Events – Smaller is Better

When planning events, most nonprofits think “big.”  How can we get more people to attend and spend more money to net more revenue? But that kind of thinking often results in spending more money, using more labor, and having less quality interaction with event participants.

When it comes to events, smaller is often better.  A small dinner with 10 guests can provide more personal involvement and greater investment in your organization over time.

These events are likely to be much less expensive and much less labor-intensive. But, most importantly, they provide a better opportunity for personal interaction with guests that can lead to a strong connection to the Executive Director and current Board members (your true believers) — and a clear mission connection to the organization.

These smaller events are much more valuable to the organization than big “fundraisers” for building relationships that can lead to sustaining, unrestricted funding and meaningful involvement over time.

It’s Not Who You Know

“There’s a lot of wealth in the area, but a lot of it is with younger people who have not come into the giving mode. They need education, and persuasion.”

This quote from H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest appeared in an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday by Peter Dobrin, the Inquirer’s Culture Writer.  In the same article, fundraiser Eileen Heisman, president of the National Philanthropic Trust, comments, “We always have new generations of wealth, but you have to know where it is and figure out strategies to cultivate it, and that takes a lot of very creative work.”

The article has a lot to say about the new generation of donors, what they care about, whether they feel a sense of obligation to give, and what they may or may not be looking for in terms of involvement with the nonprofit organizations they choose to support.  These are all important things to consider.  But what really interests me is the article’s subtle emphasis on the important role of fundraisers. Not just professional fundraisers, but also volunteer fundraisers, i.e., board members.

Too often, board members assume that fundraising is about “who you know.”  If they don’t already have a relationship with someone who makes six figure gifts, they are inclined to think, and to say at board meetings, “I don’t know anyone with money.”  In reality, potential donors are all around us.  And fundraising is not a phone call.  It is a process – one that takes education, cultivation, creativity, and persuasion.

Fundraisers need to educate potential donors (everyone) about the mission and importance of the organization. We cannot assume they know about our good works.  We must talk about them.

Fundraisers need to cultivate relationships with potential donors. When I think of cultivation I think of gardening. You plant the seeds, fertilize, pull the weeds, protect the seedlings, stake up the young plants, and eventually, you get to enjoy the fruit of your labor. Similarly, the fundraising process takes time, care, and dedication.

Fundraisers need to be creative. They need to think about what kind of invitation will make a potential donor say yes, making that first connection to the organization. And once that connection has been made, they need to create a path along which that potential donor is likely to move toward greater engagement with and more giving to the nonprofit.

And fundraisers need to be persuasive. Fundraising is convincing and persuading for a cause.  How will the gift enhance the mission, leverage other donors, and bring value to the community?  What will convince this donor to make this gift on this day?

Fundraising is not mysterious. It is hard work that takes time, thought, and creativity. Everyone can do it.  And if you believe in the mission of your organization, it is well worth the effort.

Not On the First Date! Dos and Don’ts for First Visits

In my last blog post, I shared a bunch of pick up lines to help professional and volunteer fundraisers get visits with current donors and new prospects. Now, assuming you’re preparing for your first visit with an exciting new donor prospect, you might wonder what kind of behavior is appropriate on the first date.

As in dating, what you want from the connection determines how you should behave. If you want to cultivate donors who will stay with your organization for the long haul, then you need to build a relationship. What you do on the first date really matters.

Often times, we’re so focused on fundraising as our purpose that we end up talking about money too soon, before we’ve established a relationship. With the building of a relationship comes knowledge of what interests the prospect and an understanding of the way she might like to be approached. We owe it to our organizations and to the people with whom we’re meeting to take it slow and put the relationship first.

Here are some dos and don’ts for your first date with a new donor prospect.

1. Don’t talk exclusively about your organization. It’ll seem like that’s all you care about.

2. Do ask questions to find out about the prospect: her interests, experiences, and passions.

3. Do answer questions she asks you. As a young fundraiser, I often hesitated to share things about myself, thinking that it wasn’t relevant or of interest to the donor prospect. But I soon learned that the people I visited wanted to connect with a whole, real person, not just the voice of an organization. My visits got much better and my donor relationships much stronger after I made that realization.

4. Don’t be afraid of questions you can’t answer about your organization.  People really
don’t mind hearing, “That’s a good question, I’ll find out and get back to you.” And you have a follow-up visit made to order.

5. Do tell stories. They are the best way to create an emotional connection to your organization’s mission and generate in the prospect a true desire to know more.

6. Don’t ask for money on the first date. This is tacky and transactional, suggesting that what your prospect may have been thinking is true – you only wanted to meet for the money. If you’re building a relationship, there will always be a next step and a chance to ask for money the right way.

7. Do ask for help. As I mentioned in my last post, asking for help often leads to more money than asking for money. And getting someone involved in helping the organization is a great way to take the relationship to a deeper level.

Keep these dos and don’ts in mind and your first dates with new donor prospects will be fun and fruitful.

Great Pick-Up Lines: Getting Personal Visits

In major gift fundraising, it’s all about visits.  Visits are where you can build a relationship.  And relationships are the key to getting a major gift. But getting visits is not so easy, especially when we anticipate rejection.  After all, our prospects know why we’re calling and, we assume, probably don’t want to be asked for money.

But not every visit is about money.  In fact, some visits shouldn’t be. Visits are about learning the prospect’s interests, finding out about their other philanthropy, understanding what they think about the organization and its mission, talking about a vision for the future of the organization, building trust, and learning what kind of impact they hope to have on the organizations with which they are involved. When we learn these things, it is much easier to figure out how each prospect might be willing to help with her time, expertise, and, eventually, money.

First, you’ve got to get the visits to build the relationships that lead to major gifts. Getting visits is a little bit like getting dates. There is high potential for rejection, but the benefits are worth the risk.

Here are some “pick-up lines” that have worked for me and other development professionals when trying to get visits with current donors.

1. The Preemptive Promise: “I won’t bring up money unless you do.” (If you make this promise to get the visit, you’ve got to keep it.)

2. Stating the Obvious: “You’re already a donor. You know how to give to us. I want to talk about where we’re going and, possibly, get you to react to some new ideas.” (If you use this approach, you must be prepared with new ideas for your donor to review.)

3. The Report: “I’d like to come and talk about the impact of your current gift and how it has affected our students/clients.” (In the course of the conversation, you can ask questions that advance the relationship.)

4. Asking for Advice: “We’re getting ready to launch a new initiative and would benefit from your perspective.” (For this one you need to consider, in advance, how your donor’s perspective is particularly relevant and useful.  Is it because of his professional expertise?  Or is it because you are targeting an audience that is significantly similar to him?)

In new relationships, asking for help is one of the best ways to engage potential donors. Anecdotal evidence suggests that people who are asked for help end up giving more money than people who are asked for money. This affirms the well-known major gift fundraising principle that investment follows involvement. When people help, they feel involved and are more likely to give money.

So what kind of help do you need? Most nonprofits have challenges that go beyond the most obvious fundraising needs. If we can focus on other needs while we’re networking and building relationships, we will find people who mesh with our mission and their interest in us will grow. Giving will be a natural next step.

Here are a few examples of “pick-up lines” that can be used with new friends:

1. “I’m on the board of a science-oriented nonprofit in Allentown and we are networking to grow the impact of our organization in the region. I know that you are well connected in
the corporate community here in the Lehigh Valley. Would you consider meeting with me and allowing me to pick your brain about other people we should be talking to?”

2. “I’m on the board of a women’s choir in Brooklyn and we are networking to build our board. I know that you are well connected in the New York arts community. Would you consider meeting with me and allowing me to pick your brain about people we should be talking to?”

3. “We are networking to build our base of volunteers….”

4. “We are networking to identify local experts who can help us to address a (physical plant/legal/technology) challenge we’re having. Do you know anybody who might be able to help us?”

Once you get the visit, it’s important to try to make the most of it. I’ll tackle some “dos and don’ts” of first visits in my next blog post, “Not On the First Date!”

Supporting Boards to Succeed in Fundraising

On Sunday my family brought home a 10 week old puppy and one thing is very clear:  the training that is going on right now is as much (or more) about training us as it is about training the puppy. If we do the right things, it is much more likely that he will succeed. And success breeds (ahem!) success.

This makes me think of boards and fundraising. (No surprise to anyone.) I offer training programs to help board members to get comfortable with the fundraising process so they can engage in friend-raising and fundraising without awkwardness. But I’ve noticed that, to be effective, much of what I suggest requires effort on the part of the nonprofit staff.

A Chronicle of Philanthropy blog by Rick Moyers ( reinforces this point.  Rick references a new report called The Board Paradox issued by CompassPoint and the Meyer Foundation. The report claims that the majority of nonprofit executive directors surveyed are spending less than 6% of their time supporting their boards. And those nonprofit leaders that spend comparatively more time working with their boards are also much happier with their board’s performance than those that spend less time.

To get the fundraising behavior we want from the board, here are five things the executive director and staff should do to support the board in fundraising. 

1. Before a special event where you’d like your board to help “work the room,” compile and share information about who is going to be in the room, specific individuals you’d like each board member to connect with, and talking points to help prepare board members to engage in successful conversations.

2. Provide a form to collect information learned by board members in event situations and give them an opportunity to debrief with staff at the end of the event. No question the staff members are exhausted and just want to go home, but it is much easier to find out all the valuable information board members learned in their interactions with donor prospects if you ask them right away.

3. Provide data about potential donors for board members to screen.  If you ask board members to name names of people they plan to introduce to the organization, more often than not you’ll get little or no response.  But if you can engage the board in a discussion about individuals they may know in the community — touching on what you know of them and how you think you may be able to open the door and get a visit, board members will want to help you problem solve these approaches.  In the process, they’ll get a sense of what you’re looking for and how prospects are likely to be approached and they’ll be much more likely to suggest additional names for the list.

4. Establish a process for following up with a board member who offers to help make a connection. Rather than waiting for them to call you with the results, call them to ask about their progress and offer assistance. Some concern or fear may be stopping them from making the call.  If we assume that they fully intend to follow through and routinely offer support and assistance, we are more likely to engender their success.

5. Offer to go along with board members on introductory visits with their peer connections. In my experience, board members often lack confidence that they can competently discuss the purpose and needs of the organization. But once they’ve been on a visit or two with the executive director, director of development, or another knowledgeable staff member,  they’ll know your spiel and feel much better about doing these visits on their own.

As Rick Moyers’ blog says, the “neglect and grumble” approach just doesn’t work.  More support from nonprofit leaders will enable board members to achieve more success in friend-raising and fundraising, helping you raise More Money for Mission.