In this webinar, Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE will help busy executive directors and development professionals who want to raise significantly more money by making the leap into major gift fundraising, but haven’t had the courage or know-how to get started.

Full Transcript:

Steven: All right, Amy. I’ve got 2:00 Eastern on the dot. Is it okay if I go ahead and get us started officially?

Amy: Go right ahead. I’m ready.

Steven: All right. Cool. Well, good afternoon, everyone, if you’re on the East Coast and good morning if you are on the West Coast or somewhere in between. Thanks for being here for today’s Bloomerang webinar, “4 Secrets to Supercharge Your Major Gift Program in 20 Minutes a Day or Less.” Those four secrets are not going to be secrets here in a minute because we’ve got some awesome content for you. So, let’s get to it. My name is Steven Shattuck and I am the Chief Engagement Officer over here at Bloomerang and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion, as always.

And just a couple of housekeeping items before we begin—I just want to let you all know that we are recording this conversation and we’ll be sending that recording as well as the slides later this afternoon. So, if you have to leave early, we don’t want you to do that. But if you have to, we understand. Don’t worry, we’ll get you that recording so you can watch the content or maybe even share with a friend or just review it later on because there’s a lot of good stuff in it. So, look for an email from me later on this afternoon with all those goodies.

And as you’re listening today, please feel free to use that chat box right there on your webinar screen. I’m going to be keeping an eye on that throughout the presentation and we’re going to save some time for Q&A at the end. So, don’t be shy about sending in those questions and comments. We’ll try to get to as many as we can before the 3:00 Eastern hour. You can also send us your questions on Twitter. I’ll be keeping an eye on the Twitter stream there. If you’re a Twitter-type person, send us your tweets. If you have any technical problems, especially with the audio, we find the quality by phone is usually a lot better than the computer audio.

So, if you’re listening through your computer and it starts to sound a little weird or it maybe is not keeping up with the slides, try calling in by phone if you can do that, if you don’t mind doing that, it’s usually a little bit better quality. There is a phone number just for you in the email from ReadyTalk that went out about 45 minutes ago. You can use that phone number there. So, try that before you give up on us totally.

And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, I just want to say a special welcome to you folks. We do these webinars pretty much every Thursday. We only miss a couple Thursdays a year. We’ve got great guests like Amy, great content, totally free, totally educational. But if you are interested in learning more about Bloomerang, we are a provider of donor management software.

So, if you are in the market for that or just want to learn more about us, check out our website. You can even watch a quick video demo and see the software in action, don’t even have to talk to a salesperson if you don’t want to. Don’t do that now, wait an hour because you’re going to get some great content from one of my favorites, Amy Eisenstein is joining us today. Hey, Amy. How’s it going?

Amy: Hey, Steven, thanks for having me.

Steven: Oh, yeah. I couldn’t dream about going an annual webinar series without you. Amy, I think this is maybe the fourth or fifth webinar you’ve done for us. We should be thanking you for providing all of your awesome knowledge with us. I just want to brag on you real quick before I turn things over to you. If you guys don’t know Amy, you’ve got to know her. She’s an awesome person. She’s an author, a speaker, a trainer, a prolific author.

She has written many books, including “Major Gift Fundraising for Small Shops,” “Raising More with Less,” and “50 Asks in 50 Weeks.” She is an AFP-certified Master Trainer. She’s also got her ACFRE, which is a really fancy version of the CFRE designation. Amy, how many people have ACFRE? Like only 100 people have that and you’re one of them, right?

Amy: Yeah. It’s probably about 110 these days, yeah.

Steven: That’s a big deal, by the way. That’s really special. You’re going to see why she’s so smart here in a second. So, if you see her at a conference, on another webinar, you’ve got to go to her session. She is super involved with her home AFP chapter in New Jersey. She’s been the president of the board there for a couple years in a row.

We just love Amy. She’s the major gift queen. Anytime there’s a major gift question, I say go check out Amy’s stuff, go listen to her talk. So, I’m going to pipe down because we want to hear all your knowledge, Amy. I think you’re going to do the screen share and tell us all about your major gift knowledge. So, take it away, my friend.

Amy: Yes. I got so distracted by your complimenting me I forgot to change my slides. So, here we go.

Steven: That’s okay.

Amy: Can you see them now?

Steven: Yeah. I’m seeing your web browser. There you go.

Amy: All right.

Steven: It’s working.

Amy: So, we didn’t discuss this, but when I put up my slides, it made everybody’s comments disappear, so you’re going to take questions and help out with that at the end, yeah?

Steven: I will. I’ve got you covered.

Amy: Excellent. Excellent. All right. So, let’s go ahead and get started. So, before we start officially, I was telling Steven the discussion title I gave Bloomerang a few weeks ago was “4 Secrets to Supercharge Your Major Gift Fundraising in 20 Minutes a Day or Less,” but I decided to change it from secrets to truth because as I went through creating the material, I decided that they were more really truths than secrets. So, here we go.

So, we’ll start out by just acknowledging that fundraising takes time, all fundraising takes time. Grant writing takes time, event planning takes time and raising major gifts, of course, takes time too. That’s why we’re talking about dedicating 20 minutes a day or less to it because the issue is that major gift fundraising has no deadline. And that’s very different than grant writing and event planning because, as you know, grant writing has very hard deadlines, most of the time, as do planning fundraising events. They come. You know that gala or your golf outing is coming up and you have to get the work done.

But when it comes to raising, there really are no deadlines. There’s no donor waiting for you to call at the other end of the phone. So, if you put it off for a few days or that turns into a few weeks or maybe even a few months, nobody’s sitting waiting for your call. So, it’s really important to make your own deadlines and work on major gift fundraising a little bit every single day so that you don’t let it go.

So, let’s get to the four fundraising truths that we’re going to talk about today. So, truth number one, what you measure matters. Truth number two, plan for success. Truth number three, communication rules. Truth number four, consistency is key. Those are . . . well, they started out as secrets, but I decided they weren’t secrets. They were more like fundraising truths. We’re going to turn them into major gift truths today.

So, truth number one is what you measure matters. It’s really true. Here’s a picture of my Fitbit. I’m wearing it today. I’m tracking my steps. I think I’m about 6,000. I’m nowhere close to the 10,000 that I try and get every day. If anybody else tracks their steps, you know that what you measure matters because when I’m paying attention to how many steps I’m taking every day, then I take more steps. Same thing with counting calories, right? If we’re paying attention to how many calories we’re eating, we eat fewer calories. It’s true with fundraising as well.

So, what you measure matters. I want to emphasize that it’s not just about dollars raised. A few years ago, we did a research project and Bloomerang was actually involved. They helped sponsor it. One of the things we found is that the number one metric that nonprofits were tracking, of course, was dollars raised. It’s a no-brainer. You are going to track how much you raised. That’s the number one metric you’re going to be looking at. But really, really important, it’s not just about dollars raised. That’s not the only metric. That’s not the end-all, be-all metric that you can look at.

Here’s why. So, I want you to pretend you’re in an organization. Maybe this is actually true for you. You are there for your first year and in your first year, you go out and you have 10 donors who give you $10,000 each. You raise $100,000 in major gifts. So, you go to the board. You report, “Hey, we raised $100,000. We did a great job.” The board cheers. They clap. They think you’re amazing and everybody’s thrilled.

Year two, this time, you’re still just reporting on dollars raised. But in year two, nine of your donors don’t give you gifts again, only one of them does, but they actually give you a gift of $100,000. So, you go back to the board and you report, “Hey, we raised $100,000 again this year in major gifts,” and everybody claps and cheers and they say, “You’re fantastic.” But nobody’s paying attention to the fact that nine of your donors didn’t return.

So, that is just a really silly, obvious example of why metrics matter, but it’s not only about dollars raised. You have to pay attention to other things too because your board, at this point, doesn’t know your major gift program is going down the toilet. They just think you’re doing a great job. You raised $100,000.

So, before we can really track our metrics, you want to set goals. Of course, you’ve probably all heard of the SMART acronym. You want to set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely.

The reason that I bring this up is, obviously, if you’re tracking your metrics, you want to know what you’re tracking. So, it’s going to important to set your major gift goal and your fundraising goals in general, but there are two ways that I have found that most nonprofits set their fundraising goals. I will tell you that these are not the right ways to set your fundraising goals. So, we’re going to start with the ways not to set your goals before we get to the way to set your goals.

So, the first way that I see most nonprofit organizations setting their fundraising goal is to raise a certain percent more than last year. You’ve all seen it, whether it’s currently how you set your fundraising goal, if you raise $1 million, the next year, they want you to raise 5% more. Now, that’s lovely and interesting, but it actually has nothing to do with your ability to raise 5% more. You haven’t looked at do you have the donors? Are we going to do something different? How do we know the donors we had last year are coming back? So, we need to think about these things.

The other way that organizations typically set their fundraising goal is the hole in their budget. So, the difference between revenue and expenses. So, how much does the organization expect to bring in in revenue? How much are their expenses? If there’s a $50,000 difference or a $1 million difference, they say that’s the fundraising goal, which is even more ridiculous than 5% more than last year, because that really is based on nothing. You might be able to raise much more than that and you be able to raise much less. They’re not basing it on reality, in terms of what you’re able to raise. So, that’s a problem.

So, we want to look at setting your major gift goal. Today, we’re focused on major gifts. This isn’t your overall fundraising goal. But I want you to focus on setting your major gift goal and your other metrics appropriately and then tracking them appropriately.

So, here’s an example gift table. I hope if you’re in major gifts, you’ve seen something like this before. It’s a $1 million gift table. It just shows you the number of gifts you need, which is on the far left and what size gifts you need, the gift amount to get to your dollar goals.

So, basically, when you’re setting a major gift goal, you want to look at the prospect you have. So, just going across the top row quickly, if you need one gift of $200,000, which is the first 20% on your way to $1 million, you probably need to have about four prospective donors who you have reason to believe can and might. So they have the financial ability to give a $200,000 gift and reason to believe they might, meaning they have given to your organization in the past. They’re connected to your organization. So, they can and might give a gift of that size.

And then, of course, hopefully, you’ll ask all four of those people for $200,000. At least one will say yes, the other three will go to the next line. Maybe they don’t give all $200,000, but they maybe give $100,000 gifts and so on. So, you’ve really figured out what your major gift goal is based on the prospects that you have as opposed to just 5% more than last year or the hole in your budget.

So, here’s another metric that I want you to think about looking at as you move forward with raising major gifts. So, dollars solicited and dollars raised. So, I think frequently we track dollars raised. That’s how much we raised. That’s the first metric we were talking about, but I’m not sure so many people track dollars solicited. How much do you actually ask for?

So, in the left column, $1 million, let’s say you go out and over the course of the year, you ask, I don’t know whether it’s 5 or 10 or 15 or 20 people, it doesn’t matter how many gifts this is, but it totals the $1 million that you request and you only raise $100,000. When we’re looking at metrics like this, it tells me right away you’re being way too aggressive. You’re not researching properly. You’re not cultivating people properly. You’re asking for too much of people who aren’t going to give. So, I know that as a fundraiser, you’re being too aggressive and you need to dial it back and be a little more thoughtful and strategic.

In the right-hand column, you’re still soliciting $1 million, but this time, you actually raised $1 million. Everybody you asked for money this year gives. That tells me you’re not being aggressive enough. You’re being too conservative. You’re being too cautious. You’re only asking when you’re absolutely sure people are going to give to you. Those are very important indicators of how you’re doing as a major gift fundraiser.

So, sort of similar but different enough to be important is the number of gifts you’re soliciting versus the number of gifts you’re raising. So, let’s say you ask for 100 major gifts this year, which, by the way, if you’re just getting started raising major gifts or you’re in a small shop, it’s a totally unrealistic number. So, that number should be 10 or 20 or 30 that you’re soliciting a year, not 100. But for round number purposes, I used 100. So, let’s say you’re asking for 100 major gifts a year. You get only 10 of them.

Then, of course, we know you’re being too aggressive, same thing. You get all the gifts that you ask for, then you’re being too conservative and you’re not going for it. I want you to get some no’s. So, basically, the nice round number for all of these statistics is between 70% and 80%. To me, that’s the sweet spot. You should be asking for more than you’re getting, but you shouldn’t be getting turned down too much.

The reason these are important and different is that just like in the very first example I gave where you were raising $100,000 a year for two years but you had no idea how many gifts those came from, the first year it came from 10 gifts and the second year, it came from one gift, that’s why it’s important to look at both the amount you’re soliciting and the number of gifts.

So, some other really important metrics to look at are retention and acquisition, how many donors are you retaining each year, how many new ones are you acquiring, in terms of your major gift levels? How many meaningful visits are you able to do each year? Are you sitting down and talking with donors face to face about potential major gifts? I’m not counting times that you bump into people at your gala or any group event. We’re talking about scheduled, meaningful visits. And of course, stewardship. Stewardship is the follow-up and thank you process after the gift. Measuring that is really important because that’s a strong indicator of future gifts. And, of course, we want those.

So, these are just the metrics that I track or my clients track in terms of their major gift program and if you want my major gift metrics worksheet, you can get it It has all those metrics and more that we talked about. So, what you measure matters. Now, I promised in this session things that we would do in 20 minutes or less a day.

This is really 20 minutes or less per week on tracking metrics, but it’s something that’s really important to do and I don’t think a lot of organizations, especially when they’re getting started with major gifts, that they focus on the metrics, but honestly, you pick two or three. If you’re not tracking anything but total dollars raised, if you’re not tracking any of these metrics yet, I want you to pick two or three that you think you can handle reasonably.

To me, I don’t want you stuck behind your desk and not out talking with people, visiting people. So, I don’t want you spending hours and hours tracking metrics and maybe Steven later will tell us what metrics Bloomerang can track easily for us. I’m sure there are tons of them. It should be quick, just a check-in, 20 minutes a week or less, how we’re doing on my metrics and are we moving toward our goals.

Okay. So, truth number two is to plan for success. It’s important to plan for success. We can do this in only 20 minutes a day or less. So, something you can do in 20 minutes a day or less to plan for success is really thinking about your case for support. Now, you’re not going to do this every week, of course. Certainly not every day, but once a quarter or twice a year, you’re going to think about your case for support and ask yourself some questions. You can do this by yourself in a small meeting for 20 minutes.

What are we most proud of as an organization? What did we accomplish in the last six months? What’s the impact that we’re having on our community? How are we different or unique? What’s our favorite story? What’s a recent story that we’ve heard? This is something . . . this is our truth number two is planning, planning to raise major gifts. We do want to put some thought into these stories and how are we making our strong case for support in terms of raising major gifts. So, in less than 20 minutes, just sit down and think about these things. Answer these four questions. It doesn’t have to take a ton of time, just updating your case for support.

Okay. So, now this is a very basic fundraising cycle. We’re going to talk about different things that you can do in each of these four areas in less than 20 minutes a day to move your major gifts forward. So, really, thinking about the fundraising cycle and how you have to take a donor through identification, we have to identify who are we going to raise major gifts from.

Step two, cultivation, how are we going to build relationships between our major donors and our organization? We’re going to ask them, of course, for a gift. That’s step three, solicitation, and step four is stewardship, the thank you and the follow-up. I’m convinced that if you spend 20 minutes a day on one of these four areas, you will raise significantly more major gifts this year than if you don’t.

So, the first step, of course, in raising major gifts or any type of fundraising is figuring out who I was going to raise money from. It’s especially important when you’re talking about major gifts. Who is in your portfolio? So, if you’re going to be raising major gifts, you should have a specific list of donors that you’re focused on this year. One of the questions that I get asked frequently is how many people should be in your portfolio.

The answer is, of course, it depends on your role at the organization. I guess that’s what it depends on, your role at the organization and how many hats you wear. If you’re at an organization where you’re doing it all, you’re the development director and you’re grant writing and planning events and you’re in charge of marketing and database management and sending thank you notes, then, to me, 20 people in your portfolio is the appropriate number, but it’s not a written-in-stone or static list. It’s a list that changes.

So, once a quarter, you should be looking at your list and saying, “Who’s on my list that has really been unresponsive that needs to come off my list or go on to a B list? Who have I already gotten a gift from?” And then I can move on to sort of a B-list for cultivation and stewardship. And who needs to be . . . who are the 20 people that need to be on my A-list that I’m cultivating or in some form of solicitation for right now?

So, anyways, just a quick 20-minute revisiting of your list every quarter or so. Of course, you want to look at this list every single month and say to yourself, “What am I doing with each of these people?” And that’s a great thing to also do. Just look at your list, your list of your top 20 prospective major gift donors this month and what can I do with them in 20 minutes a day or less to move them toward a gift? We’ll talk about that.

So, a cultivation plan. This is really a one-page plan that you should have for each of these 20 people in your portfolio or on your list, your major gift prospect list, your A-list. What are you going to do to move toward the gift? That’s what cultivation is all about. How are we going to get the donors to know more about the organization and how are we going to get to know the donors, philanthropic goals and interests more than we do right now?

So, in January, we might reach out to give them a tour. We may invite them to come for a tour. In February, we might invite them for coffee, either at their home or office, we’d offer to stop by; newsletter, we might write a personal note, just a little Post-it note that says, “Hey, thought you might be interested in the article on page four,” or, “Your picture is on page two, check it out,” or whatever you’re going to say, but just personalizing how are you going to cultivate them.

Same thing with your event invites. Really add a personal note, write on the envelope. Obviously, these are things that can be done in less than 20 minutes a day. You can practically get through half your list of prospects, scribbling notes on newsletters before they go out. So, cultivation, you sit with them at your gala, of course, but having coffee, personalizing a holiday card.

Basically, the 20 minutes a day task it really about figuring out what the cultivation plan is and what are the next steps that need to happen to move this person toward a gift. So, whether it’s a meeting with the executive director and a board member, making that phone call, whatever the next step is, moving this cultivation plan forward so that you’re interacting with your donor, hopefully, on a monthly basis.

Then, of course, step three in the fundraising cycle is the critical conversation. That’s the ask. And we want to be thinking about practicing the ask. So, in your 20 minutes a day, you may be preparing to ask a donor for a major gift. This is some language that I like. “We would like to ask you to consider a gift in the range of $5,000 to support our after-school program.”

And if you don’t have a lot of experience in raising major gifts, it’s going to be really important to practice this with a colleague in front of a mirror, whenever and wherever you’re going to practice it. But this certainly can be done in 20 minutes at your desk, just figuring out if you have an ask coming up, if you’re meeting with a donor to ask for a gift in a week or two. You want to figure out what language feels comfortable for you, exactly what you’re going to be asking for and practice it.

So, another thing that you do, certainly in 20 minutes or less, is trying to figure out what you’re going to be asking for, how much you’re going to be asking for. This is actually one of the things people get hung up on, I think, most when thinking about raising major gifts. It’s figuring out an ask amount.

So, to simplify it for you, I’ve come up with an ask amount formula and basically, the starting number—this is for when you are asking for a gift face to face with a major gift donor for the first time. So, you’ve never sat down and asked this person for a gift before and you’re not in a capital campaign, it’s just an annual fund, but you’re hopefully raising them up a level. So, you take whatever they’ve been giving in the past as their annual fund gift. So, maybe they’ve been giving $1,000 annually.

Now you’re going to sit down with them. So, you’re going to take that $1,000 and multiply it times five sort of for a base ask price or amount of $5,000. But then you’re going to factor in other things. On the green side, how fully committed are they? Have they recently sold a business? Are they very philanthropic? Do they give to other organizations? What do you know about their assets and their lifestyle and what they do for a living? Maybe you can go up from $5,000.

On the other hand, if they’re recently retired, if they have kids in college, if they’ve bought a business, if their assets or lifestyle are telling you something else, maybe $5,000 for a first ask, jumping up from a $1,000 annual gift, maybe seems too much. So, you go down to $3,500 or you adjust your ask. But I just think people get so stuck on how much to ask for and trying to figure that out. This is a quick and easy formula. It gives you a starting point to think about.

Now, all of that being said, I also want you to wipe it away and think about asking for what you need because that can be extremely compelling. If your organization needs a new school bus or a new roof or to pay for a social worker or a scholarship or whatever the case may be and it’s more or less than the number you just calculated—well, more, probably not less—but if it’s more, go for the higher amount because that can be very, very compelling to a donor.

Okay. So, another thing to think about when you’re raising major gifts is after you ask for your gift, you’re sitting across from your donor and you’ve just asked for a gift. You’ve said that critical conversation language. “We hope you’ll consider a gift in the range of $10,000 for our after-school program,” or whatever you said. The donor is going to respond to you and they’re going to respond in one of three ways. They’re going to say something along the lines of yes, no or maybe.

Now, yes is a wonderful response. “Maybe,” actually, I love too. It means you’ve asked for a lot, but not so much that they don’t immediately say no, but if they immediately say yes, maybe you’ve asked for slightly on the low end. You could have asked for more. The point of this here is that before you go to your ask meeting, in your 20 minutes a day, you want to think about how you’re going to respond to any of these yes, no or maybe. I can guarantee that your donor is going to respond one of these three ways. You need to be prepared to respond to any of them.

So, if you get a yes, what are you going to say? What are you going to do? What are next steps? Same thing for a maybe and same thing for a no. The next time you ask for a major gift, you should not be surprised or caught of guard by any of these responses because in your 20 minutes a day, you will have prepared for all three of these answers because if you’re going to ask for a major gift, you’re going to get one of these answers.

I still have a fundraising mentor when I worked at Rutgers University and this guy always used to say that the best fundraisers were those who could turn a no into a yes. So, he would say just because they say no today doesn’t mean the no is not ever. It simply means not today. So, what are you going to do to continue the conversation? That’s not a signal to get up and leave and never talk to the donor again. That’s a signal to say, “I’m sorry to hear that. I thought you were interested in having this conversation. Tell me more about what you were thinking,” so really being prepared for whatever they say so that you can respond appropriately and accordingly.

So, that’s really about planning for success. So, each and every day, you can be thinking about how are you moving major gifts forward, thinking about asking for what you need, calculating what’s the most appropriate ask amount, thinking about how you’re going to respond to your donors, yes, no or maybe, really practicing your ask.

If you are new in this field, you want to practice asking for that major gift. For 20 minutes a day a different day, figure out who’s in your portfolio and how are you going to cultivate them? Now, the cultivation itself, the relationship building if you’re meeting with them or something, of course, that might take more than 20 minutes a day, but the planning for it, 20 minutes a day, plan for success is number two.

All right. So, let’s move on to truth number three and that is communication rules in fundraising and really, really, in a major gift is absolutely true, communication rules. So, you probably know and understand that fundraising is about relationships. It really, really is. So, I want you to think for a minute what you do to maintain a relationship with someone that you don’t see every day or that frequently.

So, these women on the screen, they’re texting, they’re calling, they’re sharing pictures. These are things that if you want a relationship with your donor, you’re going to get together for orange juice, coffee and croissants every once in a while. Think about how you maintain a relationship with your college roommate if they don’t live in the area or a cousin or an aunt or something. You call. You check in. You write. You email. You text. These are things you’re going to do to build relationships with your donors as well.

So, one of the important things to do to build relationships with major gift fundraising is to call them. Calling a donor a day actually adds up to approximately 225 calls a year. So, I was just trying to guess how many days you’re working a year, taking out weekends and vacations and holidays. It’s at least 225 calls. Now, I’m including leaving messages. I don’t have a problem with that at all. In this day and age, especially with voicemail and screening, you’re going to get mostly voicemails. So, if you call donors until you got somebody on the phone, you might be calling all day, but my guess is unless this is a real serious discipline you have, you probably call a lot less than a donor a day. So, if you make it a habit, a practice, it’s a lot less than 20 minutes to leave a quick message. One call to a donor a day adds up to 225 calls a year. That’s a lot.

Another way to stay in touch and to build relationships and communicate is to write a quick note. Of course, these days, we have all sorts of ways to write notes. Handwritten notes, I think . . . think about how often you get a handwritten note in the mail. When you do, you really pay attention to it.

So, if we just took 20 minutes a week, one day to write four or five notes in 20 minutes, those donors would really pay attention and take notice, whether it’s a thank you note or an update note or an ask for a meeting note, all kinds of notes you can write. You can also write notes via email. It doesn’t have to be a handwritten note, but just thinking about writing a note a couple of times a week, think about how many donors you would be communicating with if you just wrote a note every single day or a few times a week.

Okay. So, notes, calls, they’re not just about thank you’s. I want to give you some other ideas of why you might be calling. So, if you’re going to try to call a donor every single day, you can invite them to volunteer. You can invite them to take a tour. You can certainly ask their advice or even just provide an update, let them know something that’s going on in your organization or in your area, same thing with your note. You can just send a newspaper article out and write a quick note on it. So, it’s not just about thank you’s.

Also, I think there’s a misnomer running around fundraisers that visits and meetings with donors have to be long. So, we have this idea that we need to take people to lunch. That takes an hour or more. Who has time for that? So, when you are setting up meetings with your donors to talk about giving and their philanthropy and just to get to know them better, make it a short visit. They’ll be thrilled and you can be thrilled too. Just say, “Listen, can I stop by your office for 20 minutes to ask your advice about something? I’m happy to stop by your home or office, whatever is convenient for you and I promise we’ll keep the meeting short.”

Listen, if you get to the end of the 20 minutes and you’re having a really great conversation, you can acknowledge it and say, “Listen, I know I promised a 20-minute meeting. So, I want to be respectful to that and get out of here. I do have a few more questions. Are you able to give me 10 more minutes?” If yes, great, if no, no, but your visits and your meetings don’t have to be over lunch. They don’t have to be at restaurants or long or drawn out. Go stop by their office or their home just to ask them one or two questions, get their advice, provide an update and thank them. So, keeping those visits short.

Okay. So, that was it. Truth number three, communication rules. Look, fundraising really is about relationships. So, if you are going to have relationships with your donors, you are going to want to communicate with them a lot. So, whether you’re writing notes, whether you’re calling, whether you’re meeting with them, you want to be communicating on a pretty consistent and ongoing basis because like I said, communications rules. It’s truth number three of major gift fundraising.

Okay. Truth number four is consistency is the key. I really feel like this, to me, is the most important part of major gift fundraising. In all of my work in the research I’ve done, in all of the organizations I’ve worked with, those that are able to be consistent are the ones that are able to have success.

I mentioned right at the beginning . . . well, that’s why I called this 20 minutes a day. That’s what I was going to say. I lost my train of thought. I meant in the beginning that major gift fundraising doesn’t have deadlines. So, it is really, really easy to get off track, to put it on the backburner, to let the gala and the grant writing take major gift fundraising’s place.

Let me tell you that I have been in your shoes. I’ve worked in really small shops. My first job in development was at a battered women’s shelter. I was responsible for doing everything. I’ll tell you that calling donors was pretty far down on the list of things that I wanted to do. I could keep myself busy for weeks and months at a time planning our events, grant writing, just generating thank you notes and managing the database. I was very busy and doing my job and yet, months and months would go by where I would not pick up the phone to call a donor or offer to give a major donor a tour or try and get a meeting.

So, was I raising major gifts? No, absolutely not. I was grant writing and event planning and doing marketing and all sorts of other things, but without the pressure of deadlines, major gift fundraising just wasn’t getting done. I see that over and over and over. So, consistency is the key.

If you can dedicate just 20 minutes every single day . . . in some of my courses and in my book, I do talk about an hour a day for raising major gifts or dedicating five hours a week, but listen, everybody’s got to start somewhere and 20 minutes is better than nothing. I do really promise that if you do dedicate 20 minutes a day, you will start to see a difference. Because, then, what happens is that weeks don’t go by when you don’t do anything to raise major gifts. So, consistency is the key.

Okay. So, this just is . . . maybe you’ve heard of the book called, “Eat That Frog,” by Brian Tracy. It is an anti-procrastination book. Basically, what it says is that you should do your worst task first and get it out of the way. So, if major gift fundraising or calling donors or calling for visits is your frog and it seems like the worst task, you’ve got to do it first thing every single day.

So, if you put this 20 minutes off until 5:00, guess what’s not going to happen? Same thing Friday afternoon, if major gift fundraising is your frog, don’t put it off. Get it over with. Then the rest of your day will feel great. If you start the day with donor calls or writing donor notes, it will be such a relief that you’ve actually just gotten it done and can move on with your day.

So, another thing to help with consistency is a major gift team meeting. Now, there are two agenda items for our major gift team meetings that we can have once a week and that’s a 10-minute check-in and we just want to ask these two questions, excuse me, of whoever is on a major gift team.

That might be your executive director, the development director if you’re lucky enough to have one up close and a major gift staff that you might have, but really, you can include a board member if they’re willing to call in, your administrative person and really, the two questions are—this is an effort to keep everybody on track and major gifts moving—what did we do to raise major gifts this week or last week and what follow-up needs to be done? What will we do to raise major gifts next week? This is really an accountability tool and if your meetings drag on for an hour . . . first of all, don’t schedule this meeting for an hour. Schedule it for 10 minutes.

All you have to do is answer these two questions. We’re not going to go off on tangents and talk about the gala or grants that are coming up. This is just a major gift meeting and we just have to figure out what are we going to do in our 20 minutes a day for the next week to move major gifts forward? What follow-up needs to be done? Who needs to be called? Who needs to be thanked? Who needs to be brought in for a tour or a meeting? It’s a 10-minute meeting every single week.

So, if you were thinking, when I was just talking about the last slide, “What team? I have no major gift team,” or, “Nobody at my organization is trying to help with raising major gifts,” then you may think about, instead, an accountability partner. This is the same kind of idea, but it’s with somebody who’s outside of your organization.

Somebody who you’re willing to call who’s committed to calling you for 10 minutes a week just checking in and asking each other those two questions, what did you do to raise major gifts last week because we know we need to have consistency, we do something to move major gifts forward every single week. So if you said you were going to call five people, did you call those five people and what are you going to do this week to raise major gifts?

And I actually, over the years, have a lot of a lot of people who do keep their accountability partners and it really works beautifully because if you know you have to get on a call with a colleague or a meeting with a board member, you better have done what you said you were going to do and have a plan for what you’re going to do to raise major gifts this up and coming week.

Okay. So, 20 minutes a day, whether you’re thinking, “Oh my god, that sounds like so much time. I really can’t do it,” or you’re thinking that sounds like such a teeny-tiny amount of time, the point is that small amounts of time really do add up. So, one phone call per workday, as we discussed, is over 225 calls a year.

If you were to look back and see how many calls you’re making right now, my guess is certainly the average development director is making, many, many less than this, but most people in nonprofits are making many less than this unless you are a major gift officer or you’re really committed to raising major gifts, so try it. Only one phone call a workday and you’ve got over 225 calls a year about major gift fundraising.

Same kind of idea, two meetings a month. How many visits a month? So, we’re back to the metrics and tracking. How many meetings a month are you having specifically with donors one on one or your executive director and a board member and you, talking with a donor about major gifts. Most organizations that I’ve come in contact with initially when they’re trying to get their major gifts program up and running are doing less than 24 donor meetings a year, probably less than 12, so one a month or less.

Thinking about it this way really quantifies it: can you do two meetings a month? If you can do four meetings a month, great. You’re doing a meeting every week, it’s 52 meetings a year. So, really thinking about how many times are you connecting with and sitting down with donors to raise major gifts.

Three hours a week . . . so, a little bit more than 20 minutes a day, obviously, but just three hours a week, so less than an hour a day is 150 hours a year on raising major gifts. That really begins to move the needle. So, whether you’re committed to 20 minutes a day or an hour a day, I really want you to think about spending time every single day on raising major gifts so that you can start to move the needle at your organization and raise major gifts.

So, here’s the bottom line. It’s about improving your routine. It’s nothing revolutionary or off the grid. But all of these things that we’ve talked about can be done in less than 20 minutes a day. Now, of course, the visits, I’ll say the visits are one exception. If you’re going out to meet with someone, obviously, that takes longer, but the scheduling of the meetings, the email follow-up or the email to finish scheduling it, it all takes less than 20 minutes a day. And by practicing scheduling things and calling donors and reaching out and writing to them, you’re going to really make a difference in how much you’re able to raise.

So, that was truth number four, consistency is the key. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about not letting the grant writing and event planning get in the way of you raising major gifts because just acknowledging that those things have deadlines and major gifts doesn’t, major gifts always get put to the bottom of the list or to the backburner because it’s not on fire. But when you’re consistent, you’ll raise significantly more money over time.

So, that’s how we’re going to raise major gifts in under 20 minutes per day. The first thing we talked about, of course, is that metrics matter. You really want to figure out what your goals are and what you’re going to be measuring. I hope you will go ahead and download my metrics worksheet and Steven will send us the slides later and that URL is there [inaudible 00:50:12] planning for success.

Major gift fundraising is not something that should be done off the cuff or on a whim, you want to plan out your strategy and really follow the fundraising cycle of identifying who you’re going to raise major gifts from, how you’re going to cultivate them, making those plans and following those plans for engaging your donors.

Third is, of course, soliciting them. So, really practicing your solicitation language, being confident in your ask amount, and then, of course, thanking and following up. So, third, of course, is communication rules. You want to stay in touch with your donors and that can easily, easily be done, whether it’s a phone call or a note or an email in less than 20 minutes a day and, of course, consistency is key.

So, those are my four truths for raising major gifts in under 20 minutes a day. Now, I hope that we might have some questions. So, Steven, take it away.

Steven: Yeah. That was awesome, Amy. First of all, thank you for all of those really great tips. Love all the advice. I think you really got people thinking because we’ve got some questions in here already. I know we probably don’t have time to get to all of them, but Amy, can people get in touch with you, maybe ask questions via email or how can they get in touch with you? Is that okay?

Amy: Yeah. Absolutely. Yes, I’m happy to take people’s emails and if you want to send me the questions afterward, maybe we can do a joint blog post on it or people can just email me. I’m happy to answer questions, either way.

Steven: Cool. Check out for sure, a great research study that Bloomerang helped out with, like Amy mentioned, really interesting research on there about all kinds of major gift things. So, let’s get to the questions.

Amy: Steven, let me just interrupt.

Steven: Go ahead.

Amy: That website, if they do, they’ll get to the research report directly. So, is where the research report is.

Steven: I will add that to the chat. We’ve got some small shops in here, Amy, listening, some organizations that don’t have much of an individual giving program started up, but they’re in the process of getting started and they want to add major gifts to the mix. What advice would you have to either a new nonprofit or a small shop that’s getting started? Is it friends and family, board members? Who are those major gift prospects for those types of orgs?

Amy: So, definitely board members first, always board members first. Just making sure that first of all, you have 100% participation, meaning every single board member is getting a gift or some financial amount, but then also that each board member is stepping up and making an of-need gift for their personal budget. So, that means that some of your board members may give $100, but others will give $1,000 or $10,000.

So, not everybody on the board has to give the same amount, but everybody should be giving a significant amount for their own personal budget. But then going outside your board for your first major gift, you want to run some reports from Bloomerang or whatever you’re using to track your donors and you’re looking for two key things. One is you’re looking for your biggest donors over time.

So, look at cumulative gifts over the past year or two and look and see what people have given you and start with those larger donors, but you’re also going to want to look at loyal donors. So, anybody who’s given three times within the last three or four years. So, anybody who’s given repeats, you want to look at frequency. So, anybody who’s giving a monthly gift would count in that loyalty group, but also anybody who’s given annually a couple years in a row.

Those are really strong indicators of potential for planned gifts, but also for major gifts. The big difference between those bigger donor groups and the smaller loyal group is I actually don’t care at all how much the loyal donors have given. So, even if they’re only giving $10 a year or $20 a year, if they’ve given five years in a row, we have no idea yet how much they could give. We only know that they really are consistent and loyal and care about our organization.

We don’t have a clue yet whether or not they could make a major gift. Maybe they’re only giving $10 a year because we’ve never asked them for more. So, you’re starting with your board and then your existing donors. That was a long-winded way to answer that question.

Steven: That was great. It dovetails into Betsy’s question here really easily. So, let’s say you’ve identified those people, loyal donors, board members, what do you do first? Right after you’ve identified them, is it a phone call? Is it taking them out for coffee? What would do first once you’ve identified those prospects?

Amy: Yeah. So, I would sit down and write a one-page cultivation plan. So, really try and identify your top 20 people that you’re going to focus on this year because if you come up with a list of 50 or 100 people, you’re just never going to be able to get through it or focus on them. So, I much rather you start with a small list of 20 people.

For each of the people on your top prospective major gift donor list, you want to make a one-page cultivation plan, just write down the left-hand side of your page January through December and say this person, maybe they need a tour, maybe they don’t. If they’re an active volunteer, they probably don’t need a tour, but if they’re less familiar with your organization, maybe a tour. Everybody needs a sit-down one-on-one conversation with the executive director or the CEO.

So, they need to meet that person. So, how are we going to get those people to have coffee? How are we going to get them to learn more about our organization and how are we going to get to know them better? When’s the target ask date? Is it three months from now? It depends on how familiar they are with the organization. Maybe when we’re ready to ask for people who are very active volunteers. So, the next step after identifying them is making a cultivation plan, a relationship building plan and then working it until the ask.

Steven: Very cool. We’ve probably only got time for one more question. Amy, would you mind giving us your opinion on wealth screening? We’ve had a few people ask about using tools for sort of the prospect research side. So, can that help in finding out if someone is not giving as much as they can, perhaps? What’s your take on those tools?

Amy: Yeah, definitely. So, I know . . . I think I know Bloomerang, you guys are partnered with DonorSearch for wealth screening. Is that correct, Steven?

Steven: Yeah, you bet.

Amy: Am I up to date on my information? Okay. So, I’m a big fan of wealth screening. I think that it often identifies people that you have no idea are in your database that have potential. I think it’s a great starting place because it opens your eyes to the potential in your database.

That being said, I really want to emphasize that it is a starting place. We never know until we have conversations with people . . . the richest person in the world could not be philanthropic at all. So, just because a wealth screening says something doesn’t mean that person is generous or philanthropic. So, it doesn’t always tell us what we need to know. Occasionally, donor screening is just wrong.

So, it’s actually gotten much better over the years as the technology improves and we make better matches between who we’re looking for and the information on a person. But you always have to take it with a grain of salt. To me, 100% of the time, there are people in your database that you have no clue have wealth that a wealth screening is going to point out. So, I’m a big fan. It’s cost-effective these days. If you get one major gift as a result, it pays for itself.

Steven: I love it. Use those tools with caution, for sure. Man, this is great. I know you and I could talk about this for hours, but it’s getting late in the day and I don’t want to keep people from writing thank you notes and calling donors and doing all the things you suggested. We’ll call it a day there. This was awesome, Amy. Thanks so much for being here with us.

Amy: Thanks for having me, Steven.

Steven: Yeah. Check out Amy’s website, download that report, send her a tweet. She’s obviously a wealth of information. Look for her at conferences and things because she’s awesome, obviously. So, we will be sending out the recording later on this afternoon if you want to review any of the content.

We’ve got some great webinars coming up pretty much every Thursday for the rest of the year, except for those holiday weeks. We’ve got a good one, one week from today, going to be fun. Maybe don’t invite your boss to this one because we’re going to be talking about your boss. If you’re a fundraiser who’s maybe butting heads with your board or your executive director or CEO, check this one out. It’s going to be cathartic, I hope.

We’ve got Simone Joyaux. She’s awesome. She’s going to be talking about some things you can do to maybe help the situation. It’s going to be a fun one. Her presentations are always very lively. So, join us next week if you can, 1:00 p.m. Eastern. If that doesn’t quite float your boat or maybe if you are the boss and you don’t want to attend that one, I definitely understand, but we’ve got some other good webinars on our schedule that you can register for. Hopefully, we’ll see you next week or some time after that.

Look for an email from me in a little while with the recording and we’ll hopefully see you on our next webinar. Have a good Thursday. Have a good rest of your week and a safe weekend and we’ll talk to you again soon.

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.