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By chris

This blog focuses on the world of prospect research and various related fundraising topics. To diversify our subject matter, we like to feature the work of our friends and colleagues in the community. Join me in welcoming Claire Axelrad of Clairification and please enjoy her post on major gifts.

The Shocking Truth about Major Gifts: It’s Not about Money

Everyone wants to develop a major gifts program. Or to strengthen their existing major gifts program. Why? Because they want to raise more money. If you approach major gifts development solely from this perspective you’ll ultimately fail. You might raise more money for a little while. But over the long-term you’ll lose more support than you gain. Because it’s not just about money.

Successful, lifelong major donor relationships are about two things:

(1) Impact

(2) Gratitude

The heart of effective fundraising is about uncovering people who share the values your organization enacts; then making a match that enables these people to do something about which they’re passionate. Yes, they end up giving you money to accomplish this end. But it’s not about money. It’s about the impact this money will make. It’s about feeding a hungry family. Saving a grove of trees. Helping an abused woman and child find refuge. Curing a disease. Righting a wrong. Once the gift is made, your job is to show your donor the impact their gift made. To demonstrate gratitude for that impact. To show them again so they’re reminded of the benefits of their investment. To thank them again so they feel truly appreciated. Then, when you think your donor is filled to the brim with the joy of giving, and is ready to re-enact their passion, you show them a way they can do it all over again. Let’s take a closer look at what it takes to build a rich, rewarding relationship with donors you hope to move towards increasing levels of commitment with your charity.

The Right Way to Approach Major Donor Development

First, you must understand your goals:

  • Find an impact to bring donors joy.

  • Authentically demonstrate how your donor makes a difference.

  • Always think from your donor’s perspective.

  • Reach out proactively to help donors joyfully enact their passions.

Find an Impact to Bring Donors Joy Passionate philanthropy is a joyful experience. Giving, according to research, lights up pleasure centers of the brain and releases endorphins that give you joy.  When you show your donors what they can do to be the change they want to see, you’re also making a gift. To do so thoughtfully, you must first become adept at sussing out what your donors cherish.  Then figure out what your organization does that aligns with their values and passions. This can be accomplished through a planned cultivation and stewardship program often known as ‘moves management.’ Authentically Demonstrate How Your Donor Makes a Difference Donors give because they want to make a difference. And they want to be appreciated for caring enough to put their money where their mouth is. You have to mean it; no fake thank-you’s. You can’t be thinking raising money is a ‘necessary evil.’ This is why I want you to channel an attitude of gratitude at all times.  Think. Really think. What is it about your donor that you’re grateful for?  Then you can tell your donor and come across as genuine. And your donor will feel happy and fulfilled. They’ll know they made a good decision to invest with you. Always Think From Your Donor’s Perspective Before you do anything, ask yourself “What will the donor think?  What will the donor feel?” This often means tailoring your approach to align with your donor’s preference. It means giving your donor options. Not insisting they make unrestricted gifts or gifts to programs other than those where their passions lie. This means thinking about how you would feel if the cultivation or solicitation plan you’ve prepared for your prospective donor-investor were directed towards you. Reach Out Proactively If you just sit by the phone waiting for your donor to call not much will happen. Donors need to be wooed and shown that the deepening of their relationship with you will bring them joy. In every interaction, remember to treat your donor with consideration and respect. Don’t make them feel you only care about their money rather than their opinions, feelings and advice. Now that you understand your goals, you need to develop a cultivation and stewardship plan to attain them.

It Takes a Village

Your donor needs to be stewarded continually, every time they interact with your organization. It’s not just about what the development department does. It’s how they’re treated by the receptionist. The gift processor. The volunteer coordinator. The program staff. Even the recipients of philanthropy (e.g., students, alumni, families of clients, and more).  Everyone has a role in creating positive, productive relationships with your donors.

You have to be in the groove all the time.

If you merely act friendly and grateful when you’re in front of donors, but then get snarky and cynical when they’re out of sight, you’ll never be able to create authentic relationships. Because you’ll be in two places – two frames of mind – at the same time. You’ve got to be focused and very clear about your feelings. Otherwise you’re just enacting transactions; not building transformational relationships. Create a culture where folks:
  • Model the joy of giving. Encourage staff and volunteers to (1) connect with the ‘why’ of their affiliation with your organization, and then (2) give accordingly.
  • Listen to each other. Spend time learning what program staff do and also teaching them about fundraising. Share success stories. You can’t learn about the work going on that may connect with prospective donors if you don’t do this. You can’t inspire each other if you don’t do this.
  • Listen to your constituents. Regularly engage with folks. Ask them for feedback and advice. You can’t learn what floats people’s boats if you don’t listen.
  • Keep everyone – staff, volunteers and donors – in the loop. Connect the dots for each other. Development staff should make it a regular practice to let other staff and volunteers know how the great job they did resulted in an act of philanthropy to continue your mission. Make it clear that philanthropy happens because of needs being successfully addressed by your organization; not because of development staff. Make all of your staff and volunteers – your entire village – the heroes.
  • Treat everyone like a major donor. Instill a ‘customer’-centered culture where everyone is treated with consideration, honor and gratitude. You don’t always know who your current and potential major donors are.
  • Make stewardship a priority. A donor-centered culture flows naturally from a customer-centered culture. When you’re used to thinking your job is to learn what your constituents desire and to make your constituents happy, it’s easy to extend this to donors.
When you think major gifts fundraising is just about asking for money, you miss the whole point. It’s not about the money. It’s about the transformative power of that money. What it can accomplish. How it can create an outsized impact to make the world a better place. So don’t concentrate all your energies on the solicitation. You may get the gift, but one-time gifts are here today, gone tomorrow. Plan ahead to continue building authentic relationships with your supporters. Impact. Gratitude. Authenticity. That’s the right approach to transform a one-time transaction into something longer lasting. Major Gift Whitepaper  

Headshot Claire AxelradClaire Axelrad , J.D., CFRE was named Outstanding Fundraising Professional of the Year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals and brings 30 years frontline development and marketing experience to her work as principal of Clairification. A sought-after coach and consultant, Claire is a member of the Rogare Fundraising Think Tank Relationship Fundraising Advisory Panel and writes monthly columns for Nonprofit Pro and Maximize Social Business. Clairification was named “Best Fundraising Blog of 2013” by FundRaising Success Magazine. A member of the California State Bar and a graduate of Princeton University, Claire currently resides in San Francisco California.

Check out her upcoming e-course on major gifts for more insights!

[Guest Post] The Shocking Truth about Major Gifts: It’s Not About the Money