Withisms from Lori

Boldness, clarity and wisdom for fundraising professionals making a difference.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Calling All Scatterbrains! Do You Ever Feel Like You Have Too Much to Do?

Guest Post by Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising

This week I’m pleased to present a terrific guest post by Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising.

Are you wondering why you’ve felt so scattered lately?

Image: Mazarine Treyz

Why you can’t get the grants done, the events done, the appeals done, and go home at a reasonable time?

Why you always feel like you’re running behind?

Are you almost fed up and burnt out?

There is an answer.

It’s not that you just need more hours in the day, or more days in the week.

It’s not that you just need two more arms or an extra brain.

What is the answer?

Nonprofit fundraising staff are set up. Often, the job you are tasked with doing is burdened by things other than too many duties. You may also be facing:

  • Massive fundraising staff turnover in the last 5 years, PLUS
  • A long lag time between fundraising staff, resulting in disgruntled, ignored donors
  • No record of what’s been done, caused by lack of systems
  • No culture of philanthropy, which leads to unrealistic fundraising expectations by senior leadership, and more

Soon enough, all of these factors make YOU feel like leaving too. And the cycle begins again.

The average tenure of a fundraising staff person is 12-18 months. Constant fundraising turnover is not just appallingly wasteful from an HR perspective, it’s appalling from a human perspective. It’s a waste of creativity, relationships, and effort. And this can mean your organization never really raises the money it needs to raise. Let me explain.

If your fundraising staff stays, on average, 12-18 months, why would they want to cultivate long-term donor relationships for your nonprofit?

The effect of fundraiser turnover starts to snowball.

  1. Because there are months or years when no one is stewarding donors or sending out appeals or grants, you will have fewer donors.
  2. When you have fewer donors, there’s less money for your programs and salaries.
  3. Now you can’t afford to hire a fundraiser with experience. And the inexperienced person you hire has to struggle even harder to make headway in a shop where there’s no money to train them, no one to mentor them, no documentation of what has been done, and the donors are drifting away.
  4. After the inexperienced person tries and fails to raise enough money for your nonprofit, then program staff jobs will be cut.
  5. Finally programs will be cut. Even if your nonprofit doesn’t close, those you serve will be the ones who suffer.

Fundraising turnover is like killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

If you are a nonprofit leader and you care about your mission, your own job, and the financial health of your nonprofit, you need to pay attention to fundraiser turnover. As the AFP Oregon 2013 survey says:
“Fundraising turnover may be like the canary in the coalmine. What else is off track?”

Often, I get emails from fundraising professionals that go like this:
“I'm the only development staff person. No support staff, difficult to find volunteers, and when I do they don't stay around.

The board REFUSES to get any training in fundraising!

I have no strategic plan to tie fundraising to.”

Does this sound like someone you know?

After the Underdeveloped Report by Compasspoint and The Haas Jr Fund came out in January 2013, I felt we needed to look more deeply at the problems and solutions for fundraising professionals and nonprofits. I created a research report called Shafted, Why Nonprofit Fundraising Staff are Shafted, and what we can do about it.

You can download Part 1 of the research report here.

Please use the contact form on the download page to send me your comments. Can’t wait to hear what you think!

About Mazarine Treyz: She is the author of three books, the most recent, out in April 2013, is “Get the Job! Your Fundraising Career Empowerment Guide." Mazarine has taught thousands of people how to fundraise through workshops, webinars, and e-courses since 2010. Her blog has 30,000 monthly readers. Get her free newsletter on fundraising here.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Six Tips to Help Increase Your Nonprofit's Direct Mail Response Rate

Guest post by Phil Kotula of The MPX Group

This week I’m pleased to present a terrific guest post by Phil Kotula of The MPX Group. On July 25, I’ll be presenting “How to Make Your Donors Feel Like Superheroes” as part of The MPX Group’s Demystifying the Myths of Successful Marketing for Non-profits. You can get more information here.

Direct mail is one of the most cost effective ways to market your organization. It allows you to target your desired demographics easier than other marketing channels. While it should not be your only vehicle in delivering your message, when done correctly direct mail can give you a solid return on your investment. Here is what is needed for you to increase your response rates and ROI.

Database is King (or Queen)
65% of your direct mail piece’s success is related to your list. Not only from a demographic standpoint, which is the targeted method versus the shotgun approach, but also from updating the list.

Twenty to 25% of your list will go “bad” in a year’s time. Most people spend an incredible amount of time on the design of their direct mail piece, and often the list is a last-second deal.

A clear call to action
It’s unbelievable how many pieces I see where I’m not sure what the sender is asking me to do. If you don’t tell those who receive your direct mail piece what you want them to do, they will most likely do nothing. Your call to action needs to stand out.

Response options
Make it easy for people to respond in their preferred way – website, email, phone, fax, or even the mail. Allowing people to respond how they want and when they want, will increase the likelihood that they will.

Never stop testing
For a local restaurant, we sent out four different offers to four different groups of 500. We took the one that generated the most responses and sent it to the other 1500. Now, the offer changes monthly. Why do we see things phrased differently that basically say the same thing? – “buy one, get one free” or “buy one, get your next one for a penny” – through testing you’ll find out there can be a big difference in response. Small tweaks can increase results – from the writing, color, photos, fonts, and size – the only thing that should not change is testing.

There are really no tricks or gimmicks that work for very long. A few things you might try that have proven to increase response rates are hand addressing your direct mail envelope and lumpy mail. Combine the two on smaller mailings – pens or a small pad of “post it notes” in a hand addressed envelope insure that most people will rip it open and at least keep the item.

Always send to a name, never recipient or current resident. The more information in a letter or postcard that directly pertains to the prospect, the higher the response rate.

A client of ours told me they only had 75 people on a 10,000 piece mailing go to the landing page and fill out the page and answer their questions. Not only is it easier to go after 75 people that have shown an interest versus mailing to another 10,000, but if you ask the right questions, you may find out the 75 responders have similar demographics, and you can shape your future list with that information.

About Phil Kotula: Phil is the owner of The MPX Group in Golden Valley, Minnesota. He has more than 25 years of experience in helping clients grow their business by improving how they use print and direct mail as a vehicle to get results.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Shy and Introverted: You Can Be a Great Fundraiser

Guest Post by Brian Saber

I’m delighted to share this week’s guest post by Brian Saber, President of Asking Matters, who specializes in helping fundraisers find the Asking Style that works best for their personality.

Big Admission: I’ve been a frontline fundraiser for nearly 30 years, but it wasn’t until four years when I had an “aha moment” that I finally felt good about my career.

I know I had been “successful” at all my fundraising positions. Every organization was thrilled with my results and I could see how I moved the bar. But it always bothered me how I was so uncomfortable at the cultivation and fundraising events, so critical to most organizations’ fundraising. And the individual cultivation and solicitation meetings, of which I had thousands, were tough as well.

I’m an introvert and, on top of that, I’m shy. Most people don’t believe it because of how I act, but it takes tremendous effort on my part to be that interactive and seemingly outgoing. The introvert in me gets drained from all the interaction with people and I need to refuel my tanks after a meeting or event. The shy person in me can’t even walk up to someone at my own event to introduce myself!

The “aha moment” came when my Asking Matters cofounder and I created the company based on Asking Styles – the concept that everyone has their own style and if we fundraise in our own style we’ll be more comfortable and more confident. . . and better fundraisers. We realized everyone was being told there was one way to fundraise, but we didn’t believe that. There are many ways.

There are four Asking Styles, based on how people interact and how they think. That means two of the Styles are introvert-based – Mission Controller and my style, Kindred Spirit. The Mission Controllers are analytic, which helps them be more objective about the asking process. The Kindred Spirits are intuitive introverts, and tend to be sensitive and conflict-adverse. That makes many of us shy.

So, now that I know I’m a Kindred Spirit, there are lots of things I can do to feel more comfortable. The first is to realize I will never be the party person and this is fine. Not everyone can play that role. As long as there are other staff and volunteers who shine in that environment it’s okay for me to stand by the wall (or, even better, out in the hall – that’s my favorite spot!).

I also know soliciting family and friends – whether as a staff member or as a volunteer – is a bad idea. It’s just too intimate and I take it way too personally when people say no. In fact, I broke my own rule this week while raising money for a political campaign - and my request for a modest sum from dear friends was rejected. Ouch – that hurt! It’s much easier for me to ask people I don’t have a close relationship with, as the rejection is not nearly as personal. Even if I’m friendly with donors, it’s different and I can keep that experience more objective.

Knowing I’m a Kindred Spirit has made a world of difference in my work as a both a fundraiser and a consultant. Plus, it’s given me a particular affinity to my fellow introverts – Mission Controllers and Kindred Spirits alike.

On June 20th I’m delivering a webinar to Lori's Ignited Online Fundraising Community and I hope my fellow introverts – as well as those of you who work with us – will join me to learn what I’ve discovered over the last few years. Once you learn how to fundraise in your own style, you’ll be more comfortable, find the experience less fraught, and be more successful.

Even if you can’t join us, take the Asking Style Assessment and find out your personal Asking Style. It’ll help you see yourself in a whole new light!

Here’s to your fundraising success!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Three simple steps to tap into the power of your voice

Guest post by Barbara McAfee

This week I'm pleased to present a post by Barbara McAfee. She's wonderfully gifted and caring, and I'm honored to have her on my blog this week. Barbara's first book Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence will be released on next week. You can support Barbara and purchase her book the day it's released, October 4, at your favorite bookstore or on Amazon.

I'm Barbara McAfee and I’m a midwife for voices. Lori invited me as a guest blogger here because she sees how crucial the voice is in fundraising, nonprofit management, and leadership.

My work as a voice coach over the past twenty years has convinced me that our voices are rich with untapped potential. For as essential as voices are in our day-to-day life, we spend very little time or attention on how to use them well.

Your voice is the vehicle for creating any idea, campaign, or relationship in your life. Think about it. How else do you get an idea from inside your head out into the world unless you speak or write about it? It can only grow, develop, and come to fruition through ongoing conversations with others.

Your voice is also a critical component in virtually all of your relationships – at work, at home, and in your community. You convey a world of information to the people around you just by the way you sound. Long before your listener decodes the words you are speaking, they have decided whether or not to trust you based on your voice and body language. And if your tone of voice is inconsistent with the words you are speaking, your listeners will get confused and may tune out altogether.

So how can we tap the power, wisdom, and intelligence that reside in our voices? Here are three simple and surprising steps to getting started:

  1. Play with your voice. Pretending to be someone else – Darth Vader, Luciano Pavarotti, Julia Child, the Wicked Witch of the West, or a cooing baby – will help you break out of your unconscious vocal habits. Once your voice gets a chance to stretch out in this exaggerated way, it will be easier to expand the range and expression of your everyday voice.
  2. Sing. Singing uses more physical energy, breath, and facial expression than regular speech. Make a play list of songs you can’t resist singing. Use your commute or your workout to sing yourself alive.
  3. Pay close attention to how other people’s voices sound. If you took away their words, what would the sound of their voices alone convey? How would you describe the quality of their voices: loud, soft, husky, breathy, soothing, harsh, rushed, grounded? What is your instinctual response to their voices? What are they saying underneath their words? Cultivating this awareness of other people’s voices will make you a more accurate listener and a more eloquent speaker as well.

Here’s the best news: expanding the range, color, and expression of your voice helps you access other gifts in your life. Using your full voice makes you feel more alive, embodied, resilient, and energized.

Barbara McAfee is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and the author of Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) which will be released next week on October 4. She lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

X and Y: Beyond the Gift

Guest post by Melissa S. Brown 

Next week I’m honored that my monthly webinar will be a conversation with Melissa S. Brown, former editor of Giving USA and well known national speaker. Today’s post is some of Melissa’s point of view on generational giving. To join us for the webinar simply become a member of my online fundraising community.

In 20 years, today’s top donors – the Baby Boomers – will be outnumbered by Generation X (1964-1981). The so-called “slacker” generation has too often been wrongly accused of a lackadaisical attitude toward social norms. In fact, Gen X is full of entrepreneurs who often care passionately about investing in the future of their communities. Following Gen X is Gen Y (also called Gen Next or the Millennial generation), which is gaining attention as a cohort particularly motivated by a sense of mission and purpose.

What does this mean for your nonprofit? How can you reach these two very different cohorts, one motivated by individualism and a pragmatic desire for impact and the other motivated by teamwork and a willingness to go to extreme lengths to achieve a goal?

To answer these and other questions, researchers have examined how generation and age effect giving. These two separate effects occur at the same time. People of all generations give more as they make more friends and hear more stories about needs and opportunities around them. People also give more as they earn more, so that those in their peak earning years (roughly age 45 to 65) give the most.

Yet there is also a purely generational effect, separate from age. People of different generations give to charity differently. For example, scholars Mark Wilhelm, Patrick Rooney, and Gene Tempel found in a 1973 study that today’s Boomers give less to religion than the two preceding generations.

Because religious giving is associated with giving to secular causes, lower Boomer religious giving suggests lower secular giving. However, researchers Jim Ferris and Eleanor Brown found that belonging to social groups ‘counteracts’ lower religious participation and seems to help people form connections in ways that that inspire charitable giving.

So what is happening with Gen X and the Millennials?

People in these generations do give and volunteer. However, unlike measures of “donor loyalty” that track giving to a specific organization, for many people in these generations, loyalty is to a project’s impact on people’s lives. They will shift their allegiance based on whether or not the desired change occurs. This focus on results instead of on organizational structure means that Gen X and Gen Y prioritize activities by businesses or even governmental units, rather than looking only to charities.

Before giving or volunteering, a member of Gen X particularly, but also Gen Y, is going to research (usually online and through peer networks) to find groups that will help bring about a specific result. People in these generations typically want to support entities that cut the red tape, work with other groups that can help solve a problem, and disclose clearly how resources are used.

In their insistence on results, Gen X and Gen Y are demanding that organizations remake themselves to incorporate new leadership, model best practices, and demonstrate achievements. For nonprofits, building a stronger future with people in these generations means more than using technology to fundraise; it means adopting a systemic view of how people’s lives can be improved and changed through the good work of nonprofits, companies, and governments. And of how individuals can partner to be part of that change.

About Melissa S. Brown: Melissa began working in the nonprofit sector in 1989 at the Folger Shakespeare Library. She has worked for the Homeless Initiative Program, Indiana University, and the national office of the Arthritis Foundation. She teaches successful proposal writing for The Fund Raising School. Her volunteer roles have included Big Sisters of Central Indiana and the International School of Indiana. She holds a B.A. in political science from Reed College and a Master's degree in governmental administration from the University of Pennsylvania. You can learn more about Melissa and her work on her website and follow her on Twitter @NPOWriter

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

3 Critical Mistakes Made by Nonprofit Executive Directors

Guest Post by Sandy Rees 

Having a strong leader at the helm of a nonprofit organization is critical for its long-term success. Every Executive Director juggles many things including staff, Board, fundraising, and program oversight. He or she must be focused and totally committed to the organization to successfully manage these multiple priorities.

Here are three critical mistakes that are often made by nonprofit Executive Directors that can totally derail their success as a leader.

  1. Lone Ranger Syndrome. When an Executive Director has the need to control everything, they can quickly find themselves alone. Often, their thinking is “I can do this faster (or better) myself” and so they attempt to accomplish everything without help. 
    Better idea: A good leader needs to engage others in the work of the organization. A huge piece of this is to trust others will get the job done, realizing that it may not be done they way he or she would do it. Sometimes an Executive Director must give up control in order to get much-needed help. It’s usually better to get things done and done good enough, rather than done and done perfectly.
  2. Poor Expectations. This mistake can cripple a relationship with a Board member, staff person, or volunteer. In small organizations it’s common for the Executive Director to expect that Board members will jump in to help with fundraising or will know what their responsibilities are. The truth is that many well-meaning Board members don’t have a clue what they can do to help or what their responsibilities are.
    Better idea
    : A good leader is clear with others about what their job is and comes to agreement with others about desired outcomes. Written job descriptions can be key here! When everyone is clear about what they are supposed to do there will be much less frustration and more positive outcomes.
  3. Majoring in the Minors. Too often, leaders focus on things that are unimportant in the grand scheme of things. With time being an Executive Director’s most precious resource, they cannot afford to spend it on things that don’t move the organization forward.
    Better idea
    : A good leader focuses on the things only he or she can do and delegates the rest. Executive Directors need to be thinking about the future, watching the bottom line, and making sure all operational activities fulfill the mission, not picking out office supplies or choosing napkin colors.

By recognizing these three dangerous mistakes and working to avoid them, an Executive Director will be on their way to job satisfaction and organizational success.

About Sandy Rees: Sandy is a fundraising coach and consultant, whose passion is showing small nonprofit organizations how to raise more money, strengthen their Boards, and build relationships with donors. You can learn more about her on her website, Get Fully Funded or by following her on Twitter: @SandyRees

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

5 Simple Ways to Thank Donors and Raise More Money

Guest post by Amy Eisenstein

I’m delighted to share this week’s guest post by Amy Eisenstein, MPA, CFRE who specializes in fundraising consulting for local and national nonprofits. Her "no-nonsense" approach to fundraising yields big results for her clients and readers.

Did you know donors are significantly more likely to make another gift to an organization when they are thanked properly?

Did you know it costs significantly more money to acquire new donors than to keep your old ones? In addition, the people who have been donating longer are more likely give bigger amounts. For both reasons, it is critical to keep the donors you have in order to raise more money.

The best way to keep your donors donating year after year is to thank them and let them know how their money is being used.

Do you thank your donors properly?

  1. Have a plan for thanking different donors
    While every organization acknowledges donors slightly differently, you should have a plan for how you will thank each donor. Does a $10 donor get treated the same as a $10,000 donor? I hope (and assume) the answer is “no.” How is each one acknowledged? Do they get a phone call, an email, a letter, an acknowledgment in your newsletter, all of the above?
  2. Thank your donors in a timely fashion
    How long does it take you to get your thank you letters out after receiving a gift? One week, two, more? Your goal should be within a week (direct mail studies say within 48 hours, but I think that is unrealistic for most offices). Do your higher level donor letters take longer to get mailed because they sit on the director’s desk for a week waiting for a personal note?

    Does a board or staff member call to thank the donor after receiving a gift? Studies show that a thank you call from a board member within a week of receiving a gift has a significant impact on increased levels of giving for future gifts. Making thank you calls is a great way to get board members involved in the fundraising process.
  3. Personalize and customize letters
    Are your thank you letters generic form letters or do you acknowledge different donors in different ways? The more personalized the better your future fundraising results will be. Do you have a specific letter for first time donors and another one for repeat donors? Do you acknowledge a $25 gift differently than a $5,000 gift?
  4. Inform donors how their money was used
    Keeping a donor informed about how their money was used is one of the most important ways to ensure future gifts, and yet so many nonprofits neglect this important step. How do you communicate to your donors that their investment in your organization was put to good use?

    Show them with individual client success stories. Tell them how many clients you served and what the impact was. Share with them the difference your work made in the community. Make sure to let them know that it would not have happened without their gift, no matter how small. To your donors who designate their donations, be sure you are telling them about that specific component of your organization or program.
  5. Invite donors to get involved in a specific way
    In your letter, on the phone, or in person, be sure to thank your donors, but to also invite them to take action and become more involved. Can they volunteer in a direct service capacity, on a committee, or doing office work? Can they participate in a letter writing campaign?
Check out this “Thank You Letter Checklist” by Joanne Fritz for more good ideas.

© Amy Eisenstein 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Do it yourself fundraising: Get R.E.A.L.

Guest post by Marc A. Pitman

Start-up nonprofits often ask me how to raise money. The panic of making budget seems to make raising money impossible without knowing someone rich and famous like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet.

But fundraising isn’t impossible. It can be an incredibly exciting adventure. Here is a simple plan I recommend to my clients. It can get you off to a good start and keep being used for years to come. To keep it easy, I implore them to “Get R.E.A.L.”

The basic model I use for asking is the acronym R.E.A.L.: Research, Engage, Ask, and Love.

RESEARCH: The first step of research is to find out how much money you need to raise. This may seem obvious but my experience shows that most groups never put a specific dollar amount on their need.

Once the need is determined, it’s important to research how many gifts you’ll need. If you’re attempting to raise $100,000, the knee-jerk reaction is often “We just need to find 100 people who will give us $1,000.” As nice as that seems, decades of fundraising experience show that simply isn’t how it works.

One of the most helpful tools is a gift grid. A free online version can be found at GiftRangeCalculator.com. Long-standing common wisdom shows you’ll need at least one gift equaling 10% of the total. The next two should equal 5% of the total, etc.

To reach your goal of $100,000, you’ll need at least one donor to give a minimum of $10,000. Experience shows you’ll need to have four or five prospects to achieve that gift. Work through the grid until you have names of prospects for each level.

As you’re building your prospect list, you’ll want to continue your research. Google can be an incredibly helpful tool, so can your board members and a development committee in the form of a peer review committee. You could invite these people, remind them of your cause and fundraising goals, and ask them to go over the names of prospects.

One simple method of doing this is conducting a CPI screening: rating each prospect on capacity, philanthropy, and interest.

  • Does the prospect have CAPACITY-- are they financially able to make a gift?
  • Are they PHILANTHROPIC -- are they generous with their money? You need to be a good steward of your resources, if the prospect can’t make a worthwhile gift or doesn’t have a track record of giving you would be better served seeking donations elsewhere.
  • Are they INTERESTED in your cause? You can find this out by looking at other causes they’ve supported and by asking people close to your organization.
Have the people on the committee assign a score of 1-5 for each category with one being lowest and five being highest. This tool is useful because it removes individual personalities from the prospect rating process and makes it objective.

You should promptly visit anyone scoring 12 or more. But watch for those with high scores in the first two categories and some inclination to your cause. While you can’t make someone more wealthy or generous, you can have a chance at making someone more interested in your organization.

ENGAGE: I like to think of this as the dating part of the relationship. It’s important to get to know your prospects before you “pop the question.” While you’ll certainly want to share the story of your cause, take time to get to know them, listen to their story, discover their interests, hear their goals. If the prospect has C and P here’s where you work on I.

ASK: The number one reason people don’t give money to your cause is that they are not asked. Even if you skip the prior two steps, you’ll still reach some level of success by consistently executing this one.

If you’ve done the first two steps, this step will be quite fun. You’ll already have the odds in your favor. You know they are predisposed to saying yes and you’ve had time to shape the ask around their passions.

I recommend asking people for gifts spread out over a period of time: e.g. “$1000 a year for three years.” This shows you consider your cause important enough for a substantial investment and it saves you from having to ask again and again.

LOVE: I originally called this step Live/Like/Love. This is easy if the prospect says “yes” when you’ve asked. You simply need to be sure to thank them about seven times before you ask them again.

But fundraising is all about relationships. The work really starts if they’ve said “no.” The big thing is to not burn any bridges. If you made it all the way to the ask, you had good reason to believe they’d say yes. The timing simply might not have been right. If you keep in touch with them, they just may give in the future. People will remember you if you’re exceptional at handling a “no.” And refusing a

This may sound simple, and it should. But it takes a lot of work to get it done. I hope you see how this simple process can be morphed to fit approaching individuals and foundations. If you’re asking foundations, be sure to follow their specific format for asking. Those guidelines are usually available on their websites.

Remember, every year more than $200 billion is given to nonprofits in the USA alone. Your nonprofit could definitely get a piece of those philanthropic dollars. But you need a realistic goal, a compelling story, and a disciplined approach to fundraising.

Congratulations you’re embarking on a wonderful adventure! I’m convinced asking people for money is one of the best vocations in the world!

About Marc A. Pitman Marc is a the founder of FundraisingCoach.com and the best-selling author of Ask Without Fear! An energetic presenter and trainer, Marc's commitment to providing down-to-earth information for nonprofits has attracted the attention of CBS, Fox News, and the Associated Press. He's also a regular commentator at 501 Mission Place. If you pass him while he's driving, he'll probably be singing 80s tunes loud enough to embarrass his family.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Asking for Gifts: Walls of Words or Collaborative Conversations?

Guest Post by Andrea Kihlstedt and Brian Saber

 This week I’m featuring a post by guest bloggers Andrea Kihlstedt and Brian Saber from Asking Matters where it’s major gifts month and where I’ll be a guest speaker for their membership community.

Oftentimes when people visit donors to ask for major gifts they make the mistake of talking too much. They unintentionally build a wall between themselves and their prospective donor, a wall of words.

When a team of two or three people solicit a gift together, the tendency to talk too much can be even worse. Usually each person is assigned a specific role in the ask and when one person stops talking, the next begins. After listening to three speeches, without a break, even the most willing and interested donor’s eyes can glaze over.

This approach to asking for gifts is common--even the norm--for most askers. Recently one of our philanthropist friends, Carol, told us what happened when a team of three big guns from the local university asked her for a large gift.

One after the other they made the case for their institution. During the presentations Carol found herself glancing at her watch. When they finally stopped talking, having asked for a large gift, she said she felt like a deer in the headlights. The deafening silence was unpleasant. She felt pressured and unheard; not a frame of mind that increased her desire to be generous.

Not once during the thirty-minute solicitation did anyone ask her what she thought of the university or about her current interests or giving priorities. None of the big guns took the time to find out what might have changed for her in the year since they last met. The meeting was solely about the university’s needs and opportunities. Carol felt they were only interested in talking with her because of her money. Not such a great feeling.

To be more successful, make sure you give equal footing to both the donor and the institution. Use your solicitations to create collaborative discussions rather than building walls of words.

As solicitor you are not the pitch-person for your organization. Rather, think of yourself as a facilitator working to find the points of shared interest between prospective donors and your organization. The difference in approach is profound.

Your task is to manage a respectful conversation with the donor that provides ample opportunity to find the places where a donor’s interests and means might (or might not) align with your organization’s plans and needs.

To be sure your solicitations are collaborative conversations and not walls of words, keep these five points in mind the next time you prepare to solicit a gift.

  1. Get curious about the donor.
  2. Prepare questions rather than answers.
  3. Use a stopwatch to practice a “pitch” that’s less than two minutes long.
  4. Follow the standard flow of an adult conversation: greeting, discussion, request, response, and follow up.
  5. Be sure to remember that giving and not giving are both prerogatives of the donor.

You’ll find that respectful conversations where you have a healthy dose of curiosity about the donor’s interests are not only more successful in the short run, but lead to the kind of mutual understanding and respect essential for building satisfying long-term relationships.

About Brian Saber and Andrea Kihlstedt Brian Saber and Andrea Kihlstedt are cofounders of Asking Matters, providing a variety of on-line tools to help people become more comfortable asking for gifts. To learn more about Asking Matters, go to www.askingmatters.com. You can also follow Asking Matters on Twitter @askingmatters.

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