Month: May 2010

Thank your major donors seven times…. that’s right, seven

Seven is the magic “thank you” number for major gifts.

What is it about seven? The seven colors of the rainbow? My guess is the tradition of thanking donors seven times was someone’s measurable translation of “a lot.” It drives us beyond the usual two or three. It works.

What might seven major donor thank yous look like?

1) Acknowledgement of receipt of check: Call within 48 hours

2) Legal thank you: The one you are required to do. The letter that acknowledges the gift in writing for tax purposes. Don’t stop here!

3) Board Chair or Board Member thank you: A call, perhaps (leaving a message is fine)

4) Executive Director thank you note separate from the legal thank you

5) Solicitor Team member thank you

6) Development Director thank you

7) “Re-thank you” within 6 months describing/updating use of funds (Really important!)

8) Free cultivation/recognition event

9) Recognition in Newsletter, Annual Report or Program Book (much less personal—I would count this as ½)

10) Other forms of recognition depending on the magnitude of the gift: donor walls, podium recognition at events or a press release, if warranted

Thank yous are the time for calls, handwritten notes and snail mail. Email thank yous can be part of the mix, but only part. Be up close and personal. And don’t forget to extend the thank you process with a “re-thank you” down the road.

In addition to genuinely acknowledging a major gift, thank yous play an important role in inspiring your donor to make yet another gift in the future.

Prospect Research: In-house Subscription Service or Contracted Prospect Researcher?

If you are serious about your major gift program, invest in a prospect research subscription service or contract a prospect research consultant.

The amount of information available in the public domain is staggering. Yes, you can “Google” and “Yahoo” prospective donors, but it is time-consuming and incomplete.  Plenty of data in the public domain is stashed in places that generic search engines don’t reach. For example, to what other nonprofits has your prospective donor made contributions—and how much?  Yes, that information is out there.

Save Time: Umbrella Prospect Research Subscription Services

There are lots of subscription services:  some focus on real estate, some on stock holdings and others on gifts to nonprofits or board affiliations.  You may be familiar with subscription services like LexusNexis, Dunn & Bradstreet or Marquis Who’s Who. (Nonprofits are not the only entites looking for wealth-related information.  Financial service firms are, too.) Others may be totally unfamiliar:  DataQuick, Waltman’s Volunteers & Directors and Guidestar.

Umbrella subscription services have relationships with multiple individual subscription companies—as many as 25 of them. As a result, you see real estate, stock holdings (if public), campaign contributions, gifts to other nonprofits, board affiliations….all in one place.  Sold as annual subscriptions, the services start at around $2,750 per year. 

Two leaders in the “umbrella” arena are WealthEngine and BlackBaud Analytics.  You may want to check them out.

Caution: Subscription Services are tools, not prospect researchers!

Data needs to be cross-checked and analyzed.  More than once, I have seen an unverified donor profile shot down by board members who are acquainted with the prospective donor.  Name confusion is a prime cause of inaccurate profiles. For example, the subscriptions may mistakenly blend the information about one John Smith, for example, with that of another. Subscriptions are a necessary starting point, but a researcher is also required. So if you decide to purchase a subscription service, make certain you have someone on staff who can verify the results. (It is possible to have a current staff member trained to do this.)     

Prospect Researchers: Analysis Plus

Good prospect researchers have a knack for ferreting out the right information. “Verify” is their middle name, they have excellent analytic skills and they produce accurate, useful donor profiles.

When you contract out, the researcher will have the subscription services he or she needs to get the job done (you can sound knowledgeable by asking which subscription service(s) he or she uses). Fees are either per donor profile or per hour.  As a smaller nonprofit, the 2 to 3 hour profile that costs under $200 should do the trick.

Your Prospect Research Decision

Weigh purchasing a subscription service, which requires in-house staff capacity, against contracting for donor profiles from a professional researcher.

Either approach, properly executed, will build your donor knowledge base and maximize your “ask” results.

I hate asking for money

You are dedicated to the cause. Your nonprofit is wonderful. You hate asking for money. 

Why is that? 

Why do so many passionate and otherwise engaged board members and, secret be told, staff members, too, run in the opposite direction when it comes to major gift “asks”?

Seven Reasons You Might Hate Asking for Money–and Possible New Perspectives

  1. The arm twist.
    These are not gifts based on passion and connection to your organization. They are often based on repaying a favor, currying favor or playing a power card of some sort. I’d hate this too. 
  2. I’ll give to yours if you give to mine.
    This is a variation of the arm twist, in that you are asking someone to make a gift to an organization with which he or she has limited or no involvement. In the short-run, money swirls around. But there is no real long-term gain unless connections develop.
  3. You don’t know what to do and what to say.
    You can’t possibly know how to make an “ask” if you haven’t been trained. In addition to training, I recommend a practice round or two with mid-tier donors who are not your prime prospects.  (Training note: You are over half way there if you are passionate and knowledgeable about your organization and a good listener. Be the ambassador for your organization that you usually are.  You’ll just be adding a few techniques to your repertoire.)
  4. You don’t trust the ask amount.
    Should I really be asking this person for this much?  Not to worry. Donors are typically flattered by the “over ask.”  Why wouldn’t they be? And there are strategic “negotiation” benefits for starting high—but that’s a subject for another day. (Yes, there is a too much—but it needs to be way off base.) If you properly research the donor, you will be in the right ballpark.
  5. Money talk is taboo in our culture.
    True, but what you are doing is inviting someone to support a cause and organization in which he or she believes.  The connection and desire to give have already been expressed with smaller gifts.  You are providing the donor with the opportunity to play a larger role. Research assures us that this donor has the financial wherewithal to make this level gift if he or she so chooses.  And that’s all it is—a choice.  A choice that comes with a slew of benefits, both tangible and intangible.  This is bad?
  6. The prospect might say, “no.”
    You can count on “no’s.” In fact, fundraising research tells us that you are likely to have to make anywhere from two to five asks per gift. That’s lots of “no’s.” The path to success is to keep asking. Plus, there is a benefit to every in-person conversation with a donor. It builds the relationship. Check out my blog entry, “Every ‘no’ is a ‘yes’” and move right past the “no’s.”
  7. You believe the experience of giving is negative for the donor.
    I may have saved the best for last:  There is a body of scientific research that tells us giving is good for your health. When you make an “ask,” you are not harming the donor or otherwise inflicting pain. Quite the contrary!  You are opening the door to the pleasure center of the brain lighting up, blood pressure dropping, immune system boosting, stress reducing experience.  The donor will feel good!  And, by the way, so will you!  (For more about this research, visit my blog entry: “Giving is good for your health!”)

May I suggest that you are doing a major gift prospect a favor when you invite the opportunity for greater involvement in a cause he or she believes in—that’s right, a favor.

Feel any better?