Major Gifts

Category Archives — Major Gifts

Major Gifts: It’s All About Donor Impact

Donors don’t care what you need. They care about their impact.

I had just finished presenting a workshop titled, “Opportunity Knocks: Major Gift Fundraising for Smaller Nonprofits.” It covered the topics you’d expect: how to use donor research, setting up the visit, the case for support, making the “ask” and responding to, “Let me think about it.” But I always add a segment about emotion driving individual giving, the power of storytelling to convey emotion and what donors want: to know they are having an impact.

The workshop ended. A participant came up to me and described her situation: Her nonprofit recently lost one of its larger grants. She was about to go out and meet with individual donors (that’s good!) and make the case around the need to replace the lost grant with individual gifts.

I just started to say, “No…. ” when another participant waiting to speak with me said, “I have to tell you this story.”

And here’s the gist of what she said:

We were near the end of a multi-million dollar campaign. Our Chief Development Officer went to a long-standing supporter and asked if he would donate $1 million to close out the campaign. The donor said, “no.”

Shortly thereafter, the Chief Development Officer discovered that the donor had just made a $2 million dollar gift to the American Cancer Society. He calls the donor to see “what gives” (more politely than that, of course).

Here’s what the donor told him: You asked me to close out a campaign. They asked me to help cure cancer.

And there you have it! Need vs. Impact. Impact wins, every time.

Keeping donors informed in the midst of charitable deduction uncertainty

The charitable deduction headlines are confusing.  The final outcome is unclear.  What better time to communicate with your donors?

Warning:  Charitable deduction facts in this blog post may time-limited.  The donor communication concepts are not.

Donor communication stances

1.  Non-expert “head’s up”

Your goal is to let your donors know you are thinking about them and to refer them to expert information sources. Your communications do not try to explain the charitable deducation rules.  Instead, they focus on the process, i.e., when might the next decision be made, and recommend expert resources to which your donors might want to refer for additional information.

One information source you may want to consider: The Tax Policy Center, which is a joint venture of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution —

2.  Non-expert, but communicating expert information 

We understand from <source 1> that xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.  If there are differing points of view, you might add: <Source 2> tells us yyyyyyyyyyy.  You don’t have to solve the problem.  It is acceptable to share the confusion and commiserate.

You may; however, be able to highlight some of the basic incontrovertable facts, e.g., “As of today’s date, donors with household incomes under $300,000 (and individuals under $250,000) are subject to the same charitable deduction rules that were in place in 2012.  But we’ll have to wait see what happens over the next sixty days.”

3. Expert:  Your nonprofit is on top of the issue.

Your organization quickly reviews the “charitable deduction rules” and becomes an interpretation resource.  The Tax Policy Center cited above is one such example.  Understandly, charitable deduction expertise and the requisite tax law and accounting knowledge is outside the mission and scope of most organizations. 

What about major donors?

As of January, 2013, there is a charitable deduction divide.  Some of the headlines proclaiming victory tor the charitable deduction fail to explain that the Pease limit, which had expired in 2010, is back. For higher income donors, Pease creates a limit on total itemized deductions, which includes the charitable deduction.  (Do refer to for details).  To further confuse the issue, the legislation that was passed in early January may be amended over the next sixty days as “fiscal cliff” conversations continue on Capital Hill.

If you are someone who speaks with major gift propsects, you probably want to have an answer ready–especially while the topic is “hot.” Using a paradign similar to the one described ablve, you might refer the donor to a trusted source.  Or, if you are comfortable with the information, relay your understanding directly.  Be certain to cite your source, unless you are, in fact, the expert.

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.

Breathing Your Way to a Major Gift

There’s only so much you can do about your major gift prospects’ passion and excitement about your work.  But there’s plenty you can do about your prospects’ connection to you.

Creating rapport is a key ingredient of relationship-building.  Thanks to the research conducted by the Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) community, we know that physiological “matching” builds rapport.

Speech Pattern

Many of us naturally change the pace of our speech to get more in-tune with that of our conversation partner (without mimicking, of course). That is one element of matching. And it’s a good one.

Blinking and Breathing

 Here are two less obvious ones:

  • Blinking at the same rate as your prospect
  • Breathing at the same rate as your prospect

 Experiment with one at a time, and find the one with which you are most comfortable.

 Give these rapport-building techniques a try, and let us know how it goes.

 P.S.  “Mirroring” helps build rapport in any context. It’s not just for major gift work.