Sunday, October 19, 2008

Getting Major Donors To Contribute Large Regular Donations Can Stabilize Cash Flow

Due to the economic slow down, Seeking Grant Money Today's past three posts have provided fundraising suggestions beyond grant writing, because raising grant money isn't a quick way to raise funds. Here, I provide you with another 'free' consultation. I recommend that your nonprofit consider developing stronger relationships with its donors who give or could give in large amounts. Developing these particular contributors into regular contributors who give more each year, is called a major donor campaign, so those who do or could give in larger amounts are called major donors. The goal of the major donor campaign is to raise larger amount contributions, that are given regularly (more often), year to year. Your organization's key leadership should create real, mutually beneficial, honest relationships with potential major donors (and current major donors) because these people are or can be pillars to your organization. When they donate, are really investors in your organization.

Maybe you feel squeamish thinking 'ooo...I don't want to ask anyone to give us a larger donation'. It's normal and common to feel this way. It is also very important to keep in mind two things when imagining asking someone for a larger donation; everyone always has the right to say no but the only way they'll give in larger amounts is if they're asked (if you don't ask you won't get the larger amount donations); and remember that your organization is providing the community with something that no other nonprofit is providing. This is invaluable and worth the potential donor being asked, and it is worth your asking potential donors for larger amounts.

You may think, 'we would love to have donors who give in large amounts, but we don't', or 'we don't know where to find them', or 'we have never received a large donation from an individual or family'. Your organization is not immune to major donor contributions and all major donors are created, in effect, they do not just appear. This is a larger increment donation that you can raise, perhaps easier than grants, because these will be people who give on their own (without requiring an application process, etc. as grant donors do).

Major donors are usually people; they are not foundations, corporations, or other entities who offer and donate grants, sponsorships, etc.. They may offer these types of contributions, too, but the major donor is usually operating from their own individual household budget and interests. Major donors are typically individuals, families, or even family trusts who live or operate in your community. The key in being successful in beginning and growing a major donor campaign is taking the time to do everything necessary in order to be successful. Half of any nonprofit leader's work (executive director, board members, etc.) is fundraising. No nonprofit operates on passive or wishful fundraising. So, truly, all and any fundraising method requires taking the time to do everything necessary that will lead to success.

The steps to a successful major donor campaign are:

__ Education
__ Planning
__ Organizational Analysis
__ Community Research
__ Donor Research
__ Practice
__ Planning Approach and Ask for Each Potential Major Donor
__ Outreach
__ Direct Communication
__ Listening and Following Through
__ Record Keeping
__ Direct Communication Again
__ Repeat this process at regular intervals annually

Major donor campaigns are best conducted by a committee or several board members along with key staff or office volunteers. As always, if you don't know anything other than what you'll learn in this post; educate yourself. To learn about what standard, respected, and excellent resources are out there for nonprofit leaders, read two of my other posts, "Places, Resources, and Ways to Learn Everything From Fundraising To Other Nonprofit Operations (Some Are Free)..." and "Some Free Resources" These posts list books, websites, and other tools to help you find good resources to learn from. Research major donor campaigns, and ask colleagues volunteering or working for other nonprofits how they conduct their major donors program.

Based on what you learn and what you know about the organization that you work for, plan the major donor campaign with the key participants. Work through and finalize: the budgetary goal, the campaign's timeline, the budget to put the campaign on, who will do what, benchmarks, how all of the steps will be conducted. Follow up, after the campaign's end, each year by asking for feedback, reviewing results verses goals and what went well and what needs improvement, and then improve the campaign, year to year. Be willing to learn and grow this fundraising method.

After the plan has been put into place, research the donations that your organization has received. Review what, over the past year or two, the average contribution amount has been (and if your organization receives memberships dues, sponsor donations, pledges, bequests, or employee giving donations I'd only review the contributions other than these kinds of donations, for our purpose here, otherwise your data will be skewed). Include all types of donors who give from their own wallets (e.g. individuals, families, and maybe small local businesses). To find the average, add up the total amount of donations received, and then count how many donations, total, were received. Divide the total amount received by the number of total donations received. Maybe the average amount contributed to our organization is $20, for instance. Now we must decide what is a large donation, for our organization. In other words, what contribution amount (or higher) causes whoever opens the donation envelopes at our agency to yell "wa hoo!"? Each nonprofit has to arrive at what it considers a large amount donation because each nonprofit is different. Returning to our hypothetical analysis, if the average contribution received over the past two years has been $20, we, let's say, also know that occasionally we receive $50 and sometimes $100 donations. We've established our average receipt and now we're trying to be fair and realistic but not overly conservative in determining a range of larger donations received. You can do this mathematically, as well, of course; but I find that whomever at your organization receives and enters donations to your donor database will have a good sense of what larger donation amount occasionally (every month or so) arrives, without the donor having been asked for a larger than usual sum. Let's say, hypothetically, that we decided that a regular larger donation amount that we receive is $100.

One thing that you could implement as regular operations, from now on, is acknowledging an unsolicited larger donation (based on whatever is determined to be the minimum 'large donation' for your organization; here we've found it's $100). So if this month we received 30 donations that were below $100 (and these people should each and all be thanked no matter what amount they gave - there are no 'bad' or 'cheap' donations); and we received two donations that were $100 or more - we should thank these donors, too, of course but we can begin to implement adding a special touch to not just thank them but demonstrate that we noticed their larger commitment and investment in the nonprofit. These can be simple but meaningful acknowledgements. You could do something as simple as printing out their thank you letters (tax receipts), as normal, but taking the two larger amount thank you letters to the executive director and ask him/her to write a short but personalized thank you note (in pen in their handwriting) on the formal letter. Major donors can be acknowledged in other ways, too. Some options are: a thank the major donor annual special event, instead of writing on the formal thank you letter print and send the letter and have a board member or the executive director call the donor to personally thank them in tandem with sending the letter, creating giving levels and listing donors accordingly in a newsletter or annual report that lists all larger amount donors, etc. This is an agency decision as there are costs associated with this extra acknowledgement process. This kind of relationship development is an investment in larger donations now and in the future. These new procedures' costs should be included in the major donor campaign budget (see the planning step, above). This work that I've described here is a part of major donor development. By setting a standard and then acknowledging those who unprompted contribute at this level or higher, you are encouraging them to give again in larger amounts. Combined with the following major donor campaign work - this all increases the chances in not just getting another donation from the donor but hopefully, increasing how much they give the next time, and from then on.

Turn from inward, organizational research (of the donations received) to outward looking research. Research who are the major donors who give to other nonprofits in the geographic region that your organization serves (in order for your organization's request to be relevant to potential donors). The way to 'find' major donors is to first develop the donors already giving to your organization, but to also then research and find who is giving to organizations doing similar work as yours or to organizations working on the same cause. These people and families are indicating (through their contribution to these other similar nonprofits) that they care about the cause and the work that your organization does, too. I need to caution you that no donor who gives to another nonprofit should be hunted down to give to your group too, or disparaged for not giving to your organization also, or anything so unprofessional. It is really important to realize that these people donate to nonprofits, give to a good cause, and may have a good reason for not giving to your nonprofit. Without contacting them or any other unethical or unprofessional behavior - it is your organization's job to determine how these people can be brought on board to give to your organization, too. They should never be told 'don't give to that other nonprofit' or anything to this effect. You are only responsible to raise donations for your organization. That's it. A donor's relationship with all of the other nonprofits that they give to is their business - not yours'. Meanwhile, you must remember that how you act and how you treat a potential donor reflects on the nonprofit that YOU work for and your actions reflect on how it operates. Be professional. Finally, keep in mind too that major donors can afford to give to several organizations and if a potential major donor gives to a nonprofit doing work like your own organization's; approach that potential donor understanding that they could give to your organization, in addition to everyone else that they are donating to. Your job is to raise money and develop a professional, ethical, effective, and positive relationship with potential donors (and this means encouraging them to do any good that they see fit to do - whether this involves your nonprofit (yet) or not).

How do you find out who is giving to similar nonprofits? There are lists that a nonprofit can buy (often offered through marketing or sales list companies) but I do not believe this is a necessary investment. If you locate just one or two other nonprofits who are doing similar work as your organization's in the region that your organization serves, and look over their list of donors - you can compare those names to your organization's donor list. Nonprofits usually list donors in their newsletters, in their annual report, or other places. Anyone who is giving to them, particularly above your organization's large donation amount threshold that you've determined or higher, and hasn't given to your organization yet; should be noted. Again, these people are not anything other than potential donors to your organization - treat them with respect, but be discreet, be professional and do nothing to disparage anyone or any other nonprofit. You may wonder if looking over like nonprofits' donor lists is 'fair' or 'OK', but keep in mind that turn about is fair play and it is very likely that other organizations have taken note of your organization's donors, too (and that's OK - have confidence in your donors' connection to the nonprofit that you work for). Note, too, that no other nonprofit is trying to "steal" your donors. Professionalism is key.

It's really key to understand that donors give not for tax breaks (studies show) but because they care so deeply about a cause or issue that they want to contribute to the solution. Donors look into which nonprofit does the work that they believe will best address the issue and is successful at it (and are well run, honest, transparent, professional nonprofits). Your donors, in effect, are voting for your organization's mission statement, record in the community, successes, and capabilities when they give to your agency. Be confident in their assessment and their "vote". Developing them helps them stay on board.

There are many key points in this post. Another really important key to remember is it is not natural or easy to ask another person for money. Fundraising is asking others for money, and major donor campaigns often include the unique and unusual task of asking a potential donor for money face to face. I empathize - it feels awkward imagining you, yourself, asking someone else for money. If you, your board, your staff, or your executive director are anxious about or have avoided implementing a major donor campaign because they don't want to ask others for money - it's normal, it's understandable, and most successful major donor campaigns at other nonprofits are conducted by people who got beyond these natural anxieties. I've been there, myself.

Any fundraising that involved raising single large amounts should be conducted by all relevant staff but the actual interaction should always be what's called 'peer to peer'. In other words, relevant staff (the executive director, development assistant, bookkeeper, fundraising manager, board) should all be doing their part, but the only people who should be talking with potential larger amount donors (or their representatives) on the phone, or in meetings, face to face, should be leaders of the nonprofit (the executive director and/or board members).

The first contact ("outreach" action item, above) should be through a formal letter explaining who our organization is, what we do, our successes and service statistics, ask for a meeting with them, and state what the meeting is for. If they do not respond, you can follow up once but no more. Do not harass anyone. Be good neighbors in the community to everyone; other nonprofits, potential donors, former donors; everyone. If they request to be removed from the mailing list - remove them and take that as a 'no' to the request to meet with them. Always treat people professionally. This is our outreach and it is the initial step of contact. Remember how important first impressions are. The letter should be short, to the point, clear, and informative.

Major donor discussions can be held with more than one of your organization's leaders (e.g. at a meeting); so the executive director and a board member, maybe, could take a potential major donor out to lunch, for instance. Or, just one of the key leaders could meet with a major donor. Meet when and where it is convenient for the potential donor. Your organization must demonstrate to all potential major donors that they are valued enough for the organization to give them the time of its leaders (peer to peer interaction). After all, major donors are leaders in their own way; they are demonstrating how and how much can be and should be given to your organization. They deserve to meet with your group's leaders.  Does your leadership have jitters or anxiety at the thought of face to face requests?  This is normal.  Read How To Make Requests A Donation Face to Face From A Major Donor Easier.

The next action item in initiating our major donor campaign is to practice. Everyone who will be meeting with potential major donors should practice (and more than once or twice) or role play being both the person asking for a contribution and also the potential major donor being asked for the donation. No one has to sell any potential donor on anything (in any of your fundraising, ever). No one has to be schmoozey or slick (ever). Pre-arrange a script that the asker with use, rehearse the script, and practice both acquiring the larger donation and also being told 'no', in response, or being told 'no, not now, maybe later'. Just be sure that the askers speak from their heart. Know, too, how the organization will follow through with those people who do give major donations after these asks. If one of your organization's leaders holds a meeting with a potential major donor do and don't do the following: get to the point, be clear, be honest, speak about why you are involved with THIS nonprofit honestly, provide the organization's recent successes, ask why they are involved in the cause, and if they'd like to be more involved with the organization. Do not get negative, do not get pushy, and be sure to ALWAYS (as with any and all of your donors) to listen. If they ask questions and you don't know the answer, that's fine; say so. But be CERTAIN to get back to them after the meeting in a timely fashion with the answer. Be grateful to them for their leadership in the community at large, whether they donate or not. Remember, some people want to be courted more than others so some people may say 'no' but give later. A 'no' is not the end of the world. If though, (like with any and all donors) they request to be removed from your solicitation list or wish to no longer be contacted - that is OK - they are allowed to do this. Again, thank them and quickly and completely comply with their request. There are always more fish in the sea! Treating people well, no matter what their interaction with your organization, may impress them so much that they wind up giving! Remember, how your organization and its representatives treats everyone truly reflects on the organization. Being professional and polite in all situations (as best as one can) will leave the door open for any possibilities. Being rude, taking things personally, holding a grudge, or any other non-professional behavior can ruin the chances of anyone giving to your organization again. Always leave the door open for possibilities. Never stop rehearsing asking major donors for a large contribution, even if you've done it a few times. It is a great way to desensitize those who are going to do the asking, plus it allows everyone to experience the ask from the donor's perspective.

Individualize your approaches, next. We will take the script that we've developed and have been rehearsing; and we'll fine tune and streamline it by tweaking it, individualizing the script to each person that will be asked, according to what we know they like or don't like. Let's say that we work with a board of nine people who have each taken three potential major donors to develop. We've learned major donor campaigns, we're practicing asking people for larger donations, and now we must individualize our ask for each of the board members' three potential major donors. Let' take one of our board members' list of three. Let's look at board member, Sara Smith's list. Sara has Rick Brown, Denise Miller, and the Annie and Matt Davenport family on her list, and Sara is good friends with Denise. Denise, it turns out, volunteers for another separate nonprofit and has asked Denise to contribute to that organization. Sara did and she knows that Denise will probably be happy to support an organization that she is working for and believes in (to reciprocate). This is really common among friends of board members who share phinlanthropic or community interests, so personal board connections should be added to any major donor campaign's potential donor list. Sara doesn't know anything about Mr. Brown or the Davenport family, though, so she works with the Major Donor Campaign Committee to research each of them a bit to try to learn anything that may help us increase the chances of raising a donation from them. Let's say that a couple volunteers research each and have found the following to assist Sara: the Davenport family is a long established local family who made their wealth in the local industry and are big fans of sporting events. Let's say we also learned that Mr. Brown regularly gives to our cause in larger amounts, but also to two other different causes. Sara can then tweak or personalize her ask to the Davenport family by speaking about the local community, during the meeting, and tying our organization's successes in our local community to the importance of their contribution. She can also chit chat comfortably with the Davenports about recent sporting events knowing that this will probably help ease them, too (as it is one of their interests). Sara can talk to Mr. Brown about how wonderful his committment and dedication to the community has been (ala all of the causes that he supports) and she can: ask him if he would like to learn more about our organization, and ask what connects him to the causes that he currently gives to. It is really important that during the meeting Sara (and all leaders who are going to ask a potential major donor for a contribution) takes very good notes. These notes should be returned to the Major Donor Campaign Committee, filed into each respective major donor's file (along with the findings from the Committee's initial research), and kept to help inform the next communication with them. All contact (including notes or letters) to major donors (or potential major donors) should be personalized. Do not use information, though, that you aren't certain is accurate or current. Press clippings about potential donors are great for information. Any information that we learn about our major donors or potential major donors should be noted and kept handy to be used later.

During the ask meeting Sara will speak honestly from her personal experience why she volunteers for our organization. She will answer all questions, as best she can, honestly. She will also listen. It is really important to truly understand where this potential donor is, where they are coming from, how they connect with the cause, what they know of our organization, and even what motivates them. Make it easy for the donor to give - listen to them, follow through with them in a timely manner, and meet them where they are. If, for instance, a potential donor asks about whether they could volunteer with the organization - invite them to do so. No one should give their nonprofit away for a large donation, but no one should restrict a potential donor's involvement in a nonprofit. Getting them more involved may develop into a powerful opportunity for the organization and its future.

If the potential major donor requests time to think about whether they want to contribute, or if they ask for financials to think about it, etc. give them what they request, after the meeting, in a timely manner; and give them time to process what they need to. Then, contact them again, in a timely manner, to professionally but clearly follow up. If they seem interested but don't give (and they don't state 'do not contact me again' or other request to not be contacted) be sure to approach them again maybe in six months or a year. Reapproaches should be a part of the campaign's plan (the second action item, above). Conduct this campaign every year. It is likely that it will raise more and more money as years pass. Track the successes and failures in this campaign; revisit how everything is going, regularly; make appropriate changes or imporvements; and keep at it. Work at whatever your organization has invested in.

Major donors are often interested in your cause, but perhaps they aren't aware of your organization, or don't know your organization's successes. Help them by informing them, clearly asking them for support, and give them a chance to be a major pillar to your organization. If you don't ask - they can't support at that level.

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