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What "Hocus Pocus" Can Teach You About Major Gift Fundraising

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Every October, I watch the 90s classic “Hocus Pocus.” Believe it or not, I’ve found that there are parallels between one of the greatest Halloween movies ever made and major gift fundraising. Keep reading and follow along like I’m Binx leading you into the graveyard for safety!

1. Steward donors and encourage them to become loyal to your organization.

“Take good care of Dani, Max. You’ll never know how precious she is until you lose her.”

One of the early and persistent themes of “Hocus Pocus” is loyalty. Thackary Binx won’t leave his sister, Emily, at the Sanderson sisters’ house. Later, Max drinks the witches’ brew so they will have to take him instead of his sister, Dani. 

How does that relate to fundraising? Well, donor loyalty is the biggest factor in determining and stewarding potential major donors. The donors who are most active and engaged with your organization are your best major donor prospects. 

With that in mind, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you have board members who are giving consistently? 
  • Do you have volunteers who are volunteering multiple times each month? 
  • Do you have supporters who show up to every event? 

These people are demonstrating that they believe in your mission and programming through their consistent support and loyalty to your organization. 

So how do you keep track of them? In Bloomerang’s CRM, you can quantify exactly who your loyal and most engaged donors are. The Engagement Meter looks at giving history (recency, years given, upgraded gifts), interactions (event attendance, volunteering, communication preferences, website visits), and e-mail (subscribes, opens, clicks) to give you a temperature reading on each donor in your database. 

You can then pull a report on all donors with “Hot” or “On Fire” engagement levels—and there’s your loyal donor list! It’s easier than finding a dead man’s toe! Be sure to thank and steward these donors regularly.

2. Use storytelling to encourage donors to give.

“I put a spell on you, and now you’re mine.”

If only it were as easy as putting a spell on a room of supporters to get them to give! 

Donors give because it makes them feel good about the good they’re doing. Giving to your organization can be their purpose, if only you help them find it. 

With so many worthy nonprofit causes to choose from, how will someone decide to give to yours? Do you have a mission statement that is easy for anyone to understand? Are your appeals emotional and compelling? Most importantly, are you sharing with your donors how their support is helping to advance your mission? 

When preparing a major gift proposal, focus on the short-term and long-term impact their gifts would make on the trajectory of the organization. Communicate the reasons why you exist and why you’re the best equipped to address this need before, during, and after an ask.

With that in mind, use storytelling techniques to draw them in, show them how they can be part of the solution, and ask them to donate. 

3. Use prospect research to identify potential major donors.

“Woah, check out the cross trainers!” 

In “Hocus Pocus,” you can tell the approximate wealth of your neighbor by their new shoes, the size of their house, or what their parents do for a living. When it comes to assessing potential major donors, however, wealth is only one indicator of giving. 

Remember: A big piece of the equation is how interested a donor is in your mission. With DonorSearch’s partnership with Bloomerang, you can see which of your most engaged donors are capable of giving larger gifts. You’ll also be able to see if new donors make larger gifts to other organizations with similar missions.

If you’re short on time, this tool can be very helpful in narrowing down a list of major donor prospects who are both interested in and capable of making large gifts.

4. Make the ask.

“In case Jimi Hendrix shows up, here’s my number.”

People told Max that Allison was out of his league, but he still had the guts to give her his number anyway. Max probably could have chosen a better time to ask Allison out than right after telling her he didn’t believe in her favorite holiday, but it still worked out for him in the end (going through several near-death experiences together can really bond two people). 

Likewise, donors want to be asked to help you in a thoughtful way. This is very much like planning a date. 

So ask yourself: Is the right person making the ask and are they asking at the right time? Are you asking them to contribute to something specific that they have already indicated interest in, like the Sanderson Sisters Museum? Are you able to articulate the impact their gift will have on your mission. If so, you’re ready to make the ask! 

5. Remember to genuinely thank your donors.

“Thank you, Max, for that marvelous introduction.”

Okay, so Winifred wasn’t genuinely thanking Max for his introduction, but you should genuinely thank your donors, especially major gift donors.

I was once told to treat each donation as the start of a beautiful friendship. (That’s “Casablanca,” not “Hocus Pocus.”) As you would send a note to a friend, do something to make it sound personal and specific, not scripted. If it’s a new friend, take it slow and maybe invite them to an event or ask if they would like to come for a tour before asking for a second donation. 

First-time donors who receive a personal thank you within 48 hours are four times more likely to give a second gift. If it’s a relationship that’s already been developing, ask if you can set a time to thank them in person or virtually over a platform like Zoom. Keep in mind this isn’t the time to go on about stats and successes of your programs—save that for another time. Keep the thank yous genuine, personal, and memorable. 

And don’t forget to track all of your interactions with donors, even thank yous, in your database! This will help you determine when the time is right to make that next ask.

Don’t wait 300 years for a virgin to light a black flame candle. You can begin making small changes today to focus on major gifts! Visit Bloomerang Academy for more tips on growing your Major Gifts Program. One of my favorites is How to Build a High-Performing Major Gifts Program with Gail Perry, MBA, CFRE. 

Farewell, mortal bus boys (and girls)!

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  • Christie

    Thanks Lauren! I so enjoyed your post. We still watch Hocus Pocus every year at UWCI and I miss you being here. You are doing great things!
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