Don’t Forget Your $1,000 Gifts

December 7, 2015

Every organization understands the value of their very top 20 donors. It is easy to see the importance of a $10,000 annual donor. Many organizations have a cut-off as to when the “major gift” starts; often times this is $1,000. Don’t forget the value of those donors that are right at and right before that cut off. This group knows they are not your top donors but are giving because your organization is an area of passion for them. They want you to keep in touch but don’t expect as much attention. (This group is a really great group to talk with about planned gifts. If a donor can give $1,000 a year, they often have the ability to give a larger gift at the end of their life through a bequest.)

I also mention this level of gift because it often represents an underserved area. Annual Fund Directors will build a great upgrading program where they might start a donor at $100 and over a few years build them to a $500 or even $1,000 gift. In the mind of the annual fund person they are extremely important. But once they reach a certain level they are given over to the major gifts people. When the major gifts person receives this gift these individuals are all of a sudden at the bottom of their list of donors and no longer considered the most important.

Many of your “secret gem” donors who have huge capacity will start at the $1,000 level. Many donors who can give $10,000 or even much more know that major gifts start around the $1,000 level. The $1,000 gift is a trial gift to see how you will respond and whether they really want to invest their capital. If you do not pay any attention or show a value for their $1,000 gift, you will lose them very quickly.

Are you prioritizing $1,000 level supporters?  Have you seen them grow?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog


An Ask is An Ask

December 2, 2015

You may have heard a guideline, “ask for three times what you’d like a donor to give.” This is a mantra that’s often used as a technique to get a stretch gift. That guideline is a very poor rule of thumb. A good ask is one the donor feels they could stretch to make but does not feel like is out of their ability.

The magic of asking for a specific amount is that you can encourage a donor to think about a larger gift than they would traditionally do. If a donor has said yes to you soliciting them for a gift, then they have already indicated that they are very likely to give. People do not like to say no. Most of your “no’s” will happen because you’ve surprised someone and they did not know the purpose of your meeting. From a donors perspective in their heart of hearts they want to say yes to whatever you ask.

Most donors, especially if you’ve done a good job bringing them close to your nonprofit, want to do something that will be significant. Right after you ask for your gift the first thought of the donor is, “can I make that work?” That is why it’s so important that you give them time in silence to think about your ask (for more read my post: Be Quiet). If you ask for a number that is completely out of the realm of their ability, their first thought is, “how can I say no without disappointing them?” From the Development Officer’s perspective we believe that we’ve challenged them to make a stretch gift. Our hope, especially if we ask three times what we think a donor might give, is that they will give at a higher level than if we just asked for a gift at a specific level.

From the mindset of the donor the ask is the ask. Ask for a stretch gift but not one that is out of reach. When you ask for more than a donor has the capacity to do they leave feeling disheartened. If they are close to your organization, they will feel like they’ve let you down.

What tips would you suggest for an Ask?  Best Ask you’ve ever made?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

Making “The Ask”

November 30, 2015

I think that making “The Ask” is most people’s number one fear in fundraising. But in my experience making “The Ask” has been one of the easiest parts of fundraising. It does not have to be a scary or frustrating thing at all.

Many nonprofits make the mistake of spending all their time planning “The Ask” and no time cultivating and stewarding their donors. The key to making a good ask is proper preparation. Your donor needs to know who you are and have a relationship with you in order to make a good ask. Make sure that you are taking time with your donors individually and as a group to talk with them about who you are and who they are. Know what specific areas they are interested in, why they give, and why they give you your organization. Know when their birthday is or when they get a promotion. Send them a card, make a short phone call, send them an email, all these things are part of proper cultivation and stewardship.

When you get to the point that you have a relationship with your donor making “The Ask” is simple. You should know specific interests of your donor, where else they give their money (and approximately how much, see my article on prospecting), and their past giving as a result of your cultivation and conversation. You are not uncomfortable in relating with them because you have a track record. So all you have to do is ask. Ask for something specific and reasonable and you know interests them. Make sure you are thanking them for their past giving, volunteer work, etc. If your ask involves a sponsorship, grant, or proposal make sure that you have all that information to give them. I have found that many times donors are waiting for “The Ask” to come and that making a good ask is more of a compliment to them. Everyone likes to be asked.

Agree?  Thoughts?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

The Art of Phone Follow Up

November 25, 2015

Follow up calls use to be the least favorite part of my job. It can be a lot of mental work to sit down with a list of phone numbers and make call after call after call. But, the more I started to make follow up calls the more I started to like them.

How else can an organization keep in touch with a large number of constituents in a short period of time? You might say I can reach thousands of donors via email, direct mail, or blogging (if you read an earlier post). I think those are great tools but none of them are as personal as a phone call. Before I go on don’t use phone follow up as your strongest platform for solicitation. Especially for your major gifts program it is important that you meet in person with your donors.

Before starting your phone follow up make sure you have all the information you will need to answer questions within immediate reach. Have all the phone numbers, names, donor statistics (do your research before your phone call), and program details. Then rehearse a few times what you are going to say. I have often found that it takes a few messages or conversations with a few donors before my message is really polished. It is important that you speak plainly. Do not try and be smarter or more articulate than you naturally are. Donors know when you are reading a scrip or if a message is not your own. Ask questions while you are on the phone don’t do all the talking. This is a great time to learn why someone gives to your organization, how they first found out about you. This kind of conversation helps your future solicitations because you know more about what interests a donor has.

If you have a really long list of people split it up. Get a few board members to help you make calls. Set aside time to make these calls. Plan ahead a few hours every day for a week or set aside an entire afternoon to make calls. One final pointer is a little bit corny, so forgive me, but I have found that it does make an actual difference. Donors can tell by the tone in your voice if you are smiling, frowning, or bored when you are on the phone. I am not sure what it is but if I am having a conversation with someone, especially after I have said the same thing 15 times before, a smile on my face creates a better message.

If Its Not Broken

November 23, 2015

I’ve worked in three very different fundraising shops in my career and have found that they all have done things very differently and raised very different amounts of money. I know we have all looked enviously at other organizations and how well they can raise money and lamented why people are not knocking down doors to fund our programs. But the truth of the matter is growing a fundraising program takes a lot of work.

It is important that you rejoice in the fundraising strengths of the organization that you work for. I worked for a children’s hospice that was closely tied to a professional hockey team and they raised most of their money from hockey enthusiasts and businesses that wanted to align with that organization. I recently worked for a social services organization that had fantastic grassroots support. Currently I work for an organization who’s development program has great connections but is still relatively young. Every one of these nonprofits has it’s own strengths.

I want to take a moment to encourage you to improve on what you are already doing well. If you have great community support learn how to maximize it. If you are connected to a sports team then see what kinds of partnership things you can do to raise more money. I’m a huge advocate of trying new programs and having a well-rounded development office. But, don’t forsake your strengths as you continue to improve. Take a close look at what you are doing successfully right now and find ways to grow your successful programs. Once momentum has begun with a program you can often raise a lot more money improving it than starting over and trying to build momentum again in another area.

What are you doing well?  How can you grow what’s currently working?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

A Tool from the Vault – Simple Solicitation Letters

July 15, 2015

The latest iteration of our Fundraising Toolbox series is an oldie but a goodie from the Jason Dick:

Giving should be simple. How long was your last solicitation letter? Half a page, two pages? How many stories did you tell? How many statistics from your organization did you quote? If you are like many non-profits today you probably said, “my letter was a page and a half, I told the donor all about my administrative rate, why they should give, how it will help them, what the program they are giving to is, what the program does, where their money went, where there money will go, how many people we serve, etc.” I think you are getting the point.

Information should be transparent and easy to find. You cannot say everything in one solicitation or thank you letter. Your letters should be under a page and describe what you are asking your donor for and why. Yes, there are other things you need to include, but do not dilute the point (or ask) of the letter with too much information.

A solicitation letter should have three things in it:
1. What is it that you are asking for (ie. cash gift of $20,000, auction item)? Be specific donors will often give no more than you ask from them. But will often give more than they intend to if you ask for a reasonable and specific amount (make sure to have your contact information and a response envelope).
2. Why you are asking for it? This is a really good place to summarize your mission or tell a story about your organization (make sure that your organizations name is in the letter).
3. Where the money will be going? This should be very obvious but sometimes it isn’t see my post, Broad and Transparent Giving.

How are your appeal letters working?  New techniques that are adding value?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog

A Word on the Annual Report

July 8, 2015

Ok.  It’s the end of the year.  Dollars have been raised.  Dollars have been spent.  Objectives have been established.  Objectives (hopefully) have been met.  Now, it’s time to shot it from the mountaintops!  Or, more likely, get it down on paper and into an electronic or printed format that looks just awesome.  After all, it’s the Annual Report for crying out loud!

We give a lot weight to this tool, and sometimes, perhaps too much weight.  Accurate, compelling, and transparent reporting on our finances and key metrics every year is a unique privilege and responsibility that we must execute.  However, if we feel like it’s our one and only shot to impress, encourage, and inform our community of support we have missed many opportunities for more frequent touches.

That said, the Annual Report is an important deliverable and naturally we want to really exceed expectations.  To increase the likelihood of doing that, here are some key questions that must be addressed regardless of formatting decisions:

  1. How much income was generated and how was it spent?
  2. What were our key metrics of operational results and were they met?
  3. What is on the mind of our executive leadership?
  4. What impact has giving had on the mission?
  5. What challenges have we faced?
  6. What are the priorities as we move into the next fiscal year?

Again, it is really important that we are clear, creative, and compelling.  It’s also important that we provide this electronically even if we decide to also print it.  There are some amazing examples out there and if you are seeking inspiration and additional insight.  Check out these winners.

What Annual Reports have gotten your attention?  Join the conversation at @infosmallchange #ascblog