Month: November 2011

Major donors are in your midst

How can smaller nonprofitsengage potential major donors?

My mantra is, “pick up the phone.”

Who do you call?

Anyone making an annual fund gift of $1,000 or more.  Don’t have anyone like that?  Then drop down to $500 or even $250.

The nonprofit community has a love affair going with paper. But to engage major donors, you’ve got to get to know them. And they need to know you. So, when I say, “pick up the phone,” it’s not to ask for anything – quite the contrary. It’s to set-up an in-person visit at the donor’s home or office. If your donors are spread across the country, focus on one geographic area at a time and set-up multiple visits.

The corollary mantra to “pick up the phone” is “get on the plane.”

To engage potential major donors, you need to deeply understand their interest in your organization. What prompted the first gift? What does he/she likes best about your programs and services. How does your organization tie into the donor’s life -family, work leisure and school? What other organizations does he/she support? What’s the draw?

Similarly, the donor wants to know more about you. If you’re on the board, why? As staff, what do you see on a day-to-day basis that keeps you motivated? How well your organization’s programs and services resonate with his/her interests. What impact is he/she having?

Board, staff and donors alike want to help build your wonderful organization. An in-person visit is a great time to consider whom else the prospective major donor knows who might be interested in your organization’s work. Do be clear about how the donor can assist as a “connector” and ask how to best involve him/her, e.g., “Are you willing to make an e-intro?” to “Can I use your name?”

Where’s the money, you might be wondering? Nowhere until a relationship is established. And rightly so.

Get on the plane!

You likely know the answer before you call fundraising counsel for advice. “Yes,” get on the plane and complete your major gift solicitation in person.

Fundraising counsel for nonprofits of all sizes share this call in common:

A NY-based client gets on the phone and says, “Well, we have this donor in CA and oh, the travel, I was just out there last month….”

“How much is the gift for?” we inquire.

“$50,000” answers the client, who then adds, “I know. I know.” 

It’s a quick call for us.  We only utter two words, “How much?”

There is no question that it is challenging to maintain relationships with a national donor base.  But if you’ve gone so far as to qualify and cultivate a donor, you don’t want to give up on best practice at the finale. 

That means not only asking for the gift in-person, but also securing the gift in person.

Are you flying from the US to Hong Kong for $10,000?  Probably not, unless the relationship-building opportunity warrants the visit and/or you can combine the trip with other visits. There are travel judgment calls to be made.

Most of the time, you do know the answer before you call:  “Get on the plane!”

That extra plane ride is likely to be rewarding in so many ways.