’re going to focus on that piece today.

So let’s set the tone. As a reminder, this is the Giving USA Study. This data was published in June of last year. I just wanted to take a moment to just reflect back on giving and the level of generosity that is in our community. The new data for 2019 will come out in June of this year. And, of course, I happen to sit on the editorial review board of Giving USA. We are actively looking for ways to, of course, reference the current crisis and look forward in that way. But 2018 essentially was a flat year. Adjusted for inflation, there was a very minor dip in giving but $427 billion given in 2018 and this country. And it really followed four years of incredibly solid growth and even though it was, you know, again, flat or down about 1%, it was the second highest year of giving ever. I just always like to set the tone and talk a lot about how generous we are in this country.

Now, you all have seen this slide, hopefully. This is where the dollars are coming from, so dollars by source for 2018’s giving. If you haven’t shared this slide or really the past two slides with your board of directors or volunteers, I would really encourage you to do so moving forward. One of the most obvious things here is that individuals make up an incredibly large piece of this puzzle. However, one thing that I want everybody to be aware of, if you’ve never seen this data fully presented before, and we could do three hours on just this data alone, which I won’t do to you. But if you take a look at that foundation piece of the puzzle, about half of that 18% is actually family foundations, which are individuals. Then if you take a look at the bequest, 9%, there’s obviously are individuals who have passed and their estates are being realized and their . . . Excuse me, their planned gifts are being realized. So that’s almost $9 out of every $10 given in this country coming from individuals.

So I say this, I know many of you have heard this, hopefully more than once, and I just want to set the tone with how important it is to focus on individual relationships and individual donors. Absolutely not to minimize the incredibly important role that foundations and corporations play, but today we’re going to focus really on those individual donor relations. Although I will say, every time I’m talking with a client, I make the point that most of your corporate and foundation gifts evolve in the exact same way that an individual ask may, it just might require a little more paperwork.

So let’s jump in. We’re going to talk today, as I mentioned a lot about individual donors. I thought I’d give you just a couple of more statistics. I’m assuming that, hopefully, a lot of you are “Chronicle of Philanthropy” readers and may have caught their dollars up donors down segment that they’ve published about America’s essentially disappearing donors. And what the data really showed is that individual donors, especially those high net worth individuals are focusing on fewer nonprofits. They’re seeing their giving as an investment and therefore they expect to be treated as though it is an investment. I even have some major donors who don’t use the word gift or donation anymore. They really are talking about their giving as an investment and they want to see direct results just as if they had bought stock in a company and they want results as a shareholder. So they are really rolled up their sleeves seat at the table wanting to see impact from their giving.

Now, what does that mean? That means that the nonprofit community has got to be great about reporting that back. We’re going to talk about some creative ways to do that, certainly. And it also means that you’ve got to spend time caring for these donors. Hopefully, you’ve also seen the data. Several universities and major healthcare systems have taken a look at this regularly and have published on it, actually, where they took a look at the number of individual donors in their major gift officer portfolios, their donor portfolios. And there were some institutions that had 200, 300 people assigned to individual gift officers.

And what they did was through a series of really data analytics and donor research in partnership with their database company. They said, “Let’s work smarter. Let’s see who we should really be focusing our time on.” And some of those programs went down from average portfolio size of about 150 people for each major gift officer down to 40 to 50 people per major gift officer. And guess what? They raised more money and oftentimes, they raised significantly more money because they were doing this. They were showing impact and spending real time getting to know their donors and real time cultivating their donors. So we’re going to talk about that whole process. That’s our theme for today.

So you all know this, we call it the five I’s of fundraising. Identify, inform, interest, involve, invite. It’s the fundraising cycle, and hopefully everybody who’s been in this industry for more than just a couple of months is familiar with this. And we’re going to touch on every component of this today and how to have meaningful conversations with your donors through it.

So we all know about this part, right? The five I’s of fundraising, the way that the fundraising process can and should work. So what goes wrong? We at the Curtis Group spend the vast majority of our time with clients focused on what we would consider major gift work. Now, that number is different for every organization. We’ve raised dollars. You know, we’ve worked with organizations who are working on their very first $1 million campaign all the way up through campaigns that are focusing in on that quarter of a billion dollar zone and, you know, in higher ED primarily. And we see these kind of red flags, if you will, pretty frequently across all sizes, types, sectors, experience levels. And here’s what we’re seeing. We’re seeing, unfortunately, a lot of major gift officers and executive directors and CEOs, instead of being out externally facing, even though they know they should be buried in a pile of desk work.

So last time I was with you all, we talked about really maximizing your personal capacity and how to minimize time in the office and maximize time out. And that link is still live on Bloomerang if you want to check that out. But this is a red flag that we see. People inundated with the day-to-day and really not able to be focused on building these donor relationships.

We also see a lot of folks relying on mass communication. So the conversation might go something like this, “Okay, well, John Smith, he gave you $100,000, or $1,000, or $10,000 depending on the client in your last campaign. When’s the last time you spoke to Mr. Smith?” And I often get, “Well, he got our annual report and he would have certainly have received that impact mailing that we did and he gets all of our e-blasts.” And while that’s great and important, we always have to remember that we’ve got to have a multipronged approach. That’s not the ticket to relationship building. Imagine if you were working on building a friendship or even a romantic relationship with someone, you would not do it through email and mass mailing or even written communication. So we’ve got to be using those same kind of really intuitive concepts when we’re thinking about donor relationships.

The next thing is that it’s really easy to assume, right? I’ll share with you another story. We were working on a campaign with our community college client and they had a fairly comprehensive campaign running. One of the components was that they were raising dollars for nursing scholarships. So they were going to go ask a doctor who had given to them before for a gift and they just assumed that this individual would be really interested in giving to nursing scholarships because of his profession. Well, come to find out, he had just about zero interest in giving to nursing scholarships, but his daughter wanted to become a veterinarian and this community college happened to have a really robust vet tech program. The organization actually made the ask for the nursing program and then had to backtrack, and that’s because, unfortunately, the time wasn’t spent to get to know that donor, to know where he or she would like to plug in.

And that goes kind of with that next bullet point, that there’s limited or little personal knowledge, you know, what do you know about that person? What motivates them, why they give to you, why they give in general? We get to ask questions like that. Some of my favorite parts of the job when we’re conducting a campaign planning study or feasibility study, we get to go in and talk to people about their charitable giving. And these conversations are meaningful relationship building and we want our clients and all of you out there across America to be having those same kind of conversations. So we’re going to talk about specific questions to ask.

And then the last one, there’s never actually an ask. So one of the questions that we ask when we’re interviewing these philanthropists or donors is, “When is the last time X organization sat in front of you and need a person to person ask?” And, unfortunately, we often find that organizations just aren’t doing that period. So we won’t ask you to raise your hand virtually, certainly, but think about that. Are you actually asking your donors and are you doing that with a specific number of in-person? So we’re going to talk through that conversation flow certainly.

So the first thing you have to know is who the heck are we talking to, right? And sometimes this is a major barrier, so I’ll just very quickly touch on what we would like to see you guys pulling out a Bloomerang or whatever database you’re using regularly. And I know that seems kind of silly but at least once a year. And these reports, when I was a gift officer many, many years ago, would actually sit pinned on my desk board because I always wanted to be able to reference them. So your top 100 donors of all time to your organization, pull that one. And take a look, are there any surprises there? And you can certainly, we obviously encourage you to back out any individuals who have been marked as deceased clearly. But take a look, cumulatively, who’s your biggest donor? And you might know who the biggest donor is, but number 7, 8, 9, 10, 25 might surprise you. So you’ll find some gems here if you look at longevity giving.

Also your top 50 annual fund donors from your last three years is another great report to have, making sure that you’re having regular contact with those folks. Top 15 corporate supporters over the last five years, and we recommend top 15 foundation supporters over the last 10 years because of grant wait out cycles. We’ve got some foundations we work with regularly that only give once every five years. So you want to make sure that you’re capturing all of those. And then, of course, your longevity members and donors, we all know that these are great planned gift prospects. I have one client with 175 years of history, which is incredible to think about. They are in Baltimore, Maryland and they’ve got folks who have been members of that organization for 60-plus years. So, you know, making sure that you know who those people are and that you’re having regular conversations with them and then, of course, any wealth screening results, making sure that you’re looking through that.

A COVID piece of advice is while we’re all kind of at home, hopefully you have access to your database remotely and this is the time to take, to pull, and refine a lot of these reports and even look for errors in them and then take that time to go back into your database and correct them so that you’re positioning yourself once you can, in fact, make appointments. Even though we’re encouraging people to make virtual appointments right now, once you can, in fact, make in person appointments, you’ve got this list ready to go.

So what are our rules for success? I’ve said it about 17 times and I’m going to say it about 700 more. We’ve got to be meeting in person with our donor prospects, especially those top donor prospects. And if they attend your gala, that’s great, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about relationship-building, one-on-one conversations or, you know, certainly you can bring a volunteer or an executive lead with you, but in-person, face-to-face meetings. We find it very, very helpful when our clients set specific goals.

So those in large organizations oftentimes have this built in to actually their performance metrics in terms of annual review. But if you’re in a smaller organization or just an organization of any size that hasn’t put this in place yet, take this downtime to think about what is realistic in terms of in-person meetings. How many folks should I be meeting with at for an ask? How many should I be meeting with from a cultivation standpoint and make sure this is a critical step. Make sure that you’ve got someone holding you accountable. Even if you are the executive lead, president and CEO, executive director of an organization, make sure that you’ve got metrics that you’re aiming to hit and that there’s someone helping you make sure that that happens, be that an assistant, or your director of development, or your board chair. This is a game changer for groups that take this really seriously in terms of their numbers.

Again, as we talked about, do your research, but don’t assume. We spend time talking through the game plan, so to speak, for every single one of our client visits. But a lot of that can come with great prospect research that might lead you down a path that the donor, in fact, doesn’t want to go down. So we’re going to talk about those discovery questions. So know your stuff, but don’t assume. We all know what that does to you and me. Be in regular contact. One of words that I use quite a lot with my clients is excuses. Look for any excuse in the book to pick up the phone, shoot an email, write a note, or meet with a donor or a prospect. And we’ll talk about a couple of those in a minute.

We’ve already talked about the importance of showing meaningful impact. Of course, I hope that you are getting your volunteers engaged, and I’ll say one of my favorite things to watch is a volunteer who I would call a more reluctant volunteer in the beginning of a campaign or the beginning of a ramp up of a major gifts program who’s very timid and unsure of the entire process. Doesn’t want to ask his neighbor for dollars and then at the very end, they’re addicted to it. They’re excited by it and they’re the ones leading the charge.

And then this last one is another phrase that I use with my clients a lot. And one of my all-time favorite ways that I feel like we’ve been successful is when a client starts saying it back to me. So be unapologetic about making the ask and setting the appointment. You all are doing incredible work, some of you literally saving lives. So be unapologetic about what it takes to do that. It takes resources and in order to get resources, dollars, you’ve got to be setting these meetings and getting out in front of your donors and asking. So be unapologetic about that and excited about that.

So appointment setting, I want to cover this very quickly. This is incredibly important. We want to make sure that you’ve got these wheels turning. And so, oftentimes, we recommend that if support staff is available, that you train them and actually get them to set meetings for you. And talk about being unapologetic. I really recommend . . . I’ll use the word aggressive, but in a good way, a more aggressive approach to appointment setting than most people are usually using.

Oftentimes people will call someone and, you know, we’re in the meeting in January and, “Okay, I’m going to call them” and they call them and I come to February and they say, “Well, no, we call them in January, but they never called us back.” I really encourage a process where you alternate phone and emails and where you’re doing that one to two times per week. My very first job in the nonprofit community was to be one of these people. I was an appointment setter for a major gifts team and it was the best training I ever could have received to launch a career in fundraising because I’m not scared to pick up the phone and neither should you be.

And also, I’ll say, when you do this alternating phone and email, and I’m going to give you a script on the next slide. When you do this alternating approach, it helps you qualify your lead because the donor knows you’re not going to give up. You know, if you’re only calling once a month, it’s pretty easy to ignore that. But if you’re calling more often than that and emailing more often than that, they’re going to take you seriously and you’re either going to get a yes, which great because you’ll get the meeting or you’re going to get a no, not right now and you can cross that person off and move on to someone else. So that goes into that. Be persistent.

Again, two touches per week. I really encourage you all to set on your calendars. I used to do it daily when I was a gift officer, but even if it’s once a week, 10 to 20 minutes, once, twice, three times, five times, whatever you can justify, on your calendar, put it on there, treat it like a meeting. One of my best tips I love to give is that my favorite time to call for appointments was actually around like 2:00, 3:00 on a Friday afternoon because while most people thought, “Okay, I’ll just call them on Monday,” I was the one picking up the phone and guess what? People were answering because, you know, their volume had decreased because everybody was sort of in that Friday afternoon mindset. So, again, be persistent and treat it like it’s very important. Treat it like a meeting because it is, it’s vital for success.

So this is sample language. This could be done on a voicemail because, let’s face it, that’s the world that we live in, “You know, good morning. This is . . . ” State your name and where you’re from. “I’d love an opportunity to get together for X, Y, Z,” whatever’s appropriate for that prospect. “I know how busy you are, so I’m also going to follow up with an email with some date options.” And guess what? In that email to Mrs. Smith, I would say, “Basically a version of this.” And then at the end of it, I would say, “I know how busy you are. If I don’t hear back from you next week, I’ll give you a buzz again.” Again, very friendly, very light, very quick short email. I wasn’t getting my case for support and that initial contact because, remember, that’s what the meeting’s for. So this is simple language. It works really well for me. And if it’s useful for you, I welcome you to use it.

So let’s talk about once we are in front of the donor. What are some of these discovery questions that we find to be most useful? So first, we want to know what their connection is to us and our work and our mission. So a lot of times, it’s useful to ask really big picture questions, right? “So tell me the story, how did you first get involved? You’ve been a donor for us for 10 years, tell me how you got connected.”

I’ll say that this is one of my favorite questions to ask and the question that I see clients get great results from because it makes people think back, “Okay, why do I care about this place? Why do I give my time? Why do I get my money?” But I will also say that sometimes when a donor has been giving for 10, 5, maybe even just 2 years, you know, you can pick a timeframe, people are reluctant to ask this question because they worry that the donor thinks that the organization should already know that, that that should be in a file somewhere and have been magically transmitted from gift officer to gift officer. So they tend to shy from questions that they feel the donor might think that they should already know the answer to. I’d put it right out there on the table. And if you are new or newer to your role, I would say milk that. For all it’s worth, includes have these questions.

So other ones that I like to ask, “What do you think that we’re doing? You know, what do you think is most important about the work that we do? What impact are we having in your words?” Again, letting them talk, right? Being very direct, you know, “Mary, tell me why is it you could give to any organization in this community or country, why do you choose to give to us?” Again, that will trigger an emotional response and get your donor talking and telling stories, which is so important.

What program did they find the most interesting? If you’ve told them about potentially a case for support or a specific series of programs, at the very end of your conversation you might say something like, “You know, we’ve covered a lot of ground today. Of everything that we’ve talked about, what excites you the most or what is most interesting to you?” And then, of course, we always like to be focused on seeking advice, right? We all know that phrase. “So what would you like to see us working on moving forward? You know, where do you think we should be focusing in opinion as an investor here? And then, of course, what questions do you have about our work?”

We all know that we should be . . . excuse me, listening a lot more than we should be talking. We know that, right? But it’s human nature to do the exact opposite. And I’ll tell you, that was a hard component for me to get over when I was first in major gift fundraising, especially, it was because I felt like I needed to have a ton of paperwork and I needed to go in there and know everything and say everything and just wow the folks. And that’s not what this is about. This is, again, about an emotional connection and really listening, a listening exercise, certainly. So these are organizational discovery questions. You all will be getting this list if you haven’t already. Steven will be sending it out.

What about big picture giving questions? And again, as I stated earlier, these are some of my absolute favorite to talk with donors about. “So how does your family make their giving decisions?” You know, if I’ve got an individual that I know has children and grandchildren, I’ll ask them, you know, “Do you guys get around the table together and talk about charitable giving? What are the priorities of your wife or husband or really even of your children or grandchildren?”

I tell this story often, so those of you that have seen me present before, forgive me, but I think it’s a really important lesson. I was working with a client on a major capital campaign and they had a board member who was a very generous donor of theirs. And this board member had younger children in the six, eight, nine range and they had two of them and they spent a lot of time cultivating that board member and that board member’s spouse, they were ready for an ask and right in that kind of last cultivation staff, they were asking a couple of these discovery questions that we had prepped for. Come to find out, they get together . . . they had a family foundation. They got together every August, the wife, the husband, and the kids and everyone got an equal vote, including . . . It’s mind boggling, right? Including those young kids.

So there was $250,000 on the line for this nonprofit and that was a mega gift for them and they hadn’t cultivated half of the decision-makers. But thankfully, they got that bit of information and we put a plan together to cultivate some pretty young kids, and I’m thankful to say that it really worked. But had they not asked questions like these, they never in a million years would have known and come to find out that that donor’s daughter, her personal philanthropic priority was penguins. And so we had to move the needle with that young lady and showed her the impact of that client, which we did successfully.

So also a couple of other questions for newer donors. You know, “When you give to a new nonprofit, what is the things that you look for to make you feel really good about that investment or that gift?” Whatever language you like to use. You know, what are they looking for? What do they want to see? How often do they want to be communicated with? What are their personal hobbies and passions? All of those questions should be on the list too. You know, where do they vacation?

Again, this is like building a friendship or a business relationship. Make sure that you’re taking the time to answer these really important questions. And then, of course, who else should I be talking to about our work? This is incredibly valuable because they might talk to you about their business partner. They might talk to you about their brother out in California who is a decision maker in their family foundation or they might talk to you about their neighbor down the street. So make sure that you are asking these discovery questions.

And I know Steven would be nodding furiously if I could see him right now. Make sure you’re taking all . . . Oh, yes. Okay. Go. Yeah. I haven’t even said it yet. Make sure you’re taking all of this information and putting it into your database. Both your . . . Yes. Right? Both your future self and a future gift officer or executive director at your organization will really thank you. So take that next step.

I actually had a client who . . . we have an even more expanded lists than this as you can imagine based on the type of work that the clients are in, who would take this list with them. And certainly, they weren’t taking notes under every single one of the questions, but every so often during a meeting, I would watch her casually open her portfolio and scan down the list, close it calmly, and ask the next question just to remind her, “Okay, you know what is it that I said I was going to talk to this person about?” And then immediately after that she would get in the car and write down, you know, just shorthand notes of what the conversation was and what that donor’s answers to these questions were. And then she was very efficient. She would scan that back to their database person and the database person would input those notes into the database. So very, very important stuff.

Okay. So cultivation meetings, we’ve talked about all this. You’ve got three clear goals here, right? You need to get to know your prospect and that involves a lot of listening. And you might even say that at the beginning, right? You know, “Mary, I’m new to the food bank. I just really wanted to take this time, number one, to thank you for your past support, but also to learn about you and kind of what makes you interested in our work.” So set the tone early and then you’ll kind of see people relax because they realize you’re not going to ask them for a gift. I have some people that say that right at the beginning too. “I promise I’m not asking you for a gift today. I really just want to talk to you about your passion for our mission.”

So then after you’ve worked through this casual conversation, you know, weaving in personal questions about them, making sure that you are sharing a clear and concise vision. And if I could, I would like underline and star those two words. And I actually just saw that Tom Ahern is up next to a Bloomerang webinar. I’m not sure . . . Steven will fill you in on when that is. But he boils it down. I really encourage you to attend that webinar about meaningful short statements and how to make sure that you don’t overwhelm a prospect. Because we’re all doing so many great things, it can be really easy to sort of get in that hamster wheel mode. So just think about two to three things and write those down. You know, if that’s an exercise you haven’t done with your board or your senior staff yet, you should do that. What are the top two to three things that you are most proud of that we’re doing? What are the top two to three things that you want to see us accomplish? And really refining those conversation talking points. That’s a great exercise.

Step number three is in many ways, really a tipping point for their relationship. And, unfortunately, I would say that it’s the easiest one not to do for folks because we get so excited about all this great information, we forget to set the expectation for follow-up. So I often like to phrase it and think about it as an actual request for permission. So I might encourage a client to say something like, make sure at the end of the conversation you ask, you know, “This has been wonderful, Mary. Thank you so much for this incredible amount of time you’ve been so generous to give. I really want to think about what we’ve talked about today and I want to maybe go back and talk to the team about X, Y, Z program that we discussed and answer some of those questions for you. Would it be okay if I came to you in a week, month, you pick the timeframe and talk to you about a potential investment in that initiative or in our annual fund or in our mission?”

So ask permission to come back and make that ask. That goes for individuals, corporations, and foundations, and everybody, you know, in between if there is such a thing. Using those questions as an excuse to circle back to build their relationship, you should have that cultivation meeting and have several touch points with that donor that don’t include mass emails, several personalized touchpoints with that donor before you actually call them back and say, “Hey, you know, I’d love to sit down with you again as we talked about last spring. I’d really love to talk to you about a potential year-end gift to us.” And they will remember that they agreed because they say yes when you say, “May I come back and speak to you about a gift?” Then it’ll be a lot easier to get that appointment, certainly.

So make sure that you were upfront about that next step in terms of the fact that you are going to ask them for dollars. Don’t forget, we’ve all got horror stories in our portfolio about forgetting to invite, especially the spouse. And I used to say include the spouse, now I just say invite the spouse because oftentimes we’ll say, you know, “John, or Mary, we’d love to talk to you and John about this gift. You know, do you think John should be a part of that conversation or would you like for us to just come talk to you?” Make sure that that person is making the call on that so that there’s not any perception of bias there and that, you know, you make sure you’ve got the decision-maker in the room with you.

Now, when we wrap up with campaign clients, we do, of course, SWOT analysis with them. And one of the things that people talk about that they love the most about our work is the fact that before every single one of these major gift conversations for their campaign, be it a cultivation meeting or a big ask meeting, we are on the phone with them doing what we call prep calls.

So 24 to 48 hours before the meeting is actually going to occur, everyone except for the donor, of course, everyone who’s going to be on that meeting jumps on a call with a member of our team and we talk through, “Okay, specifically, what are the goals of this meeting? Do we need to show them the case? Have they seen a tour before? You know, is there a piece of the property that they’re really interested in that we want to make sure we show them? Are we going to ask them to join a committee or, you know, even be a volunteer fundraiser for us? So what are our two to three goals of this meeting and then how are we going to flow the meeting so that they follow those goals?” Right?

This is incredibly helpful for newer fundraisers and volunteers. Remember, people who didn’t choose to go into this profession, like we all did really appreciate this solid prep work. Of course, if an ask is going to happen, make sure that you all know exactly what the number is going to be or if there’s a range, we oftentimes make asks of donors in a range, right? We’d like for you to consider a gift of between $25,000 and $50,000 for our capital campaign. That’s not uncommon, but make sure that everybody knows what that ask is, be it a direct number or range and make sure everyone knows who’s going to be the one to actually say it because if you don’t do that, then you might have a scenario where you leave the meeting and everybody’s pointing at each other going like, “I thought you were going to make the ask. I thought you were going to.” So make sure that you’ve got that prep.

Now, with our clients, we take the extra step and actually send them very brief, so that people will actually read them . . . very brief bullet points on everything that was agreed upon in the group. So if you’ve got the time to do that or a staff member that can join the call and take notes and then you send them back out to everybody who’s actually going to go on that visit, that’s incredibly helpful so that everybody stays, not scripted, but at least on the same page.

And then I love those folks that come with their big binders of paperwork, they have great hearts, but please don’t over-paper your donors. Nobody wants to be sitting in front of a mound of papers. People want to hear the story from you and your programmatic staff. So please keep that in mind.

So in making the ask, talking to your donors, a sample meeting flow, and again, this can go just about 100,000 different ways, depending on who you’re talking to that’s why it’s still important to have those prep meetings . . . Excuse me, prep calls in advance because every single one of those meeting flows will be different. They should be different because what works for Bob won’t work for Susan.

So, again, recap of why your relationship is meaningful, actually assign that to someone, high level overview of the vision. If it’s a campaign, maybe it’s a quick lookback at that case for support that you potentially reviewed during our cultivation meetings with them. And then make the ask.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is that they wait until the end of an hour-long-plus sometimes needing to make an ask. We really recommend that you make the ask in the first 15 to 20 minutes of a meeting. And I know for some people that sounds aggressive or like that would be jolting, but remember, you have had several cultivation steps and several meaningful touchpoints with that donor before this ask is made.

Couple of reasons why. We’re all busy. The last thing you want to have to do is either rush through an ask because the person’s secretary is coming in, telling them that their next appointment is here or lose momentum or have the donor kind of know, “Okay, I know you’re here to make an ask, let’s, let’s sort of get to it and talk about it.” And then it gives you time to move past that. So make the ask and then talk about why, you know, that may or may not be the right number for them and then continue cultivating them after the ask is made. Continue talking about some of those emotional stories.

If you wait until the very end of the meeting, you don’t leave yourself any time to do that. So put the dollar amount on the table, talk about next steps, set expectations for follow-up, and I mean specific expectations for follow-up in terms of who’s going to do it and when it’s going to be done. You know, “Mary, would it be fair to say that we could contact you in about two weeks after you’ve had a chance to talk about this with your, you know, with your kids or with your husband just after you’ve had time to think about it,” whatever that person’s scenario is. And then make sure you know who is actually assigned to that follow-up.

So these are in your packet that you’re going to get. So in the sake for the sake of time, I’m not going to read through all of them, but we’ve provided sample annual fund and campaign stretch language. Of course, you should be personalizing this. This is how, you know, I like to ask for a gift, but you should be making this meaningful for you. But, again, being unapologetic about the fact that your mission demands resources and even beyond that, it is your job literally to ask for those. So making sure that you’ve got a phrase that you’re really comfortable with will make it a lot easier to move through these conversations with your donors.

So one thing I do want to touch on really quickly is . . . And we again work in big capital campaign world, so oftentimes, we’ve got a number in mind. We’ve set our script, so to speak, with our volunteers and then you get in the room and you’re set to ask for $100,000 and the donor says, “Well, I’m really excited. I’m going to commit $5,000 to your campaign.” What do you do with that? And donors, they’re sharp, right? A lot of people feel like, “Well, if I get that number out on the table, then they won’t be able to ask me for what it is that they have come here for today.”

So I’ll say this, and we provided some sample responses, but I want to say first and foremost that this is not for the faint of heart going back and sort of re-asking after someone has preempted an ask. And some volunteers, to be honest with you, are very uncomfortable with this. So this is something that we actually recommend you coaching your volunteers on regularly if they’re your fundraising volunteers because they feel very blindsided by this when it happens.

So a couple of sample responses, always lead with a, “Thank you so much for your generosity.” This sample says, you know, “I admit we had a different level in mind when we were setting this meeting. Tell me, is there anything that we could do to get you thinking a little bit bigger today? Is that a longer pledge period? Is that a different positioning of the pledge payments? Is it naming opportunities? Is it using your gift as a challenge opportunity?” So think about that.

If your volunteer is comfortable with it and very close to the person that they’re going to ask, then sometimes are the ones to actually take the lead on the preemptive ask conversation. And I’ve got one volunteer in particular that does this so beautifully. And I don’t know why, but all of his friends do preempt him maybe because he’s really good at asking for dollars, they know what’s coming. He is very comfortable with a join me ask so if someone preempts him, he comes back and says, you know, “Susan and I decided to step up for this. We knew that this was a big campaign that was going to require big gifts from loyal donors I decided to make an impact because of X, Y, Z and today I was going to come in here and ask you to join me at that level,” whatever their gift level. At the 25, at the 50, the $100,000, at the $1 million level.

And I will tell you, I’ve got clients that are comfortable with this and do it when it happens, when the scenario presents itself and never have I had a client where someone got upset or left the room. This has got to be done delicately and it’s got to be done with the appropriate donor prospects, obviously. Someone you’ve got a relationship with. If it’s a first-time gift and then you feel like the right thing to do is to say thank you and just work towards a larger gift next time, by all means do that. This is not a one-size-fits all scenario, but here are a couple of recommendations, big picture thinking in terms of how you might head off a preemptive gift.

So the follow-up, we’ve talked about this. Set a specific timeline, stick to it and call. Email follow-up is less effective than phone call follow-up. And make sure you use those excuses or deadlines to check in. So you’ve got a committee meeting coming up, you’ve got a board meeting, you’ve got a donor role that you’re publishing an annual report and executive committee meeting. The sky is blue, whatever excuse, you need to pick up that phone and call them. And, you know, it might just say something like, “Hey, Victoria, we’ve got a campaign committee next week. I know they’re going to ask me if I’ve checked in with you. You know, have you had a chance to think about the gift that we talked about?”

Be very conversational and, again, unapologetic about it. They expect you to follow up. And so making sure that you’re, of course, polite about it. But you are doing your job, and this is something that I will say, if you have to train your volunteers on something, this often is one of those pieces. So make sure you’re having these conversations with your volunteers about regular check-in with them and that you’re holding them accountable and that they’re holding you accountable.

So donor communication. Of course, we’ve talked a lot about one-on-one meetings, but the reality is that we know that we have to be communicating electronically and in written format as well. I really recommend very simple communication, especially, I’ll say, in today’s world when we’re all getting 100,000 emails a day, one story, one side of a sheet of paper.

I’ve got a small nonprofit client in the outer banks of North Carolina. They just wrapped up their first $1 million campaign. They were so fun to work with and they’re a relief organization providing relief to individuals when they’re hit with a medical crisis and they do a relief in brief. That’s the actual name of the email that’s sent. So I know that I’m going to only have to spend 30 seconds to one minute reading a story or looking at some bullet points and guess what? I open their emails because I know that they’re going to be concise and to the point and meaningful stories.

We can debate the elimination of the bulky printed, mailed annual report at another time, but something to think about. Make sure that if you’re doing a big bulky, printed, mailed annual report that it’s not keeping you from being out there and raising significant dollars because you’re locked at your desk for weeks on end, proofing it and making sure everyone’s name is spelled correct. And making sure that you’re using your board and your programmatic staff for calls thank you calls as well as ask calls sometimes.

So I’ve talked a lot about this. I told you I use the word, all of those excuses. Connect with them about successes, any benchmarks, new research you’ve seen. You know, if you are serving homeless youth and there’s a new study that comes out, shoot it to them in an email and just say, “Hey, I know you care about this. This isn’t something that we’ve published, but I know you care about this issue. I thought it would be meaningful you for you to see that.” Again, positioning yourself as a sector or thought leader and getting their advice, of course. “Hey, we’ve got this new program we’re brainstorming. I’m calling a handful of donors and I want to know what you think about it. Tell me the truth. Do you think this is a good idea?” You can be prepared because you may or may not want to take their advice but ask for it. And then, of course, make sure you’re segmenting how you communicate.

I keep this slide because these are quotes that are in italics from actual studies we have conducted that really underscore the importance of stewardship. We know that big gifts really come from new donors. I regularly, unfortunately, with very sophisticated clients and even startup clients hear things like, “Gosh, you know, Victoria, you’re the first person to sit in front of me since their last campaign and I gave them $50,000. It’s the biggest gift I’ve ever given and I haven’t heard from them since then.” Or, “I only hear from them when they’re asking for money.” Think of that, again, going back to those excuses, think about ways to be better than that because that’s what your donors want and that’s what they should expect from an organization who’s accepting their investment, certainly.

So, again, update on their gift, update on their impact, make them feel appreciated, have a real relationship with them. Focus on smaller numbers of individual donors to be more successful at this before you really get that formula, even if you keep your larger portfolio, but just say, “Hey, I’m going to pick 5 or 10 VIPs and really try this regular proactive approach. I’m going to put them on my calendar once a month.” Just with their name. “The third Thursday of every month, make sure I’m thinking about them and if there’s anything new to send them, I’m going to shoot it their way or I’m going to pick up a phone or I’m going to shoot a little handwritten note if it’s their birthday, that kind of thing.” Making sure that people know that not only that their gift but that they make a difference in the work that you’re doing is what they want. So I’m going to take a sip of water and a big deep breath and I’m going to turn it back over to Steven. But thank you all very much for joining me today.

Steven: Yeah. That was awesome. You deserve a little bit of a break. So thank you, Victoria. So much good info there. I was thinking that if people are watching this recording in 2022 or 2025, it’s going to be awesome. So hello to all you future people watching this recording because just timeless advice. And I was shaking my head for basically the whole hour, not just when you would call me, but. We got a lot of questions, Victoria. Probably won’t surprise you that the biggest question is around the in-person meetings and, of course, we cannot do right now or shouldn’t do, I guess, I should say. Is Zoom a . . . ?

Victoria: Yes.

Steven: That’s it.

Victoria: I have a lot of thoughts on this.

Steven: There you go. Let’s hear. Because I know you’re doing this. So what have you guys been doing?

Victoria: Yeah. Because we are living this right now, right? As I told Steven before, a lot of you jumped on the line, you know, current clients, past clients, anybody who’s ever seen us speak anywhere, they’ve reached out and rightly so, we want you to reach out if you’ve got any questions. And we are really encouraging Zoom, you know, people that never in a million years would have been comfortable Zooming. You know, my grandfather included, on Easter Sunday are now doing it. And the comfort level is rising. We’re watching a lot of our clients who are in campaign that want to keep, you know, just keep even a little bit of progress moving, they’re doing cultivation visits via Zoom and they’re also actually soliciting, you know, you have to . . . I put an asterisk next to this. They’re soliciting for their campaign from their board members, so, you know, essentially their family and they’re also potentially soliciting their closest donors as well. So absolutely use Zoom.

Another thing that I’m recommending, although the date, unfortunately, keeps changing, but another thing that I’m recommending is actually picking up the phone to donors and setting a late summer. I was originally saying June, then I went to July, now I’m late summer. Set a late summer, early fall in-person meeting. I recommended this to an environmental client in the Richmond region and she has like 25 appointments booked for July because people are so excited at the thought of getting out of their house and, you know, sitting in front of someone that they’re not married to or have given birth to that they they’ll take those meetings.

Steven: And it seems like that would work now for out-of-town donors too when we’re not . . . So, you know, timeless advice there too. We had a couple folks, you know, a lot of this community that comes to these webinars tend to be one-person fundraising shops. What advice would you have for those people who are trying to do so many other things or doing, maybe they can do something in the programming. What are the goals and ways they can get started and kind of feel like they’re actually, you know, pushing the ball down the court?

Victoria: So we have a ton of clients that are one, two, three-people shops or even a handful of clients that are 100% volunteer-led. No staff at all. So I absolutely hear you. And I would say that this advice is maybe even more important for really small shops because we’ve always got to be thinking about, you know, to be cliché, ways to be working smarter and not harder. And so focusing on what’s going to be the maximum ROI for you. While donor acquisition in casting big wide nets is important, it’s not necessarily your best ROI for a single-person shop, especially. You could spend five hours formulating the best direct mail appeal that the world has ever seen and you’d still be lucky to get a 2% response rate on it. But if you took those five hours and met with five different donors, experience data tells us that that is a far better use of time when your bandwidth and assets are limited.

Steven: That makes sense. There’s a question that popped up in here that actually came up in another webinar I moderated this morning with a much smaller group. And I’m curious your take on this Victoria. The question basically centers around people who are our donors, consistent big gifts. You’re reaching out to them, you’re doing all this advice, they give you feedback that, “You know what? I’m okay. You know, we don’t need to meet. I’m just going to keep doing these things.” I think sometimes that can be discouraging because the other person asking the question this morning said, “Well, gee, should that, does that mean I should stop bothering all the other people?” I think sometimes there’s a knee jerk reaction to one piece of feedback. What do you kind of coach your clients on when they do get that maybe one or two people who doesn’t want that stewardship?

Victoria: Right. Those people exist, right? They exist for all kinds of different reasons. Maybe they’re not terribly philanthropic and so they’re not familiar with the way that nonprofits traditionally reach out or maybe the exact opposite, they’re very philanthropic and they just candidly don’t have the time to be having these kinds of relationships with each of those nonprofits. But don’t let those exceptions to the rule discourage you. And I have seen that and I’ve especially seen it with volunteers.

As an example relevant to the here and now, we had a volunteer run into, or talk to, I guess talk to on the phone a perspective or excuse me, a current donor to a campaign and they said that they would be pushing their pledge payment off to the end of the year because of the shutdown, which is totally understandable, right? But the volunteer wanted to extrapolate that into the fact that they shouldn’t be sending pledge reminders at all and they were very far into their campaign so they have a lot of people with spring, summer pledge reminders where the donor has requested to be reminded. And so we’re encouraging people, you’ll send those pledge reminders, just put a note on top that says, “Hey, we know we’re in uncharted territory, if you want to talk about rescheduling this pledge payment, please just reach out to us so that we can best prepare.” And I think the same applies to what this individual’s talking about.

So my advice is to hear that but also maybe meet them where they’re comfortable. Maybe they’re not interested in a phone call, but maybe they, in fact, are someone who reads a lot and likes data and when you see a new study or when you publish a new impact report, you can email that or mail that to them with a personalized note and sort of inch toward that relationship and once you’ve been doing that, you know, communicating with them and softer ways, you might try again the next year and just say, “Hey, look, I know that we talked and you said that you weren’t interested in meeting last year. I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate your generosity and if you want to, I would love to tell you some stories of impact.” But, again, meeting them where they are, but certainly not letting that stop you from communicating with other donors.

Steven: Yeah. Don’t get discouraged. One piece of feedback doesn’t apply to everybody. I love it. Cool. Well, we’re just about at a time. It’s almost 2:00. I want to be respectful of your time, Victoria, because you got a lot to do and you’ve already been so gracious. And you got a house full of kids like I do, but we didn’t get interrupted. This is good luck. This is awesome.

Victoria: Yeah. We did it.

Steven: Amazing. Any parting thoughts for folks? You know, what can they do maybe today to get things going and feel productive?

Victoria: Hey, look, the phone works. You pull those reports, clean up your database, place those phone calls. You and I were talking about that right now. Organizations really need to be thinking about what we’re calling your COVID case for support. So why should a donor care candidly about what you’re doing right now with a lot of other things crashing down potentially around them or the perception of that, certainly. So what are the two or three things that you guys are doing right now that you can be sharing that’s of value and of meaning to the community?

If you’re suffering financial loss, communicate that with your top donors. Talk through that with them. When appropriate, ask for an investment. You know, if someone’s typically a November, December donor and you all are really needing cash right now, you might call them and just ask them to front-load their pledge payment or their annual fund gift to this part of the calendar year versus fourth quarter. People have been very open to that. Again, pull the reports, place phone calls, schedule cultivation meetings.

The great thing also about using Zoom as a tool or whatever platform you’re using is that your executive director can be on it, your board chair can be on it, two donors, could get, you know, get creative. We’ve got some of our clients doing small major donor meetings or briefings. I guess meetings is probably too formal, but where the executive director is leading a discussion with 5 to 10 top donors where they’re invited and they’re doing these once a day so there’s like . . . Not with the same donors once a day, but with different donor groups once a day and that has been very effective and people actually love it because they like seeing the faces of their fellow donors. It’s been pretty fantastic, actually. And I think something that hopefully will survive this crisis because, you know, they can see, “Hey, I know John from, you know, we work in the same office building” or, you know, “I used to play golf with that guy,” or, “I know that person’s name from the community.” And so they’re able to see that there are, you know, they’re a part of a really important of team.

Steven: That’s a fabulous idea, getting them together. Wow. That’s cool. So many good tidbits. I told you all, this is going to be a good one. Victoria, she’s one of the best in the biz. So thank you. This is awesome. I know we didn’t get to all the questions. There were so many. We had, I think I had an 800 people on here live but, yeah.

Victoria: Oh that’s great. I offered this last time and I’ll offer it again. My email is victoria@curtisgroupconsultants with an S on the end .com. Shoot me an email. I got quite a few of those after the last time we did this. I’m happy to follow up with any questions.

Steven: Cool. Thank you for that. Yeah. Check out their website. Awesome blog like I said, really good resources on there. And maybe even hire them too. They’re pretty cool. Pull a plug-in for you. This is awesome. Thanks for doing this, Victoria. This is really cool to have you.

Victoria: Thanks. It’s been great to be with you, guys. Thank you so much. Stay well, everyone. Thank you.

Steven: Yeah. We’re all thinking about you. Hopefully, you’re all are doing okay. Thanks for being here. I know you’re super busy. I’m sure it’s a weird time and we are sensitive to that, so I really appreciate seeing a full room. We got a couple of cool webinars coming up. Victoria mentioned one of them. Thursday and Friday. Going to be kind of covering all things COVID. We’ve got Andrea Kihlstedt, a capital campaign master, one of my go-to for capital campaigns. And then we got, of course, Tom Ahern who rarely need to introduction. He’s got some really new brand new examples just like from the past couple of weeks, literally that his clients have been using successfully. So there’ll be some good stuff in there. We’re going to record them if you can’t make it.

Victoria: I’m going to be on both of them.

Steven: Yeah. They’ll be good. Totally free. We’re going to record them. If you’re busy, no worries. We’ll just send you the recording. We’re going to send you the recording of this one. Just give me a couple of hours. I’ll get that to you. But other than that, we’ll call it a day. So thanks again for hanging out. You all are awesome. Stay healthy. Have a good rest of your Tuesday, and we will talk to you again soon. Bye now.

Victoria: Bye, guys. Thank you all.

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.