Is This About a Gift?

From the author of “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (Charity Channel Press, 2013).

Every once in a while, I run into a prospect who tries to cut through my efforts with a simple, penetrating question:

Is this about a gift?


Put another away, I recently gave a book talk which was well received. However, at the end of the presentation my session host expressed skepticism about my process. “People know you are a director of development, so they know you want money,” the host exclaimed. “Aren’t there people who don’t want to go through this (cultivation) proess? They might not want to make a gift, and even if they do they may not have time for multiple meetings.”

The end result of this skepticism is often the question about my pursuit of a gift. The answer is simple:

I explain that while my function is to raise philanthropic support, my initial visit purpose is never to solicit them. I’m there simply to meet, say thank you, and assess the prospect’s possible inclination to make an investment in the future.

If the first visit is a success, of course my goal is to have a second visit. Maybe there will be an ask at the second visit, but maybe not. Everyone is different.

Whenever the “question” arises, prospects typically are quite satisfied with my answer. If the prospect pushes back more after hearing my response, however, it’s probably an indication that a meeting is not likely to happen or that a meeting will not be productive.

Again,  I have, on a number of occasions, indicated to prospects that a gift discussion during a first meeting rarely happens and that when it does, it is always at the suggestion of the person I am meeting with. The subtle message is that asking for a gift would not be appropriate because we don’t really know each other yet.

Don’t let the “question” ever stop you from seeing your prospects. They just might start thinking about a gift after they hear what you have to say.

Published in: on May 29, 2013 at 4:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

Making the Case for Major Gifts


From the author of “Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (Charity Channel Press, 2013).

Before you can begin identifying/qualifying prospective major donors, you must first gain buy-in from your organization’s leadership. If this is your first foray in pursuit of major gifts, your board and CEO must be sold on the concept. Given that a first visit very rarely results in an investment, a great deal of patience will be required. You are not likely to see much incoming revenue from initial efforts.

When budgets are tighter than ever, how do you justify such an investment? Why should your nonprofit spend its limited reserves on a fledgling major gifts effort when it could instead roll out a another direct mail solicitation or special event that will provide a modest, but reliable, source of income? Can you provide proof that investment in major gifts is wise?

There are two good measurements that you can employ to make an evidence-based argument for major gifts. First, cultivation of individual donors is almost always the most cost effective way to raise money. Industry standards indicate that it may cost up to 50 cents (or more) to raise a dollar through a special event, primarily due to the labor intensive nature of the venture. While special events are great for relationship building, they typically are one of least  efficient fundraising methods. Direct mail costs can vary widely, but between 25 to 40 cents to raise of dollar are typical standards.

Compare these numbers to major gifts work. Organizations with ongoing major gifts program typically spend only 10-15 cents to raise a dollar. This is because the larger gifts resulting from a focused effort will inevitably your cost to raise a dollar (CTRAD).

If you are not currently pursuing major gifts, you can use your organization’s CTRAD to justify an effort. Take a look at your most recently concluded fiscal year. Take the total amount of funds raised for the year and divide it by the amount spent on fundraising activities. If your ratio is lower than six dollars (anywhere between one and six dollars) for every one dollar spent, chances are very good that you are not devoting enough resources toward developing the relationships that will eventually result in major philanthropic investments.

You can do the same thing with each individual fundraising method. If you work for an organization that sponsors several special events each year, it may be a good time for a close examination. Let’s say your charity holds a major golf outing each year. How much money do you raise from the outing, and how much does it cost? Be sure to include the costs of staff time in the overall equation. Would it make sense to forgo the golf outing and instead focus more on major gifts?

Deciding on your fundraising strategy employing the proper tools/methods is serious business. Make sure you do your homework to come up with the best (and most efficient) “mix” for your nonprofit. It’ll be well worth the time invested.

Published in: on May 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why I Decided to Write a Book

Opening the Door to Major Gifts

At 52 years of age, I have wondered aloud why I waited until now to write my first book. I suppose the answer is that I have never seen a need for such an endeavor. My approach to work has always been practical, so it was not until I saw a problem that needed to be solved that I became motivated to write. I’ve seen way too many new development officers struggle to get appointments with new prospects. Once the relationship had been established, it wasn’t nearly as hard to continue cultivation and even ask for a gift, but hoo boy — that first meeting is a bear. Setting up and conducting the discovery call was easily my most difficult challenge when I started in major gifts fundraising 15 years ago.

“Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call” (April 2013) will make its debut from the publisher

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Published in: on May 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm  Leave a Comment  

Do You Need Wealth Screening?

From the Author of Opening the Door to Major Gifts: Mastering the Discovery Call (Charity Channel Press)

When making discoverpuzzled-look-picy calls, there are many ways to obtain valuable information prior to the visit. One method is to hire a wealth screening service to survey your donor database and determine the approximate ability of donors to give generously. While this can be a valuable service, it certainly isn’t mandatory. In the best of worlds, all donors who come to your organization — whether through a special event, direct-mail donation or online gift — should be reviewed by a committee of knowledgable volunteers AND analyzed through wealth screening software to determine capacity. Unfortunately, both methods have drawbacks. While volunteers are often willing to share their insights about prospects, they are generally less likely to introduce you to them or accompany you on a visit. Further, while wealth screening can give you some indication of a prospect’s ability to give, it tells you nothing about the individual’s inclination to make a major gift.

What all this means is that you need to go see your donors and find out for yourself. They are helpful, but you do not NEED volunteers or fancy software. Just meet with your prospects, ask questions and LISTEN. You will know soon enough how they feel about your organization.

Here’s an example of how wealth screening might be helpful, but certainly is not vital. Let’s say you have time to only see one prospect, but have two on your list. The first prospect has a wealth screening rating of $50,000 and has made annual gifts of $500 to your organization in each of the last three years. The second prospect has a capacity rating of $500,000 but has not given at all in the past five years. Before that, there were only two gifts, each for $25.

So, which prospect are you going to try to meet with?

The first prospect will definitely be my top priority because the prospect is a significant annual donor, and in fact a donor of some consistency (three straight years). The second prospect may have great capacity, but I have no idea if there is any real interest. Previous gifts were not large, and they occurred some time ago.

That’s why I think wealth screening and gift ratings are helpful but not necessarily essential. In this case, did the wealth screening really matter? At its simplest element, if someone is supporting your organization significantly and consistently, why not try to go visit that person — if for no other reason than to simply say thank you?

Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Published in: on May 8, 2013 at 8:16 pm  Leave a Comment