Major Donor Stewardship: Strategies That Build Lasting Relationships With Your Most Significant Givers
Valerie Harris will focus on what is required when you commit to attracting and maintaining major donors, understanding how major donors think, and how to optimize your communications for this important donor segment.
Steven: Okay, Valerie. I’ve got 2:30 Eastern. Is it okay if I go ahead and get this party started officially?
Steven: All right. Awesome. Everybody, welcome. Good afternoon if you are on the East Coast. Good morning, I guess barely, if you are on the West Coast. And if you’re watching this as a recording, I hope you’re having a good day no matter when and where you are.
We are here to talk about major donor stewardship. Yes, strategies that are going to help build some long time relationships with those big time givers.
Thanks for joining us. I’m so excited that you’re all here. We got a big room of people, and we got a fun hour planned for you over the next hour. Like I said, I’m Steven. I’m over here at Bloomerang, and I’ll be moderating today’s discussion as always. Hopefully, not as awkward as that was.
So just a couple of housekeeping items. Just want to let you all know that we are recording this presentation, and we’ll be sending out the recording as well as the slides later on today. So if you have to leave early or maybe you got a meeting and a few minutes here, or you’re at home like me and a toddler interrupts you, don’t worry.
We’ll get you the slides and the recording later on. You won’t miss a thing. Just look for an email from me a little later on today.
But most importantly, I know a lot of you have already done this, but, please, send us chats throughout the hour or so. We’re going to save time for Q&A at the end. There’s a question box and a chat box. You can use either of those. We’ll keep an eye on them. The Q&A box might have a little bit more visibility to us. If you want to get your answer questioned or your question answered, just a insider tip there.
But bottom line, we love to hear from you. So don’t be shy, say hi in the chat, introduce yourself if you have not already because we would love to hear from you.
You can also send us a tweet. I’ll keep an eye on Twitter, but like I said, don’t sit on those hands because we love for these sessions to be interactive.
And if this is your first Bloomerang webinar, just want to say a special welcome to you first-timers. We do these webinars every single week, every Thursday. We do about 50 sessions a year. We got a great slate of webinars queued up for this year I’m really excited about. Today is by no means an exception to that.
But if you’ve never heard of Bloomerang, Bloomerang is also a provider of donor management software. So check that out if you are interested or maybe just kind of curious about us, all kinds of things on our website. You can watch videos to really get a good sense of what we’re all about. But don’t do that right now.
At least wait an hour because you all are in for a treat, one of my absolute most favorite people. And I don’t say that very often, but it’s true. You all are about to hear from one of the top higher ed fundraisers ever in my opinion. Joining us from beautiful Philadelphia is my pal, Valerie Harris. Valerie, how’s it going? You doing okay? Staying warm?
Valerie: I’m very good. I’m happy. I’m seeing all the people come in from all over the place, and I hope that I can share some information that everyone finds useful.
Steven: Oh, I have no doubt. Like I said, you’re awesome. You’ve done sessions for us before, and you all are going to want to follow Valerie after this. She’s got a new, some really cool coursework that she’s putting out herself that you can get hooked into.
If you don’t know Valerie, if you haven’t attended some of her webinars with us in the past, she just retired. Like I said, as the senior director of stewardship and communications at the University of Pennsylvania. Has raised billions of dollars over her career over 25 years doing this, not just for Penn, but for all kinds of nonprofits before that.
Has also shared a lot of her knowledge, not just on this webinar series, but she’s been really gracious with her time in contributing to our blog. She’s written a lot about managing teams and being a mentor. So you’re going to want to check that out as well because she not only is an awesome fundraiser, but has built teams and diverse teams, specifically it’s something that I really appreciate about her.
So, Valerie, dang, you’re awesome. I hate that I have already taken away a few minutes from you because I know you got a lot of good stuff. So I’m going to stop sharing my screen, and let you bring up those beautiful slides. Let’s see if we can get it going.
Valerie: Okay. Let me see if I can share mine. Okay. Where’s the share button. Are we there yet? Okay.
Steven: I don’t see it yet. I still see you. Did you hit the green button? There it goes. Oh, there it goes. It was a delay. Yep. You’re good, my friend. Take it away. Mm-hmm.
Valerie: Okay. Well, everyone, welcome to this presentation on building lasting relationships with your most significant givers. I know on Bloomerang it says major donor stewardship, but I had to go with what I know, and I call it major donor love. So let us talk about showing your major donors some love and getting their commitment to your organization and your mission.
As Steven said, I’m Valerie Harris, lately of the University of Pennsylvania, now of vharrisprojects.com where I provide courses, workbooks, webinars, and other resources for fundraising professionals. I’ve worked for nonprofit agencies big and small for more than 25 years and spent the last 10 years at the University of Pennsylvania where I specialized in leadership communications to Penn’s most significant donors.
So if you are a small midsize or startup nonprofit or if you are new to working with major donors and want to learn something about how the most successful fundraisers show and receive major donor love, this webinar is for you.
All righty now. Major donors equal your most significant givers. Most midsize and large organizations reach their current capacity with the support of one or more significant gifts from a generous individual, foundation, or corporate partner. Successful fundraisers and major gift officers know that individual major donors are the most efficient, most direct way to raise substantial amounts of money.
Professionals, as smaller groups, often find fundraising with individuals intimidating. These fundraisers can’t wrap their minds around coming out and asking someone for money. So they don’t put the procedures in place, they don’t get the necessary training, and they don’t gain the experience to effectively implement a major donor program. But everybody could benefit from having major donors.
So why does everyone desire major donors? Well, for the significant financial support they can provide, of course, but also for the connections to other potential donors, the prestige of their association with your organization. The thought leadership, the advice, these are the intangibles that major donors often bring to the table.
So who qualifies as a major donor at your organization? For some, a major donor is a $500 or a $1,000 donor who gives regularly. For others, it’s someone who has contribute $25,000. For others, $250,000. The level of giving that defines a major donor depends on your organization and the size of the other gifts that you get through solicitations, memberships, subscriptions, grants, special events, and other strategies.
I would add that an ideal major donor prospect is someone who can make regular gifts from their bank account but who also has other assets they can tap into to support your overall organization, your mission, or a particular program.
So this is what we’re going to talk about today. We’re going to talk about the major donor mindset. We’re going to talk about four commitments you must make for your major donor program to succeed, why you need a major donor society, and engaging major donors beyond please and thank you.
But as we move through the presentation, here are a few questions to consider. How many major donors do you currently have? At what giving levels? And how often do they give? Number two, if you have not yet identified any major donors, do you have any donors that you think could become a major donor with some attention and cultivation?
What are your group strengths and weaknesses in working with major donors? I’m really talking about the nonprofit that you work for, what strengths or what weaknesses can you conceive of that would impact your working with major donors?
Also, I’d like you to think about how much organizational capacity does your group have to implement a major donor program? Is there a staff or board member capable and willing to work with you or take on this role? You may not have it all together, but as we move through the presentation, I would like to think about what you can do now to help you prepare for major donor fundraising.
So let’s start by looking at the major donor mindset and that’s . . . we’re looking at it from their point of view. Major donors and prospects are looking for a passionate connection to your organization’s work. So how you communicate the work that you do is of utmost importance. They want to fully understand the impact of their giving.
What can you show them that demonstrates their contributions at work that shows them the results of their giving? Major donors want to engage with your organization beyond the money they give, whether it’s as a board member, an advisor, a board leader, or someone you can call upon to help with overall strategy.
Many significant givers achieve their wealth through entrepreneurial efforts, and they like to see that, kind of the mindset at work. They want to see innovative thinking and sound business practices in place at the nonprofits they support.
Lastly, most are metrics-driven. They want to see that you are achieving your mission, and they want to see the numbers to support that. So these are things that you guys can be thinking about in your own individual organizations, the metrics. I’m sure you’ve seen other trainings, webinars what, about gathering your metrics. So you should have started putting that in place.
So you now have an idea of how significant givers and prospects think. So if you think you’re ready to build a major donor program, here are three things to have in place to help ensure success.
First of all, you need a system like that of our friends here at Bloomerang that will help you be more organized and knowledgeable about your donors as individuals in addition to the general geographic, demographic, and relationship information. We, at Penn, always included in our tracking system, the personal information that the donor has shared or donor preferences.
This personal info helps ensure that you’re communicating with the donor in a way that shows familiarity and respect. For instance, if the donor’s name is James and he prefers James, don’t call him Jimbo, or Jimmy, or Jim. You will have in your preferences that he prefers being known as James.
Secondly, a commitment to professional development. If you don’t know, ask somebody, whether it’s talking to donors, writing solicitations, developing personalized proposals, whatever the area in which you, your staff, or volunteers are deficient, commit to finding the professional development resources and training that will prepare you to manage your program and donors appropriately and with confidence.
I would periodically create professional development trainings for my award-winning team at the University of Pennsylvania. These trainings were specific to the work that we did in partnership with gift officers in service to Penn’s major donors.
I have an online course available now, Writing to Donors” the “Thank You” and More, that you may be interested in, and you’ll be able to find that later on.
But getting back to this program that you need to have in place, the third thing you must put in place is a donor communication strategy. It can include grant writing because a foundation can be a major donor, and it might include publications targeted to this donor segment, but it must include personalized communications to individuals who support you with substantial gifts.
Okay. So we looked at the major donor mindset from the donor’s point of view. Now let’s look at what you need to bring to the table. The most important aspect I think of your mindset in pursuing major donors, and implementing a major donor program is commitment.
Commitment usually involves some kind of investment or money, of time, of change in behavior, and/or just how you operate or manage your business. Here are four commitments you must make in order to successfully implement a major donor program.
You must commit to prospect research. You must commit to relationship building. You must commit to fundraising in person and bottom line, consistent, personalized donor communications.
So let’s go on this major donor journey starting with prospect research. There are lots of prospect research software available. And although these tools require a financial investment, there’s a reason why prospect research is a best practice for those who are successful in attracting major donors.
So one of the things that I believe you must commit to is this, and if you have to invest some money to do that, you know, just find the one that suits your budget. Something is out there.
Actually, I love prospect research because I like to learn about people, and I like to learn about how they make their money too and where their money is coming from. So key factors that you’ll look for include wealth markers such as real estate and other assets. In fact, partnerships in football teams and stuff like that, thinking of the season and knowing about some donors that we have dealt with.
So wealth markers. You should also look at their education and business affiliations. You could look at their past giving, their philanthropic interests and tendencies like whether they support local agencies or only give to organizations with a national profile. These factors help you determine a donor’s ability and willingness to donate to a specific cause.
Secondly, do your homework. If you are not ready to invest in prospect research software, there is still a lot of information you can find online about a prospective donor, especially about those in the business world. Google them. Check out their LinkedIn profile.
You may even learn some things that tell you that perhaps they are not the best fit for you and your organization. You don’t want to reach out to a prospect who is being indicted for fraud, or domestic violence, or whatever. Major donor love does not mean you give up your values to nab a significant gift.
You just want to know as much as you reasonably and respectfully can about a prospect so that you can comfortably converse with them and develop an appropriate ask.
Third, use your existing network. For instance, you might have a faithful donor whose contributions have been steadily increasing. With prospect research, you can take a deeper dive into the donor’s giving history and preferences outside of your organization and perhaps figure out the best strategy for asking for a major gift.
And lastly, leverage your board. Even if members of your board are not major donors themselves, your board members may have the connections you need to reach out to certain prospects. An introduction from a trusted ally will help you get in the door with donors faster than starting from scratch.
So while you are exploring your existing network and researching prospects, make sure you have a communications package that provides detailed information about the types of programs you offer and their impact on your community. It’s one of those things you can do now to prepare to approach major donors.
You’ll want to have a communications package to send ahead of your initial meeting as it’s always helpful if prospects have a clear understanding of what you do and why it’s important. If you can’t send it ahead, be sure to have a package to share when you meet.
Your communications package can include an annual report, a sample newsletter that goes to your constituents, or a publication that goes to other donors, or a link to a video essay about your activities and constituent success. Whatever the package includes, it must be well prepared with no errors because you want to communicate to your prospects that you can provide a quality donor experience as well as meet the needs of your constituents.
Relationship-building. The get-to-know-you visit, or phone call, or Zoom meeting, in this day and age, whatever it may be, is one of the most important steps in cultivating relationships with prospective major donors. If there is a board member or associate who can make the introduction so much the better.
One-on-one meetings build the foundation for a meaningful relationship of trust and involvement with your organization. And donors often require this kind of relationship before making a significant gift. Many prospective donors will want to meet with leadership to ascertain how they think their management expertise, their accessibility, and their friendliness . . . An exclusive meet and greet can be the start of a long term and gratifying partnership.
Also, invite prospects to a VIP event. Small, exclusive, and personal events let major prospects see for themselves how they can play a key role in serving your mission.
For instance, I used to work for a program Philadelphia High School Academies, and they ran a student entrepreneurial program. We would invite local industry leaders in relevant areas to attend a business fair followed by a reception in which these leaders get to meet presenting students. Not only did gifts come out of that, internships came out of that.
Tools, and books, and workbooks, and things that the students could use to kind of really delve into the vocational area in which they were interested in. All kinds of things could come into that. So it’s very good for your prospects to see and meet the constituents that you serve.
Also, small informational luncheons also allow you to educate prospects about your work without being too formal. And I know fundraisers at Penn use those informational luncheons a lot. The same with office tours. Show prospects what you’re about, your staff, how you operate on the daily.
That’s another thing about diversifying. Ew, this reminds me about diversifying teams and diversifying your workplace because if they come into your office and you just like, you know, what you putting out there is not what they see, that’s a red flag.
Well, anyway, an office tour or a tour of the new facility where you are serving constituents can really solidify a donor’s interest in supporting your organization.
And I’ll say too that many foundations are not keen on funding capital projects or making capacity building grants. Individual donors are free to fund whatever you propose that they agree will be of most benefit to you. On the other hand, they’re free to fund what they propose and that you decide aligns with your capabilities, mission, and goals.
Now, I will say this because major donors can be very high-powered people, and they have notions and ideas that they would love to see put forth in our society. And they will definitely at times propose to you something that they are interested in funding. “Well, if you could do this, I would be interested in that. I would certainly be interested in supporting that.” That’s nothing that you say, “Oh, yes, we’ll do that.”
No. You go back and you talk about it, you think about it. You do not agree to do things that you don’t have the capacity to do or that do not really align with your mission or your goals.
The third thing that you must commit to, face-to-face fundraising. I’ve met so many professionals at nonprofits who say they could never ask someone for money, but the most successful fundraisers at any organization do not have this fear. If your current fundraising is limited to direct mail appeals and writing for grants, you are leaving a lot of money on the table.
Those activities need to be part of your overall fundraising strategy, not the entire program. Remember, this is not a cold call. The donor has heard of you, they’ve looked at your communications package, a mutual ally suggested that you meet, they’re interested or else they wouldn’t be giving you their time. So hopefully you can meet each other’s philanthropic needs.
Commit to getting the training you need. If you can’t find a program, enlist a, some successful major gift professional to assist or mentor you. Ask them if you may have a couple of practice sessions with them. Be prepared. Once you have the opportunity to meet face to face with a prospect, know what you’re going for.
I once went with the executive director of a dance organization to a one-to-one meeting with a prospect. And this was a good prospect who has served on this organization’s board under past leadership and had come into some money.
So she looked this organization up to see if she could support us in some way. However, we had not done our research. We did not know the prospect’s current interest. We didn’t practice, and all of that equaled disaster. I shutter to think about that meeting. Ooh. Put that out of my mind.
Anyway, be prepared to articulate exactly what you want the money for, the amount that is needed overall, segmented funding opportunities that might interest the donor, and also understand that one meeting may not clench the deal. Usually it won’t. You can’t rush major gift solicitations. Patience is key.
Take the team. One of my most successful meetings was when I was director of development at a midsized nonprofit. I was part of the team along with the executive director and the program director. Between the three of us, we were able to answer questions from all areas and that resulted in a significant multiyear gift. So that was one of the times I was proud to be part of the team.
Lastly, follow-up. Thank the prospect for the meeting. Was there something you promised to get back to them on? Was there an interest that they mentioned that you found a good story or some relevant information about? The meeting is not concluded until the follow-up is done.
Oh, you look at this picture. Who’s the donor and who’s the fundraiser? I’m looking at a lot of the images that I have here. And we may have association about who the prospect is and who is the fundraiser, but let’s think about either one of them could be either one. They’re just people. They’re just people like you and me.
We’ve talked about personalized communications before as one of the most important elements of successful fundraising and no more so than with major donors.
I’ve created a short ebook that summarizes the key elements that make up personal communications, but here is the short list for why it’s important to consistently communicate with your donors in situations that don’t involve asking for money. Acknowledges the donor as a person, not just the dollar sign. It deepens the relationship, and it actually makes fundraising easier.
We’ll touch on what some of these non-funding related situations might be a bit later in the presentation.
So now, why might you need a major donor society? When you request a major gift, you’re asking for a big commitment. If you want to secure a substantial donation and you want that donor to stick with you, you need to make them feel like they are part of something special. One way to do that is to create a branded major donor society.
At Penn, every school has a major donor society where . . . When I say every school, I mean Wharton, I mean the dental school, the veterinarian school, the college of arts and . . . they all have their own major donor society as well as the university on the whole has a major donor society.
And we would have some great brainstorming sessions trying to come up with names for these groups. So that is something that your whole organization and your board should be part of in terms of naming your major donor society.
Well, an important reason why you need a major donor society is because it gives you a chance to build a community of significant givers that you can call upon to help you meet major challenges and boost various campaigns. And you will build that community through exclusivity and incentives because in case you didn’t know, people who have great giving potential enjoy being in the company of others who do.
So the first recruits for your major donor society will be your existing donors who give at a certain level. A major donor society encourages mid-level donors to up their giving. For instance, if in the past I habitually made a contribution of $5,000 a year, and you noticed that for the last 2 years I gave $7,000, I might be a prime prospect for the major donor society.
A gift somewhat above my current giving, what we call a stretch gift will gain me entree into your major donor society where the minimum is $10,000. “So, Valerie, you gave $7,000, do you think you could rev that up a little bit more and help us launch this major donor society?” That’s a way to put it, and that’s how you encourage those who are already giving to step up.
Secondly, people like to feel included in what seems like an exclusive club. And that reminds me of that old time comedian Groucho Marx used to say, “I would not join a club that would have me as a member.” They want exclusivity.
One thing that makes people feel good about being included is what they can achieve together, a goal that the society and the organization aims for and meets and then comes together in celebration. And what makes the group feel good? Exclusive group, are the perks and incentives that you will provide for only those members of your major donor society. So think about the perks your organization can provide.
In my last experience, during alumni weekend, for example, our major donors got free parking passes, and in the city where parking is premium, free parking is very much appreciated. So what other ways can you show your appreciation to your most significant givers?
And a major donor society is an excellent opportunity for stewardship. It’s the most wonderful way to steward your most significant givers. And you can do that with special events and receptions, the con you invite your prospects to are excellent ways to recognize and steward your major donors.
By the way, your major donors are not only your most significant givers. They are also among your organization’s most important ambassadors. They will talk you up. If they work for companies that offer matching gift benefits, they tend to take advantage of them because they’re savvy about multiplying money.
Receptions for your major donors provide them with the opportunity to network among each other. And as I said, they enjoy being around each other. They enjoy the opportunity to meet somebody that they have been wanting to meet. They enjoy these, and they know how to work them to their advantage, and oftentimes for your advantage as well.
One way you can show your appreciation to your major donors is to optimize your communications with them. Every major donor is different. Don’t barrage them with information that does not resonate with them. Make every communication with them meaningful if you possibly can.
Provide your major donors with options for how often they hear from you because everyone may not be interested in your monthly newsletter unless they’re spotlighted in it, and then they’re going to want a copy of that. What information are they looking for? Do they want to hear stories of impact?
Do they want to just know new sources of income? Or do they just want to see the metrics, the numbers served where you stand on reaching your fundraising goals, etc.? How do they prefer to receive the information? Do they prefer print, an email, a link to a short video on your website?
And, by the way, all of your print media, including your annual report, should be available in digital format somewhere on your website.
Or will they be happiest with just a monthly or quarterly phone call from you? Wouldn’t it be nice if you looked at these happy smiling faces that somebody with some money would light up when you call them like once a month or once a quarter? That would be a wonderful thing. And I’m sure it would be very advantageous for you.
You can also create segmented lists according to donor preferences. List C gets the email complication. List B likes print. And list A will appreciate a call. Make sure you keep all of these communications preferences in your donor database and honor them.
Now, let’s talk a little bit about ways to engage your major donors besides please and thank you. Once you have received a substantial gift and designated the giver as a major donor, you will need to be meticulous in your ongoing communications to solidify and build upon the relationship because if I’m important to you, I don’t just want to hear from you when you’re asking me for a donation.
In addition to your gift acknowledgements, there are other forms of communications that tell me that you care about me and recognize me as a person.
I developed an editorial workshop for my team where we examined some of the non-solicitation communications we sent to our major donors throughout the year, and we asked, “What are these stay in touch non-solicitation communications meant to do? What does a congratulations, or an invitation, or a sincere condolence, what do these communications really say to your donor?”
Well, consider this. A congratulations on your new promotion or your retirement, says, your friends at Good Nonprofit are rooting for you. We celebrate your accomplishments with you. An invitation to serve on an advisory or fundraising committee tells your donor, we value your expertise. We would welcome your participation.
And a condolence says, we understand that you’re dealing with a loss right now, and we’re thinking of you. Let us know if there’s anything we can do. Staying in touch with these kind of communications humanizes your organization. They let your donors know that they are important to the organization outside of their giving. Donors want to feel that. That’s what engages them. And engagement is a huge part of ongoing stewardship.
And on this image here where the woman is reading the newspaper, it may be the newspaper where you find out that somebody suffered their loss, or somebody got a promotion, or somebody is, you know, being lauded for their contribution to, and I mean their work contribution to a different project or something. So it’s part of that ongoing research of your prospects and your committed donors.
We used to get Google alerts whenever certain people was in the newspaper so that we would know that something happened in their life, that we would then send an appropriate communications for.
And ultimately what you want your donors to say to themselves and to others is, “That’s a terrific group of people over there. They are a great bunch. They do a wonderful job.” Not only do you do a wonderful job with your mission, but you do a wonderful job with the people supporting your mission, and that’s who these donors are.
So now, if you ever get stuck on what you should say in your ongoing communications to your most significant givers, I have a workbook available that includes scenarios and sample letters along with questions to make you think about what will work for you, your leadership, your organization, and your major donors.
So how will you know your major donor strategy is working? How will you know your most significant givers are feeling the love? You can look at three areas of engagement.
Giving. So we’re talking about donors, so the giving is pretty obvious. Is it stagnant? Is it increasing? Is it decreasing? If it’s decreasing, consider if it’s something beyond your control like the overall economic outlook, [inaudible 00:44:37].
But if that doesn’t seem to be the problem, the next two things I would look at would be, one, your fundraising technique, your training, and your preparation. What’s missing that you need to help take fundraising to the major donor level? So take a good look at what you are doing and see where you can improve.
The second thing I would look at would be the quality and timing of your communications. How are you showing up in print, by email, on the phone, and in person? Are you showcasing your accomplishments to full advantage? Are you informed? Are you editorially correct? Are you respectful of donor preferences? The quality and timing of your communications may be a contributing factor if contributions are decreasing. And we never like to see that.
In terms of service, have you increased your board with any enthusiastic or generous new members? Have you snagged any new volunteers? Have your strategies invigorated any of your longtime supporters with new ideas to move the organization forward?
If you have communicated with your donors about a new challenge or need that your organization is facing, is anyone asking, “How can I help?” Oh, we would love to get those kind of emails, those kind of phone calls, those kind of letters asking how can they help.
Third, look at response and response rates. Yes, responding to solicitations is important because that impacts the giving. But what about your non-solicitation communications? Do you see an increase in donor engagement? Do they open the emails? Do they show up at events? When you send them a congratulations or a condolence, do they respond with a thank you?
You’ll know that your strategy is working when your major donors respond and engage with you by their giving but also beyond their giving. Oh.
So that’s all I have for you today. I hope I’ve given you some tips you can use or affirm some of the good things you’ve been wanting to try or have started to put in place.
Again, I have created some resources that you may find helpful, and they are available on my website for purchase if you’re interested.
And now, Steven, if we have time, I’ll take some questions.
Steven: Yeah. We got time. We probably got a good solid 10, 12 minutes. And there’s a lot of questions in here. I think you got people’s gears turning. So thanks, Valerie. That was a lot of good information. It’s always awesome to learn from you. So, first of all, thanks for doing this. I really appreciate it.
Steven: So there’s some good ones in here. A lot of people are asking about, you know, doing this during a pandemic. And when you were at Penn, I think it was, you know, in those early days of the pandemic, how did you do things like in-person visits? Did you tours, things like that? How did you kind of navigate, you know, social distancing, wanting to stay safe but still want to make, you know, those personal connections with donors and prospects?
Valerie: Well, we did not do in the early days of the pandemic . . . we did not do a lot of personal visits. I know that. . .Oh, goodness me. We were supposed to have events overseas. All of those were canceled. All around the country, we were canceled, but phone call wasn’t canceled. Email wasn’t canceled. And email worked so well.
Oh, my God. Email, and I’m sure participants have heard of this too because when I talk about sending a condolence or sending a congratulations, now that we were doing so much by email . . . Now, condolences, we do not send by email. We do send a hard copy.
But congratulating and all that stuff, all the things we were doing by email, donors were responding. Even if they did not respond before, they were definitely responding because everybody was on email. And it kind of solidified the relationships.
People who were not doing it, say for instance, the president would do it all the time, but say the vice president of development, he wasn’t doing it as much. He started doing it. So now he says that he will continue to be emailing all the major donors and so forth because he liked getting, “Oh, John, thank you for reaching out.” And all that. Email works wonderfully and people understand that.
Steven: I love it. Here’s another one. A lot of people ask variations of this question too. So I want to get to it.
We were talking before, and you told the story of how you experienced kind of botching a donor meeting because you didn’t do your research, or maybe you said a gaffe or something like that. And you mentioned that in the presentation too.
A lot of folks are wondering, how’d you recover from that? What can you do to maybe, you know, mend those fences and hopefully salvage that relationship when maybe something awkward or, you know, unfortunate has occurred in the communication or in meeting with them? Can you overcome it?
Valerie: Now, there are some cases where you can’t overcome it. I would say yes. If the what, faux pas occurred and it was not with the . . . if the executive director was not at the meeting, say it was just the development director and a fundraiser, whatever, was at the meeting and something didn’t go right.
And they kind of got the feeling from the donor that, oh, the executive director could then say, dear, so and so, I understand that you met with so and so, and so and so. And don’t admit that they were foolish. Just try to clarify, just wanted to clarify with you, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
So, yes, it depends on who was at the meeting. And I would think that it would be more salvageable if the very top person was not at the meeting. In my case, it was a very tiny organization, and the top person was at the meeting, and she just did not have a clue. She did not have a clue of how to meet with that.
But that’s when you got to be thinking, “We’re going to go after this segment. And what do we need to do to prepare to go after this segment?” Now, if she also had a great board, and I know you have people come on here talking about how to build a great board, and maybe somebody, the chairman of the board might could contact that person. But even that chairman needs to tread lightly. You don’t want to admit a whole bunch of foolishness, you know, you just want to get over it.
Steven: Yeah. That makes sense. I love it. Yeah. Bringing in the bigger guns sometimes that can help.
Dang, there’s a lot of good ones here. I want to get to as many as possible. What about, Valerie, this, you know, you talked a lot about doing your research. What tools have you used? A lot of people are putting in the chat like WealthEngine, and DonorSearch, and iWave, and some of those prospect research tools. Are there any that you’re familiar with and have used or maybe other things besides kind of those, you know, financial or wealth-screening tools?
Valerie: Well, actually . . . As I said, for the last 10 years, I was with a huge organization, and we had whole departments that do that themselves. I was the . . . I don’t know, it was something called . . . I don’t know what it’s called. It had to do with wealth that I could access and learn and do things that . . . So I don’t have a particular one that I would recommend for our participants, and they have to do their research.
But I say this, Google works well. Google worked well and costs nothing. So use that first. In fact, use that first before you . . . If you haven’t done anything, if you haven’t invested any money, go with Google first and then see if you need to do more.
Steven: I love it.
Now, you’ve worked at organizations, big and small. There’s a lot of those small shops listening. You know, that’s kind of a big piece of the Bloomerang community. There’s a lot of one-person shops here.
What advice would you have for the one-person shop here that’s trying to do everything? We were talking about this before, you know, wearing all the hats. Where should they start in terms of major donor cultivation? Is it the board? Is it friends and family? Is it, you know, existing donors? What do you think would be maybe the lowest hanging fruit for that limited amount time they have?
Valerie: Well, I never really got into the friends and family bit because I knew my friends and family didn’t have no money like that, what I was looking for. But I would, because this is the thing, and I know there’s a lot of people starting nonprofits, and you need to think about that because you need a board, you need a board.
This is not something that you go after alone. If a major donor, someone, you reading in the news but they don’t know you from Adam. You are a one-person shop, you got a great idea, you got a great little program, you got great little things that you’re doing, you’re still going to need somebody else to work with you.
If your organization or your program, you don’t have name recognition, you’re one person, so your results may not be all that tremendous, you may have wonderful potential, but you’re going to have to have somebody else who is also convinced of your wonderful potential to go with you arm in arm and start this.
So if you don’t have a board, and you’re trying to do this, and you got your friends and family on the board, you need to shore up your board because your friends and family are not going to help you when it’s time to go to this one-to-one meeting with this person, with this major donor prospect. So that’s where I would start.
Now, if you have a wonderful board, then you start with somebody on that board and say, “Look, I think that we need to go to the next level. We need to start trying to attract these major donors.” And you still need . . . They got to be on board. Somebody has to be with you, you know, to help you with this. This is a big prospect and a big commitment. And you don’t want to go out there failing all the time.
You know, I did it once and it was a lifetime enough for me. So yeah, where I would start is with my board. And if I already got a good board, then I would get a commitment from somebody on the board to work with me, and let’s start with the research.
Steven: Yeah. It seems like they’d be kind of a secret weapon because maybe they’re in the business community, right? Maybe they could have those connections. That makes a lot of sense.
Valerie: Yes. And read the newspaper, stay with them, stay on . . . Look and see who’s doing what you need done.
Even say, for instance, if you had a foundation at work that liked you, you were their pet project, and they liked you, and you maybe had a program officer, maybe I will even ask the program officer, “Can we meet? Can I talk to you? I want to try to do this.”
Maybe somebody could put you in touch with, as I said, like a successful major donor fundraiser who could assist you, or mentor you, or just, you know, have lunch with you and give you some tips.
Steven: Yeah. That’s really good advice. Since you mentioned it, a lot of people have asked for advice when they have maybe reached out to that prospect. Maybe they’re already a donor, maybe they’re not, and not getting a response, but they don’t want to be annoying. When is it time to maybe move on, I guess? Yeah. What do you think?
Valerie: When is it time to, I mean, people . . . I don’t know how they’re communicating with the person, if they communicating via letter, if they’re communicating, being email. But I think that if, I don’t know, I think that I would play it by ear in terms of like what I’m sending them. What am I sending them?
If I’m just getting no response from them, I might would give it up. But maybe the last thing I would try if I had somebody else who put in a word for me, I would try that. And I’ve had this too, I talked to somebody, they’re just not interested. Okay. Then you got to move on.
Steven: That’s okay. That’s not your people, right? That’s okay.
Valerie: Right. It’s not your people.
Steven: Well, you’re my people, Valerie. I’m so happy that we got to hang out with you for an hour. I know there’s a lot of questions we didn’t get to. Is it okay if maybe I send those to you, Valerie, if you want to reach out, or can people reach out to you? Is that okay?
Valerie: They can absolutely reach out to me at [email protected] You can send me the questions that you have in the chat, and I’ll try to get to them as well.
Steven: There’s a lot. I know you’re super busy. You’ve got a lot going on. You’re helping out people, doing webinars, helping, all the coursework. We’ll link to all that. We’ll send everybody those links, so you won’t miss anything as well as the slides and the recording. Valerie, thanks for doing this. You’re awesome. This is great.
Valerie: You’re quite welcome.
Steven: And thanks to all of you for hanging out. I know it’s a busy time of year. Maybe you’re doing those year-end acknowledgements and trying to wrap things up from last year. So I always appreciate seeing a full room, especially this time of year.
And if you are free next week, we’re going to keep it going. Let me bring up our next webinar. Speaking of the board, my buddy, Elizabeth, is going to be talking about getting those board members involved in fundraising. Yes, one of our favorite topics. Elizabeth’s awesome.
She’s over at CCS Fund raising and really knows her stuff. So this is a nice little dovetail from this presentation for sure. You know, all of the things that Valerie talked about, you’re going to get some advice specifically on getting that board involved. So next week, 2:30 Eastern, same time, same place.
If you can’t make it, register anyway because then you’ll just get the recording. I don’t care if you don’t show up live. I won’t even know, actually, if you . . . I don’t look at that. I don’t mind. So I’m happy to send that out. So don’t feel obliged to attend live. That’s okay with me. If you still register, you will get the recording there. So we will call it a day there.
I hope you all can join us next week or on another future webinar. There’s lots of other sessions out there that you can check out and register for.
Valerie, thanks again. Good to see you. We’ll have you back for sure.
And I hope you all have a good rest of your Thursday and a good weekend. Stay safe, stay healthy. We need you all out there, and hopefully we’ll talk to you again soon. See you.