Sunday, December 12, 2010

How To Make Requesting a Donation Face to Face From A Major Donor Easier

A major donor campaign is a fundraising method where nonprofits develop existing or new donors that consistently give at larger single donation increments compared to the average individual donor.  Usually the campaign is planned and operated by all fundraising staff and volunteers, but the actual work of developing major donors is coordinated by the fundraising or development staff (behind the scenes such as receiving contribution and responding in a timely manner with a thank you) and executives and board members developing these donors personally.  And yes, asking anyone for money for anything, including a nonprofit, can be daunting, awkward, and even something one works to avoid having to do.  So, let me be clear, on average, of all nonprofits' volunteers and staff in the world, I am certain that there are fewer numbers of executive directors and board members who are comfortable with the idea of asking people for large amounts of money.  But (and this is the key) once those same executives and board members are shown how it's done (so that the major donor campaign can be fruitful and successful), once they are educated, trained, and given the opportunity to rehearse; the anxiety level goes way down, as is true of anything new. 

In my post, Getting Major Donors to Contribute Large Regular Donations Can Stabilize Cash Flow I explain what a major donor campaign looks like, how one works, and how your nonprofit can begin one.  In that post, I give you the step by step instructions to get one going.  That post is a good primer or introduction to this post.

Here I am listing my top pieces of advice for a strong and successful major donor campaign:

__ All fundraising, no matter what type of fundraising method (i.e. grant writing, major donor campaign, bequests campaign, capital campaign) is about a given nonprofit initiating, developing, and maintaining relationships with current and potentially new donors.  Every nonprofit should see that direct relationships with its donors as its strongest ability (and potential) to raise money.  Re-read that last sentence.  If a nonprofit farms out most or all of its fundraising, or receives the benefit of another entity, such as a local business, raising funds for it - it may be missing a crucial component to that nonprofit's own ability to raise more, over time, and to grow the amount raised annually, and frankly, it probably is.  The idea that  'relationships are everything' might sound trite or cliche' but it is neither.  On the other hand, no one should be overdoing any interactions between the nonprofit and its donors, either.  The happy medium has been found.  The tried, tested, determined donor care or donor development is how relationships are made and maintained, and then re-done and honed by other nonprofits, and repeated successfully by all kinds of nonprofits all over the world.  These come to be professional nonprofit best practices.  How should a donor be treated so that a relationship is maintained between the nonprofit and them but so that there isn't an undo amount of resources used by the nonprofit to do so, and also so that the donor is comfortable and even appreciative, and the nonprofit receives the benefit of ongoing support from that donor (no small feats)?  Also, what is the method or how is it conducted?  I explain what and how in my post, Your Nonprofit Needs Cash Flow.  That Means Your Nonprofit Needs Your Individual Donors.  Take Great Care of Each One.  It, other posts in this blog, and other excellent nonprofit resources also explain the professional nonprofit donor development best practices that I am referring to.

__ It is easiest to ask others for donations (of any increment but especially larger single donations) when you, "the asker", really believe in the nonprofit, the work its doing, its team, its future capabilities, and that the organization's work will provide for the community a yet undiscovered solution that will produce real and needed outcomes for the organization's beneficiaries.  If the organization is really doing well at what it does and is the organization to provide real solutions it's easiest to ask anyone to support it, including asking a major donor, in a face to face meeting.

__ Remember, when asking a donor for a donation, that you are asking a question and the person being asked can always say 'no'.  'No' is not the end of the world, or the end of the relationship.  Rather, it is one's right and if after asking for a donation the nonprofit is told 'no', it should simply be taken as such.  How the donor indicates they wish to proceed should be respected and then follow through can be made with them, if appropriate, again, at a later time.  Remembering this takes pressure off the asker, because it's not a nonprofit's leader's job to coerce, pull out of thin air, or beg a donation out of anyone (ever).  As is stated in the post, "Your Nonprofit Needs..." mentioned above, a major donor is one who demonstrates an interest in the organization and its work.  The asker relates why the donor's larger increment investment  is needed, why this particular organization is a sound investment and how it will achieve successes with the larger donation.  This information (in any donation request) may or may not be compelling to the donor, but the nonprofit leader, in a major donor ask, has done their job if they have related truthful and compelling facts.  Leaving the discussion (and relationship) so that the donor is comfortable, informed, thanked, and has been asked are the ultimate goals.  We all know that sometimes a person has a reason why they can not give right then (or maybe just not give at that increment right then) and those reasons come and go.  This is O.K.  The key is to engage any and all donors in such a manner that they give now and again later, but if they can't give now - treat them well so that they might give again later.  This is all any fundraiser can do.

__ Being informed about how to go about a face to face larger increment donation request, properly, and then having rehearsed it each help.  Having a well researched perspective donor is helpful, too.  The fundraising department should arm those who are going to meet with potential major donors (i.e. the executive director and board members) with factual and on point set of talking points for the nonprofit representative to have and learn, prior to the meeting, for each perspective major donor.  No one's privacy should be invaded but there is a good amount of information that can be gleaned, for instance, from a nonprofit's own donations records about most donors (i.e. they prefer to give to this campaign, have volunteered in the past (or not), and have a relative who was assisted by this nonprofit (or not).  Once a nonprofit's representative is trained, rehearsed, and informed for each individual they are going to talk with - they feel more at ease.

__ Nowhere is it written that all direct interactions with a potential donor (of any kind) must be one on one.  Do whatever makes everyone involved (e.g. the nonprofit's representatives and the potential donor) comfortable!  If everyone would rather meet during a jog around the local park instead of for a lunch, for instance, - do that.  If the potential donor wishes to include a friend in the meeting - fine.  Why not if that makes them comfortable?  If the nonprofit representative would rather do the ask with another board member present (in a team) that's fine, too, as long as the potential donor is informed and is fine with it (and they usually are).  Take the pressure off wherever and however you can for everyone involved in this process!

__ Know how much you are going to ask each individual potential donor for (based on some real recent giving history and their indicated/demonstrated capability to give in larger increments).  This amount may vary individual major donor to individual major donor and probably will.  For instance, the amount that your organization would ask Bill and Melinda Gates for, in a face to face ask, is likely a different amount from how much you would ask a local business owner for (and one donor and their potential to give is not more important than the other.  Just having supporters who give is the ultimate goal).  Having said this - you aren't out to get as much as you can beyond reason.  If the nonprofit is running a capital campaign and there is a specific amount still un-raised and needed - of course attempt to raise it - but raise it from prospective, if planned, major donors who are really capable of giving at that level and have demonstrated an interest in the organization.  If the amount is very large, split the amount into lesser amounts and ask for specific increments (as needed) based, again, on the individual donor's abilities to give. 

__ Know what you are asking for the money from them for.  If you go into an ask and can't demonstrate why the money is needed and where the money will be spent, why ask for anything at all?  Donors are not money repositories but rather investors or partners who are interested (for usually personal reasons) in the nonprofit's cause or issue, and are invested in the organization because they want to see real, successful, and needed (but yet unmet) outcomes.  Don't abuse their interest.  Be prepared (but not overly so) to demonstrate (in a compelling fashion) how and why the donation is needed.  Make a clear case.  As already stated, being armed with compelling information makes asking for a donation easier for everyone involved.

__ Be grateful.  If they've given before, begin by thanking them and acknowledging their prior support.  If they haven't given to your organization before but are notoriously active in philanthropy or volunteerism in the local community, note that, and thank them (even if it wasn't for your organization - they can be thanked for their concern and involvement in your community).  If they do donate, of course thank them, and follow their wishes if they request anonymity.  Engaging anyone by first thanking them lessens the level of every one's anxiety.

__ Always follow through in a professional and timely manner.  If you meet with a potential donor and they request more information, get it to them.  If they request more time to consider the ask, grant them that.  If they are not ready to give now, but perhaps in six months - thank them and then contact them in six months.  Always grant anyone asked for a donation their rights.  This is how a potential donor feels enabled even if they have not donated to your specific organization, yet.  It is a good way to begin or maintain a relationship even if the first donation has not yet been given.  This leaves everyone in the relationship feeling respected, heard, welcome, and enabled.

__ Rehearse.  It may seem tedious or even unnecessary but the best practices bare out.  It is proven that leaders who practice and rehearse prior to major donor asks do better.  Isn't it always the case with anything that if you practice you do better?  It's true with major donation requests, too.

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