Before we dive into these real-world questions and answers about raising major gifts, I have something to say about the recent massacre in Orlando.
A Message to my Readers
One of the reasons I got into the nonprofit sector is because I care about people. I care about human rights and social justice.
We have lived with mass shootings as part of our everyday lives for long enough. I can no longer say “never again” without taking personal action. In addition to other measures, I want to state publicly that I do not support causes which promote hate and violence.
So if your organization is pro-guns or anti-LGBT, I’m not the consultant for you.
On the other hand, if your organization is about helping people — caring for the sick, finding a cure, providing education, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry, inclusion and tolerance, human rights, saving the environment, promoting the arts, or other worthy causes — I’m here for you.
I realize this may offend some of you. But I also know that others of you are just as fed up as I am. We cannot forget what happened in Orlando, Charleston, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine and so many other places… the list goes on and on.
While there’s only a limited amount I can do personally to stop these needless tragedies (I have called my elected officials and I often participate in Moms Demand Action events), one thing I can do is help worthy causes raise more money.
It’s my sincere hope that this post — and indeed all of the advice I share — will help you to solve our most challenging problems, like putting an end to gun violence and bigotry.
Ok… let’s get started.
6 Notable Questions about Raising Major Gifts
The webinar, 3 Secrets to Raising Major Gifts You Can’t Survive Without, lasted for about 60 minutes and then we extended it by another 40 minutes to answer the myriad of questions that came in. You can watch the replay here — it’s full of some great information about raising major gifts.
The questions below come from six individuals who attended this webinar.
Email vs. face-to-face asking?
Jenny K. writes: What is your opinion on asking for a major gift via email vs. face to face for gifts in the $1k-$5K range? Recognizing the donor has given in the past, you have a relationship, but you just can’t get that meeting to ask for more? Can you create a compelling email with a strong case, and ask that way?
It’s always better to ask in person.
There’s something about looking someone in the eye and being able to observe their body language. It’s much easier to ignore an email than a person sitting across from you, which makes asking in person more effective than over email. Also, an email isn’t conducive to follow up questions, discussion, or “negotiation.”
That leads me to wondering why the donor won’t meet with you. It could be because they have no intention of giving more. If you’ve tried to get a meeting several times, over the course of several months, and tried a variety of people (has a board member asked for a meeting or only the development director?) then it’s probably time to move on.
In that case, yes, an email would suffice, if you simply can’t secure a meeting.
Asking over the phone?
Wanda I. writes: What if the donor says, “Ask me right now on the phone”…?
Again, It’s best to ask in person. Tell the donor the following:
- This conversation is too important to your clients (to your mission or cause) to have over the phone.
- You can have a quick meeting — 20 minutes if necessary, but you’d really appreciate having the conversation in person.
- It’s not simply about asking for money, but it’s about answering their questions and having a discussion about the best way they can help.
A realistic MGO portfolio?
Patricia C. writes: What is a realistic portfolio workload (number of donors/prospects) for an MGO so that the MGOs are able to connect with each donor effectively at the level you’re discussing?
When you use the term MGO (Major Gift Officer) I am making the assumption that major gift fundraising is the primary responsibility of that staff member. In that case, the MGO should be able to handle around 100 prospective donors in their pipeline or portfolio.
However, in many cases, MGO’s work with significantly more — 150, 200 or even more. I even recommend going as low as 75 prospective donors for a very high net worth portfolio. Each portfolio should have prospective donors in a range of “stages” from long-time donors who are ready to make a gift, to those being cultivated and stewarded.
If your organization doesn’t have a dedicated MGO, then the DOD might be responsible for raising major gifts, in addition to many other responsibilities. In that case, I recommend a portfolio of only 20 to 30 prospective donors.
Telling donors in advance?
Malkah F. writes: Do you have to tell donors ahead of time that you will be asking them for a gift at the meeting you will have with them?
Yes! Be sure to tell the individuals you meet with that you are coming to have a discussion about how they can support the organization.
Remember, fundraising is about relationships and you want your donors to trust you. Be transparent. If you “trick” them, or even catch them off guard by asking for a gift when they’re not expecting it, then there’s very little chance that they will give you a major gift.
You want prospective donors to be thinking about what they will give prior to your meeting, so when you ask it doesn’t come as a surprise. Asking for a major gift is usually the start of a conversation, and you want all participants to be prepared for that conversation.
When scheduling the meeting, you can ask if they are ready to discuss ways they can get more involved and help in more substantial ways. That will prepare everyone for a fruitful discussion.
Dealing with wary donors?
Karen F. writes: What should you do with a major donor who is very savvy to all our development tricks: the cultivation, the ‘ask for advice,’ the request for coffee, the stewardship. He gives substantially, can give more, but doesn’t want to engage. Though he reluctantly relented to meeting me for a coffee, he says he knows what it’s all about. When I say there’s not any ulterior motive (true! at the moment!), that it’s about getting to meet him, we both know down the track it’s going to be about an ask.
First, stop thinking of anything you’re doing as a “trick.” Fundraising isn’t about tricking anyone. It’s about building genuine relationships with potential donors and supporters. If a person feels tricked, there’s little chance of them getting involved or giving.
Second, be honest with your donor. Tell him that the only way you know to further your important mission is to engage with donors who care about the cause. His past giving indicates he cares, and you would like to get to know him better to find out if his passions align with any of your strategic plans. If so, he could be instrumental in helping move the mission forward.
Finally, admit there IS an ulterior motive — to find individuals who care deeply about your mission or cause and who have the means to help accomplish it. You’re simply trying to find out if he is one of those people.
Handling an uncertain ED?
Jodi-Joy O. writes: What to do with an ED who is uncomfortable making asks and keeps telling development and campaign committee members this instead of boosting their confidence?
Lots of executive directors are uncomfortable with fundraising. It’s fine to admit it, but then it’s time to do something about it. I would recommend sending them to formal training and/or hiring a coach to help them gain confidence and experience.
One of my development coaching clients readily admits that she would rather die than ask for money. However, she’s also very passionate about her cause. We agreed she would say to donors, “I’d rather be doing anything other than asking you for money, but our mission is too important not to ask… so I am asking.”
This has worked several times for her, and now she calls herself a fundraising goddess. She’s still got a long way to go, but she’s come a long way, and secured her first few gifts of $10,000 and above!
We received over 100 additional questions through this very successful webinar.
I encourage you to watch the replay of the 3 Secrets to Raising Major Gifts You Can’t Survive Without, where Andrea and I provide answers to many other important questions.