Category Archives: major gifts

Fear and Loathing in Fundraising

I am a very social person. I am also somewhat shy. Okay, don’t believe me. But it’s true.

Yesterday, I spent 12 hours meeting people and learning about amazing ventures including: the impressive leadership programs new client Oasis for Girls provides for young women of color and Ashoka’s Youth Venture’s work supporting entrepreneurs leading food justice initiatives.

I love building connections and collaborations to make good ideas a reality, but frankly, making new friends is scary. Before you build trust with someone you can’t guess the outcome of your interaction. We feel insecure: what if they hate that idea? What if I don’t have anything to offer this relationship?

Or, you can be like me: struggling in vain to swallow a mouthful of spanakopita in order to respond to a group of people paying compliments to my necklace. FYI, grace under pressure does not often walk hand-in-hand with a raid on the buffet table.

Luckily, we’re all human. They were sympathetic to my plight. Well, at least I proceeded to have very nice conversations with all of them. I could easily have fled. And if I’d been in a different situation – like a cotillion – I might have.

But I knew we were all at that table with a common goal: to figure out ways to work together to make sure everyone has access to healthy food. So actually, I felt safe. I got over my fear of looking ridiculous and had a great evening sharing ideas and resources.

But what happens when your fears of social interaction are justified, when you try to establish relationships and end up hurting your cause?

A Board member recently told me that when she was newly appointed, she was asked to call the organization’s supporters and ask them to give. But the donors hadn’t been prepared to receive these calls. Instead of being engaged by the new leadership, they felt defensive. The volunteer had pushed past her fear and instead of being rewarded was punished. Why? Because she wasn’t just afraid: she wasn’t safe.

Feeling safe – aka, establishing trust – means you can tackle something scary in a relationship knowing both parties have already agreed to the rules of engagement and want the same goal.

I will tell you this right now: some people can roll with the punches when the rules of engagement are changed suddenly. But some people cannot. If you try to force new terms on them suddenly, then they don’t feel safe. And when thinking about your donors are you really ready to ask for forgiveness instead of permission?

These donors had a relationship with the organization where 1) they received letters asking for support and 2) they responded with a gift. All of a sudden, someone they didn’t know changed the relationship to the level of a phone call AND asked them to recommit in the same moment.

We’re all so pressed for time and resources, it’s easy to forget to check-in with each other. We know we’re ready to jump into the unknown and assume our supporters will follow us. It’s a false assumption.

You can’t skip steps in building relationships. And you can’t have a relationship with someone who doesn’t trust you. While your supporters might feel scared to follow you as you jump, make sure they trust you enough to feel safe going skydiving with you in the first place. They’ll be more willing to take the risk and your mission will reap the rewards.

Why Major Gifts Fundraising is Like Hosting a Dinner Party

10 Reasons Why Major Gifts Fundraising is Like Hosting a Dinner Party

Do you have a major donor program yet?  I know how much spare time you have before December 31: none. But not only is it not too late to plan a few thoughtful phone calls and visits with the people who love your organization the most, it’s essential you do. Why?

During the holidays, we reach out to friends and family and celebrate our connections, often over a meal. Over the years, wouldn’t the people closest to you begin to wonder why you’d never  invited them to a holiday dinner to get to know each other better, face-to-face?

Not asking your closest supporters to engage at a higher level during the season of giving is similar. They’ll wonder why they’re not being asked. Eventually, they’ll go elsewhere for nourishment.

So pretend you’re throwing a dinner party and the same rules apply to your major gift outreach:

Your first major donor effort doesn’t need to be a banquet. It’s easy to convince yourself your organization doesn’t have the capacity. Who has time for fancy moves management and extensive donor research? Forget about all that and just do what you can. If your home will only accommodate a few guests right now, then start small. We often have the most intimate and satisfying dinner parties – or successful major gifts efforts – with a few select guests.

Thoughtfully compile your guest list. You want invitees to respond favorably, i.e, make a major gift.  So only invite the people most likely to join you. Do you have a strong connection to them – are they a volunteer, long-time donor, Board member or Board member’s best friend? Or, are they interested in the kind of delicious food you’re serving – your programs? Make sure your guest like has either 1) a connection or 2) an interest, plus the ability to make a gift of significance.

Consider having a co-host. You know if life-of-the-party Uncle Jack comes, then your other invitees are more likely to sit down at the table. Ask whomever your organization’s “Uncle Jack” is to help plan your party and encourage other guests to attend.

Craft your invitation carefully. You must give invitees the information they need to make an informed decision about your invitation. You wouldn’t invite someone to dinner and after they’ve eaten, boldly ask them to pay for the meal AND next year’s party. Have the same respect for your prospective donors, and tell them you’d like to meet with them to talk about a gift.

If you send an email or a letter, DO call them to follow up. If your prospective guest knows how important it is to you, the host, that they’re valued and wanted, they’re more likely to join you.

Put your house in order. Doing major gifts does mean being prepared to answer honest questions about why you’re asking, who else is a supporter, and how you’ll use their investment. But when planning for a dinner party don’t renovate your dining room – just ensure it’s organized, doesn’t smell bad and is warm, comfortable, and inviting. Make sure the materials you bring and your answers are the same.

Prepare something delicious and serve it beautifully. The actual meal represents 1) the ways the work you’re doing benefits the community 2) an ask for a major gift and 3) a discussion of how their gift will advance the mission. Whatever you’re cooking, make it appealing, easy to swallow, and tailored to their individual tastes as much as possible. It can be appropriate to offer them range of portion – or gift – sizes, or ask them if they’d prefer one dish – or funding opportunity – to another.

Make sure you know who your server is and that they’re trained at their job before they dish up an ask for a major gift. The ask is just one moment in an entire evening. But if it doesn’t get served right, everyone walks away hungry.

Sit back and enjoy the conversation. Be mindful you don’t monopolize the discussion. As the host, it’s important to listen to your guests, acknowledge their questions, and invite their input.

And remember: you’re offering to satisfy their appetite for having their philanthropy make an impact in a satisfying way.  Sharing stories of success and your passion will feed their excitement and invite them to be insiders. Be honest about your specific need, but don’t make “need” a focus – your general need for support is not unique: your relationship with this donor is, so focus your conversation around that.

Send guests home with your appreciation and a gift. If all goes well, your in-person get together with a prospective major donor will result in a promise for a gift from them. Whether or not it does, make sure they know you appreciated their time and their company. Give them a  gift: more information about what you just discussed, and possibly a small token that’s valuable to them – something your organization or constituents make might be appropriate.

Keep the connection through the New Year. Once you’ve deepened your organization’s relationship with someone, stay in touch with them. Major donors want to hear how things are going. Even if the investment of time didn’t result in a gift right away, your effort won’t be unnoticed. You’ve likely made a new ally for your organization and you’ve opened your door to future possibilities to sit down at the table together and talk.

Post originally published on Wild Woman Fundraising