If You Can Read This . . . You Aren’t Out Meeting With Donors

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Image courtesy of bplanet at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many years ago at a conference I picked up a give away from Jerold Panas, Linzy & Partners, a large fundraising consulting firm. It was a table tent – a piece made of card stock that folds in order to stand up. It had a simple saying: If you can read this…you aren’t out meeting with donors.

I think this should be the mantra of every fundraiser, especially those who are responsible for raising major gifts for their organizations. But it is easier said than done. There are many things in the jobs of fundraisers that keep them from the most important tasks.

Here are some things you can do to make sure you are focusing on the most important work.

1. Take a hard look at your calendar – I’m not one for dwelling in the past but look at your calendar over the past 6 months and evaluate where you’ve spent most of your time. Was it out meeting with donors? For the times you were in the office, did you spend quality blocks of time reaching out to donors for in person meetings? Once you have reviewed your calendar, commit to making changes for the next 6 months.

2. Make calling on donors your top priority – create a list of your top prospects and commit to contacting them on a regular basis. Contact should include writing to them, meeting with them, and bringing them to your organization for tours. It takes time to plan and execute donor cultivation. It will include many phone calls and correspondence.

3. Be relentless in protecting your priorities – after you commit to making calling on donors and prospects your priority, there is a danger that other things will creep back onto your calendar. Things like internal meetings, special events, and temporary assignments. Don’t let that happen. Always give donor interactions the highest priority.

4. Be open with those you work for and with – sometimes fundraisers are tethered to their offices by the expectations of those around them. Talk openly with your supervisor and explain why you aren’t always at your desk. Be sure they are clear that this will lead to increased results for your major gifts efforts. Same goes for those who report to you or are on your team. Help them to understand why you are often out. If those people are also fundraisers, work as a team to encourage each other in being out more.

5. Don’t judge your productivity by how much time you spend in the office – when you create a ‘to do’ list (and I LOVE lists) make sure that your meetings with donors are at the top. Don’t fall into a trap where your productivity is judged by things that are accomplished inside the walls of your office. In major gift fundraising the most effective thing you can do is get out and meet with people.

So let’s get started now. Who should you call first and ask for a meeting? What are you waiting for?

Crash In Turn One of a Major Gift Cultivation

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“Crash in turn one” – that’s one of those phrases that no race fan wants to hear. At this year’s 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, it was a crash in turn one of lap one. That means that after spending the month of May getting ready, the 500 mile race was over for one team after less than one mile of driving. This brings to mind a famous quote, “You can’t win the Indianapolis 500 on the first lap but you can lose it.” The whole race is about patience. That has to be hard for drivers who are going 200+ miles an hour. But it’s a long race and in order to lead the last lap you have to get through the first lap.

This philosophy also applies to major gift fundraising. Major gifts can’t be raised the first time you meet a prospect but they can certainly be lost. If you make a misstep on that first meeting, you will never gain the trust of your prospect and never find yourself at the finish line: a major gift. Here’s what a major gift cultivation “crash” looks like:

  • too much talking about yourself or your organization and not enough listening to your prospect,
  • making it all about raising money and not looking for ways to engage the prospect in your organization’s mission,
  • asking too soon.

If there were an announcer in my career, I think that I would have heard those disappointing words a time or two: “Sara Leonard has worked hard to get this meeting and engage this prospect but she has crashed in turn one.” Fortunately I learned from those mistakes. Has this happened to you?

4 Steps to Repair a Donor Relationship

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Not every repaired donor relationship leads to a 5-figure gift but I know of at least one that did. A colleague listened to the concerns of the donor and worked within the organization to correct the problem. In an effort to reengage this donor, the fundraiser took her to lunch and was presented with a 5-figure gift. How did that happen?

Let’s look at the steps involved in repairing this relationship:

  1. Keeping communication lines open: this can be as simple as continuing to send them stewardship reports, newsletters and other communications. Make sure that you mail often enough to keep their address current. Also, check with people throughout your organization to see who knows an unhappy donor and might be able to help you figure out why.
  2. Listening to their concerns: many times an unhappy donor needs an opportunity to express their feelings to the organization. Listening without becoming defensive is challenging but worth the restraint. Something obviously has gone wrong. Listen with an open mind and find out where the breakdown has happened.
  3. Admitting to mistakes and apologizing: we are not perfect nor are our organizations. Admit the mistake without throwing anyone under the proverbial bus and apologize. Determine if an apology needs to come from someone else in your organization and facilitate that if necessary.
  4. Correcting the mistakes: this can take some time and may seem like a waste of time when there are goals to meet but don’t skip this step. In the case I heard about recently, the correction took months of coordination because it involved several parts of the organization. The development officer forged ahead – never knowing it would result in a gift – because it was the right thing to do. He knew that it was important to the donor.

The final step – and it’s really more of an ongoing process than a step – is to continue to communicate with the donor. There may never be an opportunity to ask for a gift again but you never know…for my friend, he didn’t have to ask. The donor was so pleased that the situation had been corrected that she made an additional gift without being asked.

Originally posted on the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay blog.