We often talk about banning jargon when we speak to others about our organization. And, that is so needed. But, I would like to take it one step further, and say that we are not here to “educate” our donors about what we do.
They don’t care about the specifics.
There, I said it. Truly, your donors don’t. Just think about your experiences. When I call an electrician to fix an electrical problem in my house, I don’t want him to explain all of the mechanics of electricity or what is wrong with my particular situation. Right? Tell me basically what is wrong, how you are going to fix it, and how much it is going to cost. Don’t share with me black to black, and red to red, and copper to copper, I don’t want to know. It is actually beyond me.
So, when you have a particular project, do you think that donors want to know every little nitty gritty detail? I hardly doubt so. For the fact of the matter is, they should have a relationship with your organization before you even ask them to give and if they have a relationship with your organization, then they should TRUST you and TRUST that if they invest in you, you will know what to do with their investment. In fact, they believe that you are the expert in whatever part of the sector your serving. You can’t expect your donor to know all about the legalities surrounding domestic violence victims or child custody cases; they expect you to know and to do that.
So, when you are meeting with a donor and sharing a particular project or even your organization and what it does, spare them the details. Give them the picture of why you, why now, and for what? Otherwise, if you share too much, you will lose your donor in the process.
We get so carried away in our “internal” thinking that we fail to see a contributor as a donor as a person. We talk as if they are supposed to know what we are referring to; we use language and jargon to paint portraits of projects, and we go and on and on sharing minutia with them. It is time to stop and think about your experience with your mechanic, or your plumber, or your electrician, or any other expert that you have hired. What do you need to know, what do you want to know, and what is it going to cost you.
The adage “keep it simple,” reigns true here. Donors expect YOU to be the expert, not them. So, don’t shroud them in jargon and details and minutia. Just share with them what is wrong, how you are going to fix, and how much it is going to cost. Simple.
This past weekend, I embarked on an event that frightened me. Literally and figuratively.
You see, several months ago, I entered a lottery. And, the drawing was for a chance to run up Mt. Washington in the Mt. Washington Auto Road Race. I got in. At the time, it seemed fabulous. Then as reality dawned, I realized that I need to step up my training, if I were to tackle this 6,288-foot peak, and not hiking it, but running it.
So, many months ago, I set out and found a hill. I went up and down that hill over and over again. Then, searching online, I found mountain races. And, I entered them. And, I began running up to the summits of mountains. First smaller ones, and then larger ones. But, nothing greater than 3,000 or so feet.
When the week dawned, and I made my trek to New Hampshire, I began to have second thoughts about what I was doing. Most everyone in my life, asked me, “Do you know what you are getting yourself into?” Admittedly, I thought I did. But, when the mountain physically appeared on the horizon, I began to wonder, if this is something I should attempt.
Race morning dawned, and I was feeling more than butterflies in my stomach. This day was the moment given to me. I had trained for it, and now it had arrived. All my “new” mountain running friends told me that this was going to be the most difficult thing that I was going to do. But, they all told me I could do it. I wasn’t even sure of the weather conditions that I would encounter at the summit. I packed a hat and gloves just in case.
The race cannon fired, and off we all went. I had a strategy; I worked it. Slowly but surely, I chipped away at the mountain and tenths of miles passed. It got hard. No, it got downright painful. As the 5,000-foot mark appeared, my upper body felt like lead. Then 6,000 feet. And, I knew that if I kept going, I was going to do this. Slowly but surely,run-walking all the way to the top. When the summit appeared, one last obstacle presented itself. A 22% percent grade in the road and then the finish line. Nothing stopped me at that point.
What does all this have to do with fundraising? Well, a great deal. Courage. I honestly believe that the most significant characteristic of a fundraiser is courage. These exceptional individuals know that even in the most difficult times, perseverance is key, and that “this too shall pass.” Courage to get a lot of “no’s” and to be able to ask for a gift without hesitation. It is the ability to do this, with rumblings and butterflies floating around in your tummy.
I now know that I climb any mountain. There is no project, no tasks, that I cannot do. Courage is something that no everyone has, but surely, the best fundraisers do.
Someone remarked to me recently, “The thing I like about you is that you live life to the fullest. You don’t live on the edge looking in.” And, truly, that is what we should expect of all our fundraiser. They are making the mission possible. And, you can’t make an organization’s mission possible by looking in from the fringes. You need to be in the field, each and every day, living life to the fullest, in the thick of it all.
While I did know that Mt. Washington would change my life, I didn’t realize that it would give such professional perspective and insight. Courage. A life worth living for causes life-changing and life-saving. Isn’t that the characteristic you want for your organization?
Twenty-two years is an awfully long time. I can’t believe it has gone by that quickly. And, it all happened by pure chance or maybe little small choices all along the way. Now, I find myself a CFRE and have my Masters in Fund Development and Philanthropy.
Years, years ago, I got my start as a community organizer for a small, grassroots social justice organization. What they failed to tell me, was that I needed to raise money. Well, back in those days, many organizations had robust canvasses. So, I hopped in a car full of others and headed off to a neighborhood where the lead canvasser dropped us off with a clipboard full of information, and a stack of index cards.
You see, back then, we didn’t have donor records in the sky or even donor databases, we had index cards with handwritten amounts on them. We didn’t have fancy pitches or slick brochures; we had a clipboard with some mimeographed flyers. We rang the doorbell; we waited for someone to answer the door, and when they did, we had about five seconds flat to state the case of why we were standing on their stoop and what we needed. If they liked you, you may even be invited in off the stoop. If they didn’t, you probably got the door slammed in your face.
I call this fundraising by fire. Canvassing. What a way to start. But if I didn’t have that canvass experience each and every night, I think that I wouldn’t be as good a fundraiser as I am today. For you see, it took the whole giving cycle and condensed it down into one doorbell ring, and a few seconds to make a pitch. The rejection was nothing worse than having a door shut on you, leaving you standing there with your mouth agape. But, you realized soon enough that you needed to move to the next index card, the next house, the next pitch, and do it all over again for three or more hours each evening of the week.
We had lots of fun our canvass team. And, in the process, I learned everything I needed to know about fundraising – without sophisticated wealth screening tools, fancy case statements or scripted pitches and even without a computer. I was out from behind my desk, building relationships the old fashion way.
Twenty years – my so much has changed, particularly with fundraising. But, sometimes things were so much simpler, even with that. Perhaps we tend to complicate things too much, over think them, and stay behind our desks. Back then, you grabbed a stack of cards, you went off to some neighborhood, rang a doorbell, stated the case, and shook a few hands.
Twenty-two years is an awfully long time. So much learned and so many valuable lessons from a simpler, more laid back time.
Let’s cut to the chase. I know, and you know that one of the biggest things that stop us from being effective in our fundraising is fear. Good old, heart pumping, nail biting, fear.
Recently, I had a conversation with some folks, and I asked them the question, “what is your number one concern around fundraising?” And, time and time again, folks responded, “fear of being rejected.”
Let’s face it; we just don’t like being told no. And, while no may not be personal, it sure feels that way, right?
So, then I have had to ask, are we projecting onto our donors and making assumptions about how they will respond? Meaning, are we projecting our fear of rejection onto them. I am sure that we have all thought at some point, “Oh he won’t give anything to support us, so why even ask in the first place.” Are we projecting our thoughts, fears, and assumptions on a donor, so that we won’t have to attempt to ask or even just develop a relationship with him or her?
There once was a very insightful book I read. It was Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements. He spends a whole chapter on “Making Assumptions.” Here is a quote that I think will help you in your work with donors:
“The biggest assumption (in my opinion) is that we assume everyone sees the world and each circumstance the way WE do. We assume they think, feel, and even judge the way we do. This assumption sparks our internal fear of being ourselves around others we think they will judge, victimize or blame us; just as we do to ourselves. So before someone has the opportunity to accept or reject us, we have already rejected ourselves. The way to keep from making assumptions is to ask questions.”
I urge you to take a look at your fears before embarking on major gift work. Are you fearful of rejection personally? And, how is that fear allowing you to make assumptions for donors, just so that you won’t suffer the slings and arrows of rejection in the asking?
This question that I pose is a tough question to think about, but I am asking you to dig deep, not for me, for you, or even for your organization, but for all those in need that you can help by clearing away your fears and your assumptions.
“I never have enough money!” “Money goes out faster than it comes in!” “Money doesn’t grow on trees!”
How often have we heard these phrases growing up? Well, if you were like me, probably a lot. As a child, these were the messages that I subconsciously learned about money, and they helped to develop my now adult relationship with it.
Just this week, I led a workshop on asking for money. As part of the icebreaker exercise, I asked attendees to share with me some of their greatest fears about fundraising. And, fear after fear centered around scarcity. In fact, many participants commented that they grew up hearing the very same phrases above.
Stop and think about what you believe about money. Are your beliefs limiting you in your work? Do you have a scarcity mindset?
Have you ever found yourself saying these types of things?
“There are only so many donors to go around!” “Donors only have so much money to give!” “We already asked our donors once this year; we can’t ask again!”
Are we placing our beliefs on our donors? Are we making assumptions for our donors? Are we self-sabotaging our work? Are we limiting our role in the work that we do? Are we focusing our efforts and time on things such as events that will take us out of the context of asking?
To be truly effective fundraisers, we all need to dig deep and look at our views and those beliefs of scarcity that may be holding you back. Are they self-limiting and if so how can you work to create an abundance mindset? We don’t want scarcity from preventing our life-changing work from happening both for our donors and for our missions. So, it is critical that you identify your mindset and work to change it. Major gifts start with you. Get that part of the relationship right first.
Break the scarcity mindset before you ask for a major gift.
Research has shown that people like to talk about themselves. And, there is a reason why. It stimulates areas of the brain. It makes them physically feel good to talk about themselves – stimulating the same areas in the brain that sex, cocaine, and good food does. And, we all know what good food does for us!
What scientists found is that “Activation of this part of the brain when discussing the self-suggests that self-disclosure, like other more traditionally recognized stimuli, may be inherently pleasurable—and that people may be motivated to talk about themselves more than other topics (no matter how interesting or important these non-self topics may be).”
Talking about oneself makes you likeable, builds trust and social bonds, and creates overall happiness. Talking about oneself also leads to the feeling of teamwork. So when we get folks talking about themselves, areas of their brains start to fire and create a pleasurable experience.
This fact all indicates to the types of conversations that we should be having with our donors. Discussions not about our organizations or what we are doing or are interested in, they should be aimed at getting the donor to talk about themselves. It makes them feel good, and it starts that cycle of self-sharing where they feel as if they want to share more.
While we all have been told to find out more about what makes our donors tick, in this case, I urge you to do that and more. Find out what makes them “tick” and help them feel good about meeting with you, the relationship that is developing, and ultimately your organization! People like to talk about themselves because it feels good. So, get people feeling good and happy, and you will build trust and likeability. Go ahead, do it.
So, how can we engage donors in self-talk? Start by asking them what their interests are:
What personally excites them?
What legacy are they hoping to leave in the world?
Why does this cause matter to them?
What do they enjoying doing in their free time?
What enrages them most about what is happening in the world today?
What is one thing on their bucket list?
What keeps them up at night?
How would they like to make a difference?
What has been their greatest life achievement?
What book have they read that has been most thought provoking?
Etc., etc., etc.
Ask them to share about their:
Etc., etc., etc.
Use these conversation starters to get your donor to begin talking about themselves and sharing more about what interests them. It is your job to listen. So rather than think about what you’re going to say before going into a donor meeting. Think about what questions you can ask that will stimulate this self-sharing and ultimately lead the donor to share more while feeling good. And, we all know what happens when you make a donor feel good!
Recently, I had some conversations with a former co-worker. Her outlook and atmosphere had changed so dramatically that I had pause and ask, what is different. Well, she set me on the course of all of her “research” on the importance of human body language. And, I realized that there was profound applicability for me personally, but also for me professionally as a fund development professional, particularly as it applied to major gifts work.
So, I set out to view some of these suggested videos on research from my friend. And, I wanted to put some ideas in practice.
The first important concept I learned about is “setting your intention.” When I Googled setting an intention, I came up with many entries. The practice of doing so has deep historical and religious roots. However, it is about stating what you want the outcome to be for a given encounter. The second concepts that I am learning about are the importance of non-verbal body language and how to “command”
your territory. Use facial gestures that indicate happiness, open up your chest area, use hands to illustrate your words, etc.
With an upcoming major gift visit, I decided to put some of these concepts into practice.
For this particular major gift solicitation, I knew that there was an ideal gift in mind. So, before I arrived at the meeting, I had decided that I was going to set the intention. The intention of this particular meeting was to obtain a gift of a pre-determined amount. I also made a conscious effort to use some of these body language techniques. Sitting with shoulders back, feet planted, a smile on my face, conversations “easers,” and the most important topic, using hand gestures.
What was the result? Well, evidently I felt more confident and at ease. I held the attention of those I were meeting. They and I were both at ease with each other. And, most important when negotiation started regarding the gift amount, that intention was there, and it propelled me forward. So when an objection popped up, I found myself more purposeful regarding setting the donor’s heights higher than what they were even thinking.
The question remains will the gift come in at that amount? Truly, it is up to the donor to decide, and they are going to take that time to do so. However, what was most important is that these “new” techniques gave me greater confidence to be able to ask for my intention with much greater ease. Subconsciously set, the intention moved me forward in a way that I had not been before.
So, I see where my former co-worker is getting her energy. There is something to this science of body language. Others have spent work studying the importance of what we say and the emotions in which we say it in fund development, but I have seen little on the non-verbal study of people and their behaviors and how we interact. I suppose if we are involved in major or individual gift work that it would behoove us to learn more about these techniques for ourselves and to study what they mean in others.
Off I go to watch more TED Talks. And, you need to keep track of this gent…Mark Bowden, the leading expert on body language!
Let’s get rid of our printed newsletter and just send an e-newsletter.
Our donors don’t like personal solicitations.
We are only going to send out one appeal a year because we don’t want to send too much mail to our donors.
I hear statements like this all the time. And, I wonder if we are making decisions for our donors. I know that this goes for some groups.
When I surmise this is the case, I often ask, “Have you asked your donors?” And, the response is “No, how do you ask them?”
Well, quite simply you meet with them, or you call them on the telephone, and you ask them questions. Questions like, “how much mail would you like from us?” or ” how do you prefer to be called upon to make a gift to us?” or even, “how do you prefer to get information from us?”
There are other ways to ask donors what they prefer.
Try a donor survey. You may design a questionnaire that asks things such as:
Why does he/she support the organization?”
Which programs, projects, or issues you address are the most important to him/her?
Is your organization one of his/her top philanthropic priorities?
Do he/she actively use email and do does he/she prefer to get emails from you?
Is he/she planning to remember your organization in his/her estate plans?
How old is he/she (hint ask for a birthday or date range)?
Etc., etc., etc.
Before mailing to your donors, be sure to test the survey and solicit feedback from other folks like your colleagues, friends, or family members, and include an envelope, a personalized letter, a brochure, and a self-addressed reply envelope as part of a survey package.
Then send this package out and be sure to analyze and document these returns. Don’t just let them pile up.
Then and only then will you be able to understand truly who your donors are, what motivates them to give to you, and what decisions you should make regarding your strategy, approach, and appropriate communications.
For instance, after you analyze and track the returned information, you can then segment your donors and mail materials that interest them.
But, the adage of “you don’t know until you ask” is such a critical element of driving all that you do in fund development.
We surely cannot begin to make assumptions for our donors based on our thoughts, interests, and profiling.
Are you looking at your donor retention rate? It seems like this is old hat in the field, but yet, it is such an important metric to be measuring in your development office. The question is, are you?
It is more expensive and difficult to obtain a new donor than it is to keep a loyal donor. Do you know that it costs an average of twenty cents per dollar raised to renew donors via direct mail? It costs about $1 to $1.25 to acquire a donor using that same method. That is five times more. And, on the converse, these new donors tend to give substantially less. It is much easier to upgrade an existing loyal donor to a higher level of giving.
Are you running regular donor retention reports to determine what your rate is? How does your donor retention rate compare to industry standards? How does your donor retention rate compare to organizations in your area? Is your rate going up, or is it going down? If it is going down, what steps are you taking?
Here are a few ideas to boost your retention rate:
Consider decreasing the time required to send out an acknowledgment letter. Best practice is 24-48 hours.
Call higher level donors and thank them for their gift or why not try calling everyone new.
Send out a welcome package to new donors making them feel a part of the organization
Send out regular updates either via email or printed news or both several times per year that are no solicitations.
Report back to the donor what their gift was able to make possible.
Develop a formal stewardship plan with donors of different giving levels getting different touches.
If you are not looking at donor retention, start. While donor acquisition is still important, you can’t overlook the importance of keeping your donors interested in your work and supporting your mission.
What ways are you keeping your donors happy, satisfied, and giving?
I enjoy asking for gifts. I like to connect a donor with a mission and see magic happen. Indeed, when you ask one for a gift, the giver gives.
When I have broached this topic as of late, I see faces cringe and heads nod, “no.” The body language says it all. But, what is the aversion? It has to do with how we value money and the beliefs and, ultimately, the power that money has over us. Some feel awkward. Some even feel a little embarrassed about it. Some ask “who will give us money?” and others ask “how will we ask them?”
We need to look carefully at ourselves. What is our relationship to money? We will never be able to move forward to ask for money if we do not know how we relate to it ourselves.
How important is money in our lives? What is your past around money? How do we spend the money we have? Where are we giving our money? How does having money affect our self-esteem and self-worth?
Money is about security and that is surely about a very vulnerable place in our lives.
Until you examine your beliefs and thoughts are around money, you will be adverse to ask others.
We must realize, that we are helping others by our asking. We are enabling them to do great work for our clients, our community, and our world.
But, this must begin with you. Take time to reflect on truly what money means to you. And, that will prepare you to embrace asking others, and allowing for changed and transformed lives.
The fundraising audit is a major step in fundraising planning. When you think about planning, you think about where are we, where do we want to be, and how are we going to get there?
The fundraising audit helps you to determine, where are you. And, it is probably the most important step of the entire planning process. If you don’t know where you are today, how can you even plan for tomorrow? And, it is important to not only look at internal things that will impact your fundraising success i.e. Board of Directors, etc., but it is also critical to examine external factors as well. Some external things that may affect the success of fundraising include political factors (i.e. election time), economic (a down economy), sociocultural (changing demographics), and technology (changes in the web, social media, etc.). Development audits also tend to examine others in the industry including nonprofits serving the same type of causes, similar sizes, potential collaborators, and other market factors).
Also, one can examine the feasibility of conducting a future large-scale campaign. Currently, I am conducting a development audit for a nonprofit organization, and as part of that review, I am asking initial capital campaign feasibility questions to determine if a proposed future capital campaign would be a success.
An audit is just that, a systematic attempt to gather tons of data, and then analyzing and synthesizing this data against professional best practices. While it is best that an objective third party person conducts this process, it can also be accomplished by a new in-house development staff member who still has an objective “eye.” It is also helpful to have someone who has their finger on the pulse regarding what is shifting and changing in the philanthropic landscape.
A development audit is also a great way to engage key stakeholders i.e. Board members, donors, etc. who may need more cultivation. It is just as much about the product as it is about the process.
How are you looking at your fundraising rate of return?
It is critical that you develop a variety of ways to measure your performance and report these results to the board.
In doing so, you are ensuring appropriate stewardship of your resources through demonstrating that your fundraising is efficient and effective. While it does cost money to raise funds, as professionals, we need to be assured that we aren’t spending excessive amounts to do so. While our board should be looking at these types of benchmarks, we can be sure that our donors and public is. Take a look at the recent issue surrounding the Wounded Warriors national charity.
It is important that we do invest in fundraising and administrative costs in these functions appropriately, even though there is much criticism for doing so.
What constitutes a reasonable amount?
James Greenfield wrote several important books several years ago, and I regularly still find myself turning to his outline on how to best measure the costs of fundraising. One book, in particular, has been especially valuable. It is titled, Fundraising Cost Effectiveness: A Self-Assessment Workbook and was written in 1996. He highly recommends the importance of benchmarking to other similar organizations in the sector both aggregate and on an individual fundraising level. What are best practice and industry standards and how does your organization compare?
It is only through this analysis that we can say that our fundraising is within acceptable boundaries of efficiency.
As a fundraising consultant, I spend lots of time auditing organization’s fundraising effectiveness through auditing their development function comparing it to industry standards.