Thursday Thoughts

Major Gifts ... building the relationship
Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Even thinking about the “ask” for a major gift makes many of us break out in a cold sweat … and we haven’t even decided who to ask, for what purpose, how much to ask for, and when. While raising money is not easy these days, people are still giving. We just need to ask.
There are some steps you can use to plan the approach for a major gift that will let you sleep (better) at night and greatly increase your success rate. As mentioned in the last week’s Thursday Thought there are easy ways to determine your best prospects for major gifts. And as many experts have already noted, the Executive Director and board members of your nonprofit organization already know the people you need to know to raise money.
Remember the Five I’s of Fundraising: Identification, Information, Interest, Involvement and Investment.
Sometimes there is a close relationship that already exists and a phone call to set up a visit with a board member and the CEO is sufficient. This donor is already comfortable with your organization; they just need to know the reason for this gift and how it relates to their interests. Other times there is a longer relationship building curve.
The connection to this donor from your organization may be more limited, or may be out-of-date, and so you need to nurture the relationship before you can make the ask. You may need to provide information about your mission; determine what their level interest; and/or get them involved in your organization’s mission.
This process may entail invitations to activities or meetings sponsored by your nonprofit, sending Annual Reports or other public information, and arranging visits to talk about your organization and some of your goals and challenges without asking for a contribution.
But each contact MUST be purposeful, so it is important to know your objective for the meeting. You do not want to waste your time or that of your probable donor. In many cases the objective may be to learn what the donor’s interest are … “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Ask them why they care about your cause.
This nurturing process may take from six to twelve months before you sense that the prospective donor is comfortable enough to approach for a major gift.
When you are really ready to make the ask, the contact should be made by the person who has the best relationship with the donor. Decide (based on your knowledge of the prospect) what is the best way to set up the visit.  
Sometimes an introductory letter to the prospective donor will be advisable. The purpose of the letter is to introduce the reason for a visit. Inform the recipient that you, or the volunteer, will follow up with a phone call. Remember that the purpose of the phone call is to schedule the visit NOT to ask for the gift. That needs to be done in person.
You already know the probable donor.  When you meet with some prospective donors, they want to touch on the things you do have in common – jobs, kids, colleges, local sports. It’s not idle chatter, it’s learning more about them. Other people will want to get down to business right away.  Adjust YOUR style of communication to meet THEIR needs.
Briefly tell them your story – your organization’s goals, accomplishments, programs and financial needs.
Finally, ASK for the gift. If two people are on the call, make sure the plan is in place BEFORE the visit who will actually say the words: “As I mentioned in the letter we sent you, we were hoping you’d consider a gift of $10,000 to support our work. Are you able to help us now?”

 Then wait for an answer. Consider, in advance, what some of the objections might be, and be prepared with answers. If the response is “That is more than I can afford now” you might reply “Could you do it over a couple of years?” It's OK to negotiate so that your donor's and the organization's needs are met. When you’ve come to an agreement, reiterate it so both parties are clear, and remember to thank your new donor.
What else do we know from people who make major gifts? They like to give – it makes them feel good; they believe it is the right thing to do; and they like to be thanked. Not necessarily with big awards and public displays – many large donors are often reluctant to be in the limelight – but they want to know that their support has been used wisely and carefully. Communicate regularly. Remember to thank them personally whenever possible, and keep your connection over time.


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