In early November, we had a transformative roundtable discussion – Navigating the “Big Ask” in Challenging Times.

You had so many burning questions during and after that webinar about cultivating meaningful relationships with your donors, navigating the tricky waters of meeting requests, addressing donor concerns, and even reigniting the spark with lapsed supporters.

Beth Ann Locke, Director of the Academy, and I sat down to answer YOUR top questions:

1. What questions can I ask in a discovery call that will help develop a deeper relationship with my donor? 

I’d like to find out what they are passionate about but I don’t want to come across as invasive or inauthentic.

Try this approach that Beth Ann Locke suggests: 

After calling to say thanks, you might ask how their summer went, or what their plans are for the winter. You might learn that they took the whole family for a trip to…Italy! 

You might then ask how many people, was it all grandchildren, etc. You can find a lot out about a donor when they talk about their family and their travel interests.  

If you have the opportunity, you can also ask, “What resonates most with you about our work and programs?”

2. I’m trying to schedule discovery meetings but I’m getting nowhere with my calls requesting meetings. Any ideas and suggestions?

The good news – is you don’t have to have an in-person meeting to have a discovery call. 

The truth is that you can dip into discovery questions in all sorts of donor conversations – such as a thank-you call for a recent gift or volunteer experience. 

We are finding that as the winter is approaching, with all sorts of viruses running amok, the donor may be hesitant (if you traveled over Thanksgiving, you know how many people were out and about in close quarters!). 

We always say, meet the donors where they are!

 A simple phone call is great (and please, if you are uncomfortable on the phone, let’s practice your skills!) 

Even leaving a message saying you’d love to give your heartfelt thanks to them via phone can help. 

You can also tell people that you will call back at a certain time. (then put it on your calendar and do so). 

Just because WE want the discovery info about our donors, in reality, we have to be sensitive. 

Asking for information is taking something from them, whereas inviting them to tell us what resonates most about our programs – or the impact of our work – is a warmer invitation.

3. What to do? My donor fears a recession and is canceling meetings with us.  

Our short answer is: Some donors are holding back because they are worried about instability in the economy, and you can’t do a lot about how they feel. 

Your job is to be patient and send love and attention to your wonderful donors even when they are not giving. 

Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. And, they will probably come back to give when they feel better about their investments and the economy. 

Longer answer: 

Even though you may know a particular donor has capacity, even then we cannot actually know where their resources are directed.

Beth Ann always recalls the donor who shared that she was paying for a special school for her nieces’ children, who were on the spectrum. In another country. 

So the lesson is – when we appeal to donors, we are not appealing to their wealth, but to their generosity and the impact of YOUR org and the values match. 

Beth Ann’s (beautiful) suggested response to the donor: 

“Chris, thank you so much for considering meeting with me last month to discuss your support of our work. As a current Patron you know, one of the key aspects of the arts is to nourish the soul and to reflect collectively on what is happening in our communities. 

I respect your message to me about your feelings on the continued bumpy economy. 

We have found that people are finding a special refuge in the gatherings at our theater – they are having a shared, thoughtful and positive experience. 

When you are ready, we are hoping you would consider a gift that might be less “open-ended” and one that supports a portion of our programs where you find the most meaning.

4. How can you make your organization’s year-end fundraising “urgent” when there are so many world events happening that are dire?

Remember, your donors have a personal reason that they choose you and your organization’s mission. This personal connection to your cause exists whether the world is falling apart or not. 

It’s important to talk about the work and the IMPACT of your organization. This is far more important than your year-end financial goals. It’s your mission that is so very IMPORTANT! 

This is why understanding the values match between the donors’ values and the impacts of your organization is so key. And, of course, this is why we believe that ongoing discovery calls are a vital part of major gift work. 

Best thing to say to your donors: Our Work Continues . . .

If you personally feel you need to mention other crises… which we don’t think you need to do… then say something like: 

“With all the challenges, conflicts, and crises happening close to home or on the other side of the world, the work of Global Volunteers continues. 

“You may choose a hands-on volunteering experience for yourself or your family to support our work. OR you can give and also make your impact on 17 communities in the US and abroad. The choice is yours. 

“But we ask that you say Yes today, to ensure the impact – using local solutions for local challenges – continues.

5. What is some helpful verbiage for lapsed donors/renewal?

Here’s our recommendation:

“Hi Dana, Thank you so much for your support in recent years. You’ve helped to bring magic to many children and families in the past. We hope you will remain a supporter and continue to send grace to these families who need such help today. 

For a capital campaign donor who may renew their annual gift: 

“Your important gifts to our capital campaign helped to renew our theater, but, even more, brought new magic to patrons young and old.  Have you been down for a visit since you made your gift? I would love to offer a short tour to show you the ripples of impact your gift had.”

If the donor gave, say, at the $1,000 level, you might refer to the last gift. 

“Your generosity in last year was simply magnificent. We are hoping you will invest in our families AND the magic again this year. Might you consider another gift of $1,000?”

Bottom Line – It’s time to get back to basics and use the Conversational Ask method.

Remember to listen thoughtfully, and encourage the donor to share their feelings and deepest passions. From there, an ask should come naturally.

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Email if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

If you want to create tons of donor love, then thank your donors early and often!

You might already be actively thanking your major donors during the holiday season, but what about all your other lovely supporters?

This is a great time to go back and thank them ALL for everything they have done to make your organization successful.

Tip 1: Segment Your Donor List

I would encourage you to look at and segment your list – spread the love around.

How about thanking your organization’s founders or longtime supporters? You could run your list to see who has been donating for over 15 years.

How about your monthly donors? They deserve more than a transactional thank you! Surprise and delight them with an unexpected thank you. 

How about former board members? Capital Campaign donors from the past?

Hint: these folks are probably major donor prospects, aren’t they? So it is reasonable to invest some of your time thanking them for getting you to where you are now.

Remember that thanking donors is the first step to preparing them for the next solicitation.

Tip 2: Share a News Update

Don’t just thank your donors – give them an update. 

Tell them about the impact their gift has made.

What has happened in the last 10 years since they made their first donation?

Tip 3: Thank Your Women Donors

Women will, in fact, respond generously when they are approached correctly – and thanked properly.

Women control 32% of the world’s wealth and add $5 trillion to the global wealth pool every year.

In 2020 in the U.S. alone, women controlled $10.9 trillion to men’s $24 trillion. Currently, 45% of millionaires in the US are women.

So, don’t forget to reach out and acknowledge your female donors in particular!

Tip 4: Try a Thank-a-Thon

Even though you are in the middle of the year-end season, it’s still a great time for a thank-a-thon – it’s like a mass thank-you session.

Remember that thanking donors is the first step to asking them for another contribution.

Try a Thank-a-Thon: Gather your board members, volunteers and staff together for a fun night.

Get on the phone and call your donors. Thank them for everything they have done to help and get specific – tell them WHO they are helping and HOW.

Don’t thank them for helping YOUR organization be successful. Instead, thank them for the impact THEY are making in the world.

Your thank you helps donors feel like you care about them as real people rather than wallets or ATM machines. 

This is a great place to use your board members. Studies show that when board members thank donors, their future gifts are larger. 

Bottom Line – Remember, you have plenty of major donor prospects

Remember, you have major donor prospects – right now – buried in your files among the small gifts. The problem is that they just haven’t identified themselves as major donors yet. A little bit of donor love might change that!

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Email if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Are you familiar with that feeling of endless cultivation with a donor? Let me tell you a story:

Over the past nine months, fundraiser Kim Washington has been diligently cultivating her #1 donor, Olive Robinson. 

Kim has zoom coffees with Olive. They have lunch. Even more, Kim makes sure Olive has regular email and phone contact and keeps her informed all the time. 

In the back of Kim’s mind, she keeps wondering. “Is Olive ready for a gift conversation? Have we warmed her up enough for an ask? It feels like I’m stuck in endless cultivation.” 

Bad News – The Donor Slips Away

One morning over coffee, Kim scrolls through her phone reading the local news. . . and mulling about her next contact with Olive. 

“Oh no!” Kim is aghast.

There, in the news, is a gift announcement from another nonprofit where Olive has just made a $2 million gift, in memory of her husband.

Alas. There goes Kim’s hoped-for major gift. Her donor slipped away. How could it be that Olive, who was so interested in Kim’s organization, would surprise everyone with a gift to that other organization?

Why Does Your #1 Prospect Suddenly Disappoint You? 

Here is why this happens fairly often in the world of philanthropy. It’s because the fundraiser gets stuck in “cultivation” and does not bring up the topic of a gift.  

In reality, most donors do not fit into a clear stage in the donor journey.  You can’t pigeonhole them.

We fundraisers limit ourselves by how we define these stages. 

Some donors may be willing and eager to make a major gift now, but fundraisers miss the signals, because they are defining the donor in a box.

Here’s how to move the donor from an endless round of feel-good conversations over into a discussion about their potential support. 

Escape Endless Cultivation – Move from Discovery to a Gift Conversation in 15 Minutes 

At Gail Perry Group, we are coaching our clients in a new approach with donors – one that helps to identify those who want to help with a gift right now. 

And let me just say that our clients are seeing remarkable results with this approach. Donors are coming forward early in the donor journey and wanting to make a gift right now. 

We have found that we can literally move a donor from a series of discovery questions – right into a gift conversation.

Here’s an example of a typical conversation flow:

Question One: “I’d love to know more about how you came to be a donor.

When you are able to get your donor to share their Donor Story, you can really open the floodgates. You’ll find your donor probably has a deeply personal reason for supporting your work – something that resonates with their personal values of what is important in life. 

This is a powerful question to ask. Your job as a fundraiser is to sit tight, and perhaps say, “Tell me more.” 

Question Two: “I know you’ve been supporting our work for a long time. May I ask, what kind of impact do you feel that you are making through your giving?” 

By asking the donor to describe their feelings, you are helping the donor literally talk themselves into the idea of giving more.

Even more, your donor will tell you what you need to know at this stage. 

Question Three: “I can see that you are deeply committed to this work. May I ask, have you ever thought about doing something even bigger?”

With this question, you politely move directly into a Gift Conversation.

Now, you are using permission to place the issue squarely on the table with the donor. And remember – they are engaged, active, excited, and sharing more and more! 

Your donor just may say, “Wow, I never thought about that. And yes, I might actually like to make a bigger impact. Let’s talk about it!” 

Bottom Line: Don’t Get Stuck in Endless Cultivation

Here is the hard truth – don’t let yourself get stuck in endless chit-chat with your donor.

Instead, ask them why they give. Ask them how much they care. Ask if they’d like to get more engaged and make an even bigger impact.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Just how difficult is it to create a donor-centered case statement? One that your donors will love?

It’s challenging, no doubt. Our clients ask us often to help draft vision statements for feasibility studies and case statements for their capital campaigns. 

Since this seems to be a challenge for organizations large and small, we wanted to share some expert guidance in this post. 

What’s Wrong with Many Case Statements

Often, there’s too much bragging about how great the organization is, and not enough exciting copy about the vision and the future. Too many cases are missing the important stuff – what they want to accomplish. How they want to change the world. 

The other day, I pulled out some notes from the late great Jerry Panas on developing a case statement. It’s pure gold. 

You may or may not remember Jerry Panas, but he was a mentor for me, and a fundraiser/consultant extraordinaire. He wrote numerous books, and I always liked his natty dressing style, down to the cufflinks.

Here are Jerry Panas’ suggestions for developing your case, along with our own suggestions as a guide as well. 

How to Create a Donor-Centered Case Statement that Your Donors Will Love

1. The case statement opening. Your first paragraph should seize the reader, and mesmerize them to think about how they feel about your work. 

It should say to your readers: “Let me take you by the hand . . .. there is something very special I want to share with you that is going on at our organization.“

We suggest: Open with your vision of a better world. Describe, in glowing terms, what it will be like at the end of your campaign. What will you be accomplishing? How will the world be a better place? What is the vision of possibility that you are offering to your donor? 

2. Instead talk about the important investments needed to make this happen. Use words like dividends and impact

We suggest: Never talk about what you “need.” Never say “we need your help.” You can say the kids need your help, or the (patients/students, dancers, animals) need help. Not your organization needs help. 

3. Tone. Be friendly, not highbrow, if you want to create a donor-centered case statement.

Our take: We are tired of seeing lofty, complex, formal writing. Today, fundraising writing has changed. The best writing is more informal. No policy-speak allowed. No lofty metaphors that are hard to understand.  

4. Unique Factor. Be sure to show how you are uniquely positioned to meet this urgent need head on – no one else does what you do. Try to burn yourselves into the donors’ hearts and minds. 

We suggest: Help your donor understand that your organization uniquely has the capacity and power to make this happen. 

5. Urgency. It’s not about your organization, or your track record of accomplishments. It’s about the urgent need out there that you will address. 

Enforce the urgency: use the word “now” often. Be dramatic, emotional. Answer the question, “Why Now? Why this project?” 

We suggest: If your case doesn’t give solid reasons for why we need to act now, then you are creating a weaker document. You are missing a key opportunity to galvanize your supporters.

6. Images. Use lots of images. Photographs should make the reader see and feel the results of your work. 

Our take: We like to use photographs that evoke emotion. Your pictures can convey your work sometimes better than words can. Use close ups of faces. Images with bright colors “land” better in people’s minds. 

7. Excitement. Close it out with repeated dreams, passion, wonder and celebration. 

We suggest: Your case statement should play on the emotional side of why this is important. Help people feel the possibility of a better future – one that they can help create.  Your passion and excitement for the work should show all through the document. 

Bottom Line: Creating a Donor-Centered Case Statement

Use these tips to guide your writing.  You’ll create something magical that will inspire donors to open their hearts and help your cause right now.  

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly insights with you as we cover important fundraising strategies. 

If your organization is planning a capital campaign or launching a major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

“Cultivate donors.” I bet you’ve heard that before. 

But how do we accomplish this in the virtual environment? 

We like to think of cultivation as nurturing your donor’s philanthropic interest in your organization’s work.

And you are a crucial piece of the puzzle. You are the factor that allows your donors’ gifts to impact the world. 

So how do you cultivate donors, this fall, in a virtual environment?

1. Identify the objective of each cultivation activity

Do you often leave your house without a destination in mind? Probably not. So why would you undertake a cultivation journey without a destination in mind and a route to get there?

When you reach out to a donor, are you trying to deepen that relationship with the donor? Or perhaps your goal is just to build awareness and trust with this particular donor? 

Invest time to lay out clear objectives for each contact with a specific donor. Without objectives, you will wander in circles, and go nowhere.

And luckily, the virtual environment forces you to have clear objectives! Since you can’t entertain or take your donor to lunch, you have to be clear on what you want to accomplish when you’re on a virtual visit.  

2. Understand why you are undertaking this activity

What is the difference  between building awareness for a donor and deepening a relationship? 

We’re glad you asked. 

Building awareness is usually the first step in building a connection between the donor and your organization. If a donor understands how your mission and impact connect with their personal passions and interests, they will likely engage more often.

Deepening a relationship is the next step. This leads to a stronger connection between the donor and your work. And that results in larger and/or more frequent gifts.

Your goal is to find out what motivates the donor. What are they excited about? Which aspects about your work do they love? What will create that deeper connection between their philanthropic desire and your organization’s mission?

3. Implement cultivation activities 

Build Awareness 

The pandemic challenged the world in many ways, and sometimes in a good way. We have to be more creative. Get back to the basics of what is important. Build relationships. 

Successfully building awareness relies heavily on your communication strategies. Are they personalized enough? Transparent and authentic enough? Are they focused and interesting? 

Be creative with crafting cultivation experiences. Many organizations are succeeding with virtual town halls. Also many donors are responding to personalized presentations with key program staff. 

Remember, your donors want to learn more about their favorite interest areas. 

A few key tips for these digital events:

  • Keep it short
  • Keep it focused
  • Don’t lose sight of what donors care about

Deepening Relationships

Relationships are what giving is all about. 

What better way to rapidly deepen a relationship with a donor than a 30-minute Zoom call, eye-to-eye, no distractions?

And current events can give you the opportunity you need to find a connection with your donor. Are they a parent? Ask them how the transition back to school during COVID has been. 

Are they constantly commenting on your social media posts? Call them up and thank them for the interest, ask if you can answer any questions for them or for advice.

The golden rule is to create a connection. 

Find topics unique to the donor. Take the time to learn what makes them tick. They are a person, not just a number after all!

You may find that, if you use this time wisely to deepen relationships and gather “data” on your donors, COVID may raise you more future gifts than you could ever imagine. 

Bottom Line: Cultivating donors is really just nurturing that existing relationship

Don’t be scared by the looming idea of needing to “cultivate your donor.” Appeal to them as humans, build a relationship, nurture their interests, and you’ve succeeded. 

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. In addition, we are hiring! If you are an experienced consultant interested in joining our team, let us know!

Planning a capital campaign? If you would like to learn about our unique Capital Campaigns by the Numbers approach, please reach out. 

Hope you have a wonderful weekend.

Here’s #7 in my series of major gift fundraising posts to help you build up and expand your major gift revenue.

I’m sharing some of my best advice to help YOU and your team bring in the major gifts that are out there for your nonprofit.

Today, we’re talking about how to develop authentic relationships with major donors.

You must have friendly relationships with major donors if you want to discuss a significant gift, don’t you?

This is a real toughie for many people – how to connect and be friendly without feeling transactional.

You CAN gain their trust – and huge investments from them. I can show you how.

But first, let me tell you a story about me:

I remember when I started out as a major gift fundraiser at Duke University.  I was dealing with some pretty sophisticated and wealthy people.

But sometimes I simply didn’t know what to do or say when I was with my donors. I felt like I was floundering.

It was driving me crazy, because I was missing fundraising opportunities. And my fundraising goal was hanging over my head. Yikes!

But luckily, I had a friend who literally served as my coach and mentor.

He gave me confidence, and taught me how to “be” when I was with these VIP donors.

Having a coach meant the world to me. It meant the difference between fear and success.

felt so wonderful to have someone I could go to for advice, right when I needed it. It actually helped me sleep at night. :)

And I ended up closing some large gifts from these very people.


Today, here are 5 tips to help you develop close, friendly, easy connections with your major gift prospects.

We are talking about the social side of fundraising. It’s an art. It’s the delicate dance of establishing a trusting bond with a major donor.

1. Above all, understand your donor’s style.

People all have different personalities, motivations and ways of operating. Some people are Type A and others are Type B, for example.

If your donor is a fast-paced business person, she may not want a social relationship. She’s too busy.

Or if your donor is a retiree without family, he may enjoy lots of social time and attention.

Can you guess your donor’s DISC type? (Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness)

Be ready to adapt your approach to your donor.

2. Be all about the donor.

That means you don’t talk about yourself. You don’t disclose lot of personal details about yourself, even if your donor is sharing personal information.

You always focus on what is on donor’s mind, and not your own agenda. (This is the hard part!)

That means you practice beautiful manners. Courtesy and decorum are always welcome social skills, right? Don’t forget, too, that poise and your appearance really matter.

You are a sympathetic listener, responding to what your donor days.

You practice the art of small talk and polite conversation. These skills put everyone at ease – both you AND your donor.

3. Make it social. Lighten up.

We find that a lot of fundraising happens in quasi-social situations.

You may be at a gathering or even a coffee shop, and you’ll be able to “touch” your donor lightly to grow their interest.

You want to be cordial, interesting, and generous of spirit. Never, ever heavy-handed or pushy!

You need to know when to be business-like. Your donor will clearly indicate that they are ready for a business discussion.

Avoid social calamities with your donors by following their lead on conversation topics, and considering their own likes and dislikes when you are with them.

4. Build trust by doing what you say you will do.

Nothing will squelch a productive relationship with major donors faster than losing trust.

Your donor will learn quickly whether you are ethical, whether you keep confidences, and whether they can expect you to do what you say.

Be careful not to misinterpret your donor’s words. And never pressure them.

It can take a long time to build a productive relationship – so start now!

5. Be an interesting person.

Wow, you may say that is a tall order!

I’ll never forget reading an interview with Naomi Levine, the famous NYC fundraiser. She says you need to be interesting enough for your donor to want to have lunch with you. :)

Ms. Levine recommends that you read widely so that you can carry on interesting conversations.

I remember when I first interviewed at Duke for my very first fundraising job. I casually mentioned to my future boss two items that I had just read in the Sunday New York Times.

I got the job. She told me later that my reading had impressed her.

She somehow felt that I was educated enough to handle myself with big donors.

Bottom Line – How to Build Relationships with Major Donors:

These “soft skills” help build relationships with major donors. They can make or break your donor relationships.

Learning how to build authentic relations with donors is a true art.

If you want help building your major gift fundraising skill set, do join our Major Gifs Intensive program, and we’ll help YOU learn how.


Erica Waasdorp, Monthly Giving Guru

Can you pull in new monthly giving donors from your regular appeal letters? Yes, you really can. It’s actually quite easy to generate new monthly donors via your regular direct mail fundraising program.

Today we have a Guest Post from Erica Waasdorp, Monthly Giving guru.

Erica Waasdorp is an international consultant, trainer and speaker with deep direct response experience.  She’s author of Monthly Giving, The Sleeping Giant, an excellent guide to setup a profitable monthly giving program. Erica has directed acquisition, monthly giving, major-donor and planned-giving programs in seven countries: US, Canada, UK, the Netherlands, Germany, Australia and South Africa for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Her upgrade strategy for the monthly giving program in the UK won IFAW and their telemarketing agency the Gold UK DMA award and the Gold FEDMA Award in 1998.

Erica recently gave an Advanced Monthly Giving Presentation for us:

Advanced Monthly Giving: How to Develop, Manage, and Execute Sustainable Monthly Giving for Your Non Profit 

If you’d like to create or upgrade your own monthly giving program with 49 examples of how to ask and close monthly gifts clink the above title link.

These ladies could be your next monthly donors!

These ladies could be your next monthly donors!

Here’s Erica’s guest post:

The two rules for closing monthly gifts via mail: 

1. Ask the right donors

2. Ask the right way

So who are the right donors, you might ask? The most likely monthly giving prospects are are donors who just gave! They can be existing donors, but even new donors who just gave for the first time.

The most likely monthly giving prospects are the ones who just gave.

They are also donors who gave less than $100. They are not your big check writers. Timing is crucial. They are enthusiastic right now, just after they have given. They have given their support to your cause. They’re happy! Now’s the time to ask them to either join your monthly donor program or for that second gift.

Senior Man Using Laptop --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Thank you mail — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Ask for a monthly gift in the right way – even in a thank you letter!

If you ask the right way, you’ll be able to convert new donors as soon as they join your organization. Here’s an example of the approach to use, right in the thank you letter:

Thank you so much for your gift of xx$xx to [name of organization]!

[Focus on why the gift is important for you and the impact it’s making on the people/animals/mission you serve].

That’s why I’d like to invite you to join a privileged group of special supporters, called [name of program].

[Focus on benefits and ease of program for donor]

Note, the benefits should really focus on the donor, how easy it is for them, how they can donate even smaller amounts, convenient. Then include a paragraph on how important it is to the mission you serve that the funds come in on an ongoing basis and that you can count on it. Print the text in large letters so it even looks easy and convenient from just looking at the appeal.

Where to make the monthly giving ask?

Include the option of monthly giving first on the reply form and add this option:

Make a one time donation.

Not everybody may be ready to join your monthly donor program but you will still receive donations.

I have seen response rates of 1.5 to 2% of donors joining the monthly donor program and response rates of 4 to 5% of donors making a one time gift in the thank you letter.

Consider doing a simple variation of this letter and send it to donors who just donated to your direct mail appeal.

What do you have to lose by starting to ask your donors to join your monthly donor program early?

They’ll stay with you a lot longer if you do!

Don’t forget to get Erica’s presentation if you want more help.

You can find out more and purchase the $49 webinar recordings here.



Hint: Your donor says to you, “I’m not an ATM.”

Have you ever had the sense that your major gift prospects are fleeing from you?


Do they turn down your invitations for events, tours, even private VIP get-togethers?

Do they refuse to see you with comments as:

“You don’t need to spend time with me!”


“I’m too busy – call me in two months.”

“What happened?” you are thinking to yourself.

“What did I do, or say?”

Hint: Do they ever say to you, “I feel like an ATM for your organization and I’m tired of it.”

The donor says “I am not an ATM.”

This is a huge warning sign.

When you make your major gifts prospects feel like ATMs, do you know what you are doing?

You are making it all about the MONEY.

When you make it all about the money, donors can find it to be an affront. Particularly major gift prospects.

Especially if you dive right into a solicitation on the very first visit.

They are offended, and perceive you as too pushy and aggressive.

So what do you do?

Instead, ask your major gifts prospect for something besides money.

Ask your donor for “help” or “advice” or “their best thinking.”

In doing so, you LISTEN to them.

When you listen to them, you honor them with your undivided attention. And you are asking them for something besides money.

Don't make your donors feel like ATMs!!

Don’t make your donors feel like ATMs!!

They actually have much more to offer you in addition to money.

You do NOT subject them to a boring presentation. (PLEASE!)

Remember: when you meet with a major donor, THEY expect to do the talking.

You have my sympathies! I know it can be hard to contain your enthusiasm!

An experienced fundraiser is ALL ABOUT the donor.

He can control any natural tendency to blather endlessly. He does not monopolize the conversation.

He can sit silently, assessing the donor’s body language, and watch for cues of greater interest.

He can ask leading questions.

He finds out his donor’s hot buttons.

He also is getting his donor’s BEST thinking about such issues as fundraising strategy and other major gift prospects.

He may get guidance – and even help – on how to pull in other important people to back your project,  and how to gain more attention and visibility for your project within your donor’s network.

He also leaves with a followup next step – so he can forge a strong relationship with his donor.

You honor your major gift prospect by asking her for something in addition to money: her help.

Otherwise, you’ll always be making her feel that all you want from her is her money.

And that is a clammy feeling if you are a donor.

So if your donor EVER says “I’m not an ATM,” you have a very clear indication of what has gone wrong.

It’s time to back off and engage with them differently.

After a bit of time it will be appropriate to ask them again – you’ll be able to tell.

Pressured by your boss to ask for money on the first visit? I’ll answer that one later – and I DO have a strategy to offer!


Asking too often will dig your own grave as a fundraiser. Asking for more than just money will take you very, very far!

Have YOU ever had a donor say to you “I”m not an ATM?”

What did YOU do? Share it for us – I’d love to know!

Your donor has just sent in another gift! Hurray!donor love Heart

So you reply with a wonderful, personal thank you note. And then you call her to say thanks. In addition to the paper letter that you send.

Then what?

You have to communicate with her . . .  so you can continue to build that warm, close relationship with her.

You’ll send your newsletter. And you’ll send email alerts and updates.

But will it matter? Will she pay attention? Will she care?

Here are 5 smart tips from my favorite communications expert Kivi Leroux Miller on how to make her pay attention and love you even more.

1. Ask donors to do something besides give money.

One of our great rules in fundraising is “Involvement breeds investment.”infographic people who volunteer

You and I both know that involving our donors is an important goal. But how many organizations really pull this off?


  • Inviting your donors to volunteer – then they’ll experience your work in action – and everything just may change.
  • Asking your donors for feedback about your organization. (try a survey)
  • Asking your donors to take some sort of action to help the cause.


2. Use a clear call to action.

When you are inviting your donors to get involved – don’t be vague.

Ask your donors to DO SOMETHING in a clear call to action!

Ask your donors to DO SOMETHING in a clear call to action!

Kivi says that these words are not clear enough: Participate, Engage, Believe, Understand, Support, Help, Promote, Share . . .

Instead, be extra specific about what your donors can do to help.


  • Making your call to action so specific that you could take a picture of someone doing this.
  • Giving your donor step by step instructions on what to do: Get a Kit, Make a Plan, Be Informed in an Emergency.


3. Don’t bore them!

Want to know what bores your donors? Lengthy articles! Dense print. Kivi says that the days of 1000 word newsletter articles are over.

Will your donor even read your stuff?

Will your donor even read your stuff?

You and I both know that long, complex communications don’t really fly with donors. But how many people are tackling this seriously?

How many traditionally long newsletters am I seeing both in snail mail and email? Wayyyy too many!


  • Sharing short videos. (I’m really intrigued with this idea!)
  • Sending short, sweet and interesting news tidbits.
  • Breaking up your newsletter into 3 or 4 different pieces that go out at different times.
  • Sending a tiny infographic to your donor.

4. Send them snail mail in addition to emails.

Are you cutting back on your print mailings in order to save money? I’ve seen too many nonprofits who have eliminated their print newsletter so they can cut down on their expenses.

Many donors WILL read your snail mail - don't cut it out to save money!

Many donors WILL read your snail mail – don’t cut it out to save money!

We both know better – but the urge to save all those postage and printing costs is just too great! PLEASE don’t cut back too much on your print materials!


  • Many donors will read both types of communications – building up your wattage in their attention span.
  • Older donors tend to actually read print materials – and they are the ones who give the most.
  • Communicating via different media channels reinforces and amplifies your message.

5. Find the stories.

Kivi says that telling a story in a series of different communications is a wonderful way to draw your donors in and keep them interested.

We all know that humans are wired for stories – look at the success of People Magazine! I know whenever I’m giving a workshop and my audience looks tired – then I switch to telling a story and every eye in the room is riveted to me. Everyone just wants to know what happens next!


  • Finding the funny moments and sharing them with your donors.
  • Creating a “story arc” – that you spin out slowly over time. (Love love love this idea!)
  • Find clients and people you’ve helped to tell their own story.


You as a fundraiser need to get much better at how you communicate – because it’s these happy touches that will prime the donor to be ready to give again.

Fundraisers these days can NOT rely just on a strong appeal letter!! Instead you have to give your donor an entire experience via your communications.

Then you can create your pool of consistent donors who provide ongoing sustainable funding to your nonprofit. Hurray!

Many fundraising teams are hosting major gift cultivation events often  – to open doors, make friends, cultivate potential supporters and thank your current donors.

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

Make sure your guests have a wonderful time!

All of these gatherings are wonderful opportunities to bring people closer to your organization.

We love small events as cultivation opportunities. Why? Because it’s easier to engage donors in a conversation when you are being social.

The setting is not as formal and intimidating as an office visit. The donor is more relaxed and so are you.

Here are just a few things you can find out from a simple conversation with a prospect at an event:

  • how enthusiastic they are about your cause
  • why they care
  • their personal experiences that tie them emotionally to your cause
  • their other interests, including philanthropic interests
  • their apparent level of wealth
  • their family situation

Here’s how to make the most out of these marvelous cultivation opportunities:

1. Turn your event into a party.

WHO wants to go to an “event,” anyway? Not me for sure. The word “event’ sounds so very boring.

But we’ll be the first one to attend a “party.”

So first of all, you need to turn your events into parties.

Having a fun, pleasant time is paramount to your donors. Why else would they bother to attend? Remember that this is a social occasion – you can’t be too serious or heavy.

Your most important goal is that they enjoy their experience with you. You need to be an excellent host and be all about your guests. Then they’ll be more likely to come back to another event.

2. If you are hosting a major gift cultivation event, then don’t skimp.

If you are entertaining wealthy people, or top corporate executives –  all these people are used to living nicely. They are used to good wine (no box wine allowed) more sophisticated food (no hot dogs unless it’s a cookout), lovely flowers and nice venues.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization's personality.

Make sure your food is nice and fits with your organization’s personality.

If you are staging a quality reception, then you need to make it quality. On the other hand, if you are hosting a picnic or something low budget, you can still have good quality picnic food and trimmings.

Just don’t skimp. Whatever the style of your party – It’s worth it to entertain your guests nicely and with abundance.

But be sure the type and mode of entertaining totally reflects your organization’s culture.

3. Triage your guest list.

Some attendees may be very important to your organization: they will be the ones with deep pockets, or people you are cultivating for an immediate gift, or they may be long term donors. So slather attention on them.

Take a look at the guest list, and divide it by thirds. Identify the top group of most important guests.

Make a plan for them. Know who is coming, why they are coming and how you might move your relationship forward with them at the end. Think of questions you might want to ask them.

Assign these prospects to your staff and board members! That’s how you make the most of these events.

4. Give your board members official roles as “hosts.”

Board members often welcome an official role. Here’s what a host does:

  • Greets people warmly at the door.
  • Introduces guests to each other and fosters conversation among them.
  • Seeks out wallflowers (you know those awkward folks standing next to the wall clutching their drink) and welcomes them.

Give them a special name tag that makes it easy to recognize them as board member.  This makes them feel special too!

And, if board members are up to it – they can be assigned to a couple of guests for a cultivation conversation – “So glad you are here! What is your impression of our organization?”

5. Use a pre-event gathering to make people feel important.

Invite a small subset of the most important guests to arrive 45 minutes before the main event.

Then use that time to give people a preview and tell them why they are important to your organization.

We’ve found that the VIPs will come to a select, private, more exclusive event readily – and then they will stay on for most of the second event.

6. Offer transportation for older donors.

If you are inviting some older donors, arrange to have them picked up and brought to the event and then driven home afterwards.

You can have staff members do this or recruit board members or other donors who plan to attend the meeting.

Not only will they appreciate the ride, but that’ll increase the likelihood that they actually get there.

7. Manage the program with a charming iron hand.

Worried that your program is going to go on too long? Even when you tell people that they have 5 minutes to speak, they often go on much longer.

Our strategy is to have a skilled Master of Ceremonies who knows just how to get people on and off the stage. Encourage your MC to stand right beside the speakers when their time is up.

And be sure to let every speaker know what the MC plans to do to keep the program running.

I usually walk right up to my speakers and say with a big smile, “Remember, you are going to be charming and brief, right?” They laugh but the message gets drilled into their heads.

8. Casual events are often more fun and also more productive.

We like hosting porch parties at Gail’s house. She has a big porch – and people like to come to something that has a more casual feel.

The more relaxed your guests are, the easier it is to have a meaningful conversation with them. So try cookouts, porch parties, and picnics. You might be surprised.

BOTTOM LINE on Major Gift Cultivation Events

With a little planning, you can create major gift cultivation events that your donors will never forget – and you’ll go home with new information on where your donors stand.

Have you tried asking your donors for feedback?

This is a huge new trend that smart fundraisers are spearheading. Why can donor feedback be so important?  feedback icon 3-Facebook-Survey-Tools-You-Will-Love

  • How can you send communications to donors if you don’t know if they like what you are sending?
  • How can you offer “donor experiences” if you don’t know what they want?
  • How can you make sure donors are happy if you don’t try to have a 2-way conversation with them?

Donor Surveys Can Tell You So Much

Consultant Jonathon Grapsas offers several smart reasons why his firm Pareto relies on donor surveys so often. His post about surveys is a Must Read.

He says that surveys can fill in important demographic information about your donors. And you can use that to develop a profile or “persona” of your typical donor – which will help you target your writing much more directly.

Surveys can also give you amazingly useful info on why your donors are motivated to give to you. What about your organization appeals to them the most? I can’t think of more valuable feedback, can you?

Try Surveying Your Donors

Many organizations are sending their donors online surveys and asking for feedback.

Why don’t you send a Survey Monkey link to your donors asking them for their thoughts.  What they say might just surprise you! But be careful how you ask!

Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention! Blog

Nancy Schwartz of the Getting Attention! Blog

Don’t say “our organization needs your input.”

I can’t image a better way to turn people off. Why? Because it’s narcissistic says marketing guru Nancy Schwartz of the blog.

Nancy received an email with this as the subject line. And she said she was really turned off “because it’s all about the organization’s needs and not about what members like me need.”

Nancy said she wished the organization had used this subject line: “Pls take 5 minutes to tell us what you need.” 

Now THAT speaks a donor’s language, invites her in to participate and makes her feel valued. Right?

(Check out Nancy’s entire post about this email survey she received and her reaction to it.)

What should you ask donors in a survey?

Many of these ideas are from Jonathon Grapsas –  MUST READ his advice on donor surveys!  Just think of the thing you’d love to know about your wonderful donors:

Demographic data:

  • Ask how old they are by asking for their birth date. People are used to filling out birth date forms and not thinking about it.  How old they are is KEY.
  • Where do they live?
  • What is their sex?
  • What is their occupation?feedback
  • What is their income level (ask if you dare!)


  • Have they volunteered?
  • Attended events? Which ones? What did they think of the events they attended?
  • Have they been involved in the past? If so how?

Why are they giving?

  • Or more graciously, you can ask them “how did they come to be a donor?”
  • Offer several reasons for them to check off,  for easier analysis.
  • And then offer a blank space for them to share other reasons why they give.

Personal experiences related to your cause:

  • This is information that donors hold dear.
  • When they share it with you – it is really important and meaningful to them.
  • And you need to acknowledge this in some way in future communications to them.

How do they like their experience as a donor?

  • Do they like and/or read your hard-copy newsletter?
  • Do they like and/or read your email newsletter?
  • Do they have an opinion about your overall fundraising communications?
  • Do they feel like they know the impact of their gifts?

Bequest information:

  • Is your organization in their will? (absolutely don’t forget this question!)survey1
  • Would they consider putting your organization in their will?
  • Would they like more information about bequest planning?

You’ve got the data, now what?

Now, plan your followup! Here’s how I’d approach it:

Major donors first –

Take your feedback data to your next major gifts team meeting. Discuss each major donor’s feedback with your team, and then strategically plan followup on an individual basis.

For example, you may find out something new and personal about one of your major donors. Or they have shared their dislike about something at your organization.

You MUST respond to this, correct? Sooner the better.

And when you do, you will be deepening her connection to your cause.

Get the FOLLOWUP right.

Your entire fundraising/development team needs to come together to work out what actions are required in order to respond appropriately.

For example:

  • Some donors may send in contributions with their feedback and need to be thanked.
  • Some may request information or help from the staff (like bequest info!).
  • Some may want to volunteer.
  • Others may want to change their communications preferences.

You and your team better be ready to respond, or your donors will be disappointed.

 Here are Some More Resources on Donor Surveys: 

Mary Cahalane shares how she used the survey as an effective engagement tool. Pamela’s Grantwriting Blog.

How to develop an effective donor survey with

Sample donor survey from Jonathon Grapsas  on Sofi

Pamela Grow writes about her experiences surveying donors:

Simone Joyaux writes in the Nonprofit Quarterly about the donor survey questions in Building Donor Loyalty: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Increasing Lifetime Value by Sargeant and Jay. (Great article and the book is a fundraising classic too!)


Are you Surveying Your Donors?  What’s working for you?

Leave a comment and let me know!