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There you are—a major gift fundraiser, sitting in front of a potential donor. You’ve memorized your talking points and are about to make a Big Ask.

It’s the moment of truth and you’re feeling tense because so much hinges on the outcome. Funding for your project is at stake.

You’ve got a script that you hope will open your donor’s heart – and wallet.  Even more, you think you have the right amount to ask for. But you are probably just guessing how your donor will react to the Ask.

What’s wrong with this scene?  

You’re set up to make a “pitch”—to talk at the donor in a one-way conversation.

It’s far too formal and presumptuous. You’re assuming that you know everything about the donor – her motives, her timing, how much she wants to give.

Hello? Where is the donor in this process?

Ditch the Ask. Have a Gift Conversation Instead

We believe there is a much better way to stage a successful ask – by slowing down and engaging the donor in a conversation.  Here’s our suggested approach:

Focus on What Your Donor Wants to Do – Not What You Want to Do

A traditional Ask is all about money. But a Gift Conversation is about helping a donor see the possibilities.

In a gift conversation, you help the donor envision how she can make a difference in the world, not calculate how she can give away $25,000.

The conversation should be about where she is, not where you are. About what she wants to do, not your own agenda.

We recently saw an anonymous quote that sums it up: To inspire people, don’t show them your superpowers. Show them theirs.

Invest the Time.

This approach requires you to invest time in understanding a donor’s personal values, what she believes in, what she’s most passionate about. A donor’s passion can be powerful enough to trigger a $1 million gift.

When you use our gift conversation approach, you end up with a happy donor who is thrilled to make a gift, not someone who feels “hit up” or manipulated.

Don’t Put Your Donor in a Box

When you make a specific Ask, you box the donor into a certain figure. With a gift conversation, you don’t limit the potential size of the gift.

Even if you have done tons of research, you never really know how much a donor may be willing to give – especially if she is passionate.

With a traditional Ask, you could even end up with a smaller gift than if you helped the donor live in a space of possibility and vision.

How to Kick Off a Gift Conversation

With a few well-placed questions, you can help your donor imagine how she can make a significant impact and then walk through the door to make a gift.

Here are a few simple ways to start a gift conversation. 

“Could you see yourself getting more involved in our work?”

This is one of our favorite qualification questions. Your donor might be sharing her excitement about your work, and you sense the door opening for a gift conversation. 

Ask this simple question, and you’ll find out immediately whether the prospect might want to discuss a gift. And maybe even when she would decide. 

“Would you like to know how you can help this project?”

This is such an easy question to pose. There your donor is, carrying on about her interest in your mission. You can simply ask, “Would you like to know how you could help?”

“Have you ever thought about doing more?” 

A prospect may have never thought about making a gift. So, it’s your job to bring it up. You are simply inquiring about the person’s interest in getting more involved.

We love this question, too, because it helps you qualify whether your prospect might become a donor.

Help Your Donor Feel in Charge

Note that these questions have you asking your donor for permission to discuss this topic. Does the donor want to go in this direction or not? This is how you make a donor feel that she’s in charge of the gift process. 

The beauty of engaging in conversations is that sometimes the donor comes up with the idea of making a gift before you even ask.

This is a particularly good question for board members to ask their contacts. A board member may invite a friend to an event. A great follow-up question is: “Could you see yourself supporting this project?”

It’s an easy thing to say, and it’s not at all pushy. If the answer is “yes,” you have a green light to pursue a Gift Conversation.

Bottom Line on the Gift Conversation: Skip the Ask—have a conversation instead.

You’re likely to end up with a happier donor who comes through with a bigger gift than you anticipated.

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 expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Do you have a Thankathon on your calendar in November? If not, you might want to start planning one today.

A Thankathon can be a vital part of a smart year-end fundraising strategy. It serves as a mini stewardship campaign that will prepare your loyal donors to make a generous year-end gift.

With a Thankathon, we are simply acknowledging our donors and their generosity. There is no traditional “ask.” Instead, you’re making sure donors have a warm and fuzzy feeling in their hearts about your organization around the time that they receive your year-end appeal. 

With the Thanksgiving holiday, November is already a season of gratitude. It’s the perfect time to connect with donors and express your appreciation for their support. 

Why do a Thankathon?

Yes, thanking donors is good manners, and it’s also smart fundraising. The reason we like to do Thankathons in the fall is to lay the groundwork for donors to renew, and hopefully increase their gifts. 

The goals of your Thankathon would be to:

  • Remind them that their support is critical
  • Pull them closer to your mission by making them feel their impact
  • Let them know you notice them 

But a Thankathon is more than just a calculated strategy. It’s also an opportunity to bond with your donors in an authentic way—a chance to let them know you care about them as people, not just for their checkbooks. 

Who’s the audience for a Thankathon?

Ideally, everyone! At some point, you absolutely should thank everyone who’s made a gift to your organization. 

If thanking all your donors in November is unrealistic, that’s ok. You can segment them to keep your Thankathon manageable.  

Think about narrowing it down to a measurable audience. For example first-time donors, those at a certain gift threshold (e.g., $1,000+), or people who have given consistently over time (e.g., 5+ years).

Here’s the thing: You’ve got 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. 

You just may wake them up with a Thankathon.

What format should a Thankathon use?

You can choose to thank people via phone, email, or snail mail.

If you choose the phone, don’t worry that many people won’t answer your call. That’s fine. They will listen to your heartfelt message and feel good that you reached out to say thanks!

If you opt for email, don’t default to a blanket approach. Try to keep the messages personal and address the donor by name.

And if you go with a mailed card or letter, make them handwritten, if at all possible.

Who should participate in a Thankathon?

Thankathons are a good time to get your board members and other key volunteers involved. 

But don’t “require” everyone to participate. You want people who will actually enjoy the activity, especially if you’re doing phone calls.

Pre-pandemic, it was common to bring Thankathon folks together to make calls or write notes. You can still do that, or you can try a group Thankathon via Zoom. 

Pull together your volunteers on Zoom, kick it off with an inspirational message, and then have everyone mute their computers. You can pipe in occasionally to encourage your volunteers to keep going!

It’s fun to see everyone’s smiling, committed faces while they’re doing the important work of showering donors with gratitude.   

What to say during a Thankathon?

Whatever vehicle you decide to use when saying thank you, be sure not to break one of our donor communication cardinal rules.

Don’t thank donors for helping your organization be successful. Thank them for the impact THEY are making in the world. 

If you’re doing phone calls, here’s a sample script. (Notice it’s short and sweet.)

“Hello, Ms. Smith? My name is ___________, and I’m on the board of _________. I’m calling to personally thank you for your support this year. Your gift helped underwrite the expansion our ___________ programs. Thanks to you,  _____ more families/children received life-changing services. We are so grateful for your generosity.”

Consider the script a conversation starter. If the donor is willing, your caller can go further, and ask donors to share their stories. Find out why they gave to your organization and what draws them to you. It can be a powerful conversation. 

Bottom line

A Thankathon will prepare your donors to give generously at the end of the year. Organize one today!

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 expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Today’s guest post is by Beth Ann Locke, Director of the Academy

Every fundraiser and nonprofit leader we’ve met is working to create a better world.

And most successful nonprofit leaders seek to better themselves, by getting trained on new fundraising tactics and the latest, most profitable strategies. They particularly welcome outside guidance when it comes to a major donor ask. And you should too.

How could YOU benefit from a coach?

If you’re ready to truly supercharge your fundraising, your leadership, and even your career, now may be time for you to begin working with a coach.

A fundraising coach is invaluable, offering new points of view, out-of-your-box ideas, and ways to better manage and lead.

A great coach understands fundraising, donors, and your context. They will speak your language of raising money and changing the world.

Here are just a few examples of where an executive coach can help.

A coach can help direct your focus, time, and effort.

Do you find that your available time, budgets, or resources are s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-d?

A coach can help you sharpen how you apply your time and effort to what needs to meet or exceed those fundraising goals.

I hear from fundraisers who unfortunately get sidelined by the “fires and fears of the moment.” A great coach suggests ways YOU can keep on track and just what to say to your vital work of asking moves forward.

A coach can offer fresh takes.

A coach may provide a new lens, fresh idea, or better perspective. Especially when considering next moves with a major donor or prospect.

A coach can draw on their lived and learned experiences from a career of fundraising, the latest trends, and what’s happening with donors now – moods, financial outlooks, and easier ways to give.

And if you’re working solo or in a small shop, a coach can offer new perspectives and a strong sounding board.

A coach can boost your fundraising success.

You may sometimes have great fundraising ideas but want to bounce them off an experienced professional. Is this a good idea or strategy? Or not?

Sometimes, you might want to explore ideas that have offered success to other nonprofits. A coach can talk through alternatives, suggest how to jump into new areas, or determine just how and when to speak with a decision-maker to ensure your ideas are heard.

(In fact, that’s why we started our Insiders professional education community – to provide the latest fundraising training, via curated education sessions from international experts every month. Live sessions are packed with content you could use immediately to strengthen your fundraising success.)

A coach can help design your career trajectory or transition.

Whether you enter the nonprofit space as a first job, a re-entry, or a new chapter, how do you get there from here?  What do you need to do?

Or, what happens when you finally land the Big Job – the mega opportunity of your career? You really need someone who has your back.

Talk with your coach about what to do. Your coach can help you determine how to handle every sticky situation. Your coach will guide you where you want to go and the steps to get there.

A coach can definitely help you become a better leader.

Do you consider yourself a leader? Whether or not you’re managing a team, you can stand out as a leader at any level.

When you are a good leader, you’ll be able to work effectively with those you report to, your colleagues, and those who report to you.

A coach can help with communication skills by helping you distinguish various work styles, so you can work with others most effectively.

Bottom Line: A coach is 100% focused on YOUR success!

It’s the number one reason we’ve introduced monthly coaching to the Insiders Premiere professional education and training membership.

I’ve helped many fundraisers and fundraising teams set a path to turn a long-time prospect into a donor, create new fundraising plans, and successfully raise funds. Even more, I’ve been a sounding board, guiding fundraisers to the best ideas and alternatives.

We are here to help you reach your highest fundraising success! Joining the Insiders will be a smart, cost-effective way to invest in yourself and your career.

Our membership promotion ends next week, so time is running out to join the Insiders Premiere today and save $20 every month by using the code BETHBFFS at checkout.

And don’t forget, we have team pricing available, so you can supercharge your whole team for fundraising success.

I’d love to work more closely with you!

“Thanks, in part, to your advice, we raised $100,000 more last year than the previous year!” Chris L., Executive Director, Nations Ministry Center, Nashville, TN

“I became an Insider because I don’t know of another offering where an organization can get so much expertise at this price point.”
Kendall M., Chief Development Officer, Tennessee Wildlife Federation

“INSIDERS offers more resources, new ideas, and reinforces best practices. Joining Insiders is the best move I made in my career. ” Becky B., Resource Development Director, Boys & Girls Club

Donor renewals offer the quickest, easiest gifts for your year-end campaign. Here’s how to keep your current donors from slipping away.

Remember last year, when it seemed like all fundraising activity converted to Zoom? What a challenge it was.

Did you have to scramble to master an entirely new set of digital and video tools? We certainly did!

Here’s the problem with zoom:  Your entire self-presentation is confined to one small box on the screen.

That means all your enthusiasm, personal power, energy, and joy are compacted into that tiny box. People draw all sorts of conclusions about you just based on how you are showing up.

Since many donors prefer Zoom these days, we think all fundraisers now need to sharpen up their zoom skills.

It’s not enough just to show up with good lighting on your face – there’s more to deal with than you realize.

I’ll be exploring this topic in a complimentary webinar that Beth Ann Locke and I are presenting next week. We’ll be laying out specific strategies that will help you and your team close more gifts this year-end – including asks on Zoom.

Closing Gifts in the New Fundraising Landscape: How to Ace Your Year-End Goals

October 5th at 3 pm eastern

You can find out more and register here.

We’ll share how this year’s donors have changed, what they want today, and how you can evoke their enthusiasm to close more gifts this fall – even on Zoom.

It’s time to strengthen your Zoom presence.

What’s a Zoom presence? It’s how you come across on the screen.

Your challenge, in the new Zoom world, is to so sharpen your presence that you can show up as the truly wonderful person you really are.

Think this isn’t important? Then consider this: We have literally decided not to work with someone, based on their zoom presence.

By the same token, this could happen to you with a donor!

Your Resting Expression. What Does Your Face Say?

Try watching news anchors who are interviewing people. You’ll frequently see their face resting, but still showing an expression of interest.  I read once that a news reporter said, “never let your face completely relax.”

With this in mind, try looking at your own face on a zoom call when others are talking. Do you “seem” interested? Do you appear to be engaged?  Or not? 

Moreover, what does your resting expression say about you? That you are a nice person? That you are secretly scared and nervous?

Even more, are you a smart, professional person?

I see too many people on zoom who seem tense, just because of their eyebrows. Do you want to discuss a major gift with someone who seems tense? NO.

What Does Your Zoom Background Say About You?

Who among us has not been fascinated by the backgrounds of sportscasters, news pundits, and regular people? Even more, who has not gotten completely distracted trying to decipher details about someone’s life from their background?

Unfortunately or fortunately, your background can brand you as someone who is rooted in the 80’s or ’90s, or someone who is with it, up to date on new ideas and charging ahead into the next decade.

(I decided to upgrade my zoom background – and even had a much more professional-looking bookcase for my office to show up on the screen. I’m hoping that it looks more professional to the world!)

Bottom Line on Zoom: Watch yourself carefully – and critically – on a recording.

What can you improve? Your expressions? Your lighting? Do you need to wear a brighter color, or a sleeker-looking shirt or top?

Brush up what you can, and you will feel more confident and enthusiastic when it comes time for important donor meetings.

And don’t forget to join our complimentary webinar next week: 

Closing Gifts in the New Fundraising Landscape: How to Ace Your Year-End Goals.

Hope to see you there!

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 expanding your major gifts program – we can help. Send an email to coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

A funny thing started happening with donors last spring. Remember last year when the world changed on us all?

The pandemic suddenly ended all fundraising events, meetings and VIP gatherings. Clearly, fundraising was going to have to shift immediately.

To make matters worse, “pandemic panic” was starting to break out among nonprofit leaders around the globe. People were worried about meeting their fundraising goals and, even worse, their entire operating budgets.

Of course, everybody wondered what to do. 

To help you be successful in this new landscape, Beth Ann Locke and I want to invite you to a complimentary webinar on October 5, 2021:

Closing Gifts in the New Fundraising Landscape: How to Ace Your Year-End Goals.

You can find out more and register here. 

We’ll be sharing winning tactics for your year-end fundraising so you can appeal to today’s donors. Join us! 

Back to our story, all the panicking fundraisers out there asked us a mission-critical messaging question: 

Should we really tell our donors what was going on financially?  

Here’s a happy story: one of our Major Gifts Intensive members wrote us because she was desperately worried about her organization’s budget – even its survival.  All the earned income that she was counting on had disappeared.  What to do? 

Here was our advice, and it turned out to be golden.

New Messaging Tactic: A Key Supporter Mailing List

We told her to pull a list of around 20 important donors and supporters of her organization. And we suggested that she simply send an email now and then to this group, sharing a personal update on how things were going.  

So, Elizabeth, our client, composed her list, included a few board members on it, and started sending monthly personal updates to this group.

Her goal was to keep these key supporters close and make them feel special – like insiders. There was no ask in any of her communications.

Results from the New Messaging: A $40,000 Gift With No Ask

Elizabeth called us one day, hardly able to contain her excitement. She couldn’t believe it! One of the donors on her list, out of the blue, had just sent a $40,000 unrestricted gift. Without an ask.

“We Love Your Transparency and Communication”

The donor simply said that he and his wife appreciated her work and “loved her transparency and communication.” They responded to her authenticity and liked that she was in touch with them often.  

She had succeeded because she made these donors feel special. 

Elizabeth and her team ended the fiscal year, well over budget. She shared with us, “our transparency with donors and trustees is the reason why we’ve done so well.” 

A $1 Million Gift, With No Ask!

In August, Elizabeth had more good news to share: 

“We had another donor stop by the office today – out of the blue.  She told me that she has put together a planned gift for our organization – of $250,000 per year for the next four years.This was all because of how we have handled everything during the pandemic and the exciting projects we have planned! 

I cried, she cried. This is incredible and will be a game changer for our organization. Ladies, this is largely because of the Gail Perry Team!!  Count us in for the Insiders and all the training you have in the hopper.  I’m more grateful to you all than you know.” 

What are your takeaways? Here are our three secrets of messaging in the new landscape – what you need to do now:

Messaging Tip 1: Do You Sound Authentic? 

You need to sound authentic – be sure that your communication does not sound stilted or institutional. No nonprofit jargon. No lofty mission-statement language. No acronyms. Please, no big words, long paragraphs, or complex ideas. 

If so, you fail the 2021 “authenticity” test. 

Messaging Tip 2: Are You Being Transparent About the Money? 

When you’re talking about money, you need to be completely transparent about what’s going on financially at your institution. However, that does not mean a sense of desperation or whining. 

It does mean being businesslike and frank. The best part of this is that when you are transparent, then the donor understands specifically how they can help. And that is a win!

Elizabeth said: “You CAN talk to donors about your financial position.”

Messaging Tip 3: Just How Friendly Do You Seem? 

Do you sound genuinely friendly? Like a nice person who cares a lot about this organization – and the donor?  

Is your letter or email personal and warm?  Being friendly means your communication can’t come from the institution itself. Instead, it needs to come from an individual. 

Bottom Line: Messaging needs to be different in the new fundraising landscape. 

Join our free webinar on October 5, to discover even more practical tips on reaching today’s donors and creating no-ask gifts.

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 coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

What do you really want out of a feasibility study? Most nonprofit leaders just want to know how much they can raise. They want the feasibility study to tell them: is the campaign a go – or, is it a no go?

But are those the right questions to ask? Especially when you are considering investing a significant amount of time and money in the study alone?

With all that investment, wouldn’t you like to get more than just Yes or No?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you actually closed gifts, major gifts, lead gifts? What if you even found your campaign chair as a result of the study?

What Can an Expertly Crafted Feasibility Study Accomplish?

A great feasibility study can open your donors’ hearts and minds to all the wonderful possibilities your project might create. Even more, a great study allows your donors to get invested in how you might accomplish even more than you ever dreamed of.

Great feasibility studies can deeply engage your donors, warm them up about a potential gift, and encourage them to get involved on the ground floor. As a result, you can accomplish so very much – and move your campaign right along.

Include a Private Presentation to the Donors.

Here’s an opportunity not to be missed. What about staging a separate presentation of the Study Report just for the donors themselves?

You’ll find that the donors are quite curious about the results of the study. Moreover, they will actually show up at this presentation, because they’re intrigued. What’s best, is that they are starting to think about the possibilities of your campaign.

It’s a magic moment: there, in one room, are your potential lead donors, all discussing YOUR potential campaign with each other. What a special opportunity – all the VIP donors together, and you can just feel the energy.

It’s the ineffable power of “who is in the room.” Momentum for your campaign is growing, right before your eyes.

You will be there too, working the room, engaging with the donors to deepen your own personal relationships with these important philanthropists.

One-on-One Follow-up with Each Donor

We encourage our clients to personally call each donor who was interviewed.

Their job: thank the donor for participating, and ask the donor:

“What were your impressions of the feasibility study conversation?”

When you do this, you have a special opening to chat with your prospective donor about the entire campaign effort.

What will you get? Your donor will tell you what they think. Of your project. Of your campaign’s potential. About possible strategies to reach your goal.

They may share their own questions or concerns about your proposed campaign. The consultant interview prodded them to start thinking of all of this, and now you can pick up the momentum with the donor – and move things forward.

You can have a deep discovery call with the lead donors whose gifts can make or break your campaign. This strategy helps you gauge their enthusiasm –and find the pathway to a gift.

Using the Study to Literally Close Gifts 

As savvy consultants, we can gauge which donors are so enthusiastic that they might be ready for a Gift Conversation. So, at the end of a study, we identify those super engaged donors who seem ready to move right along.

Our clients are simply getting in touch with these donors, and asking the golden question:

“Is this a good time to discuss your support of our campaign?”

This simple question is literally causing donors to OFFER GIFTS without being asked.

We have one client who closed a six-figure gift the first time she asked this question. She was so floored that she phoned us immediately to celebrate.

Later she closed a gift in the mid-six figures. Without ever asking. With no formal ask.

This Golden Question is golden for many reasons:

  • It’s polite, because it asks for permission.
  • It’s donor-centered, because the donor feels in charge of the next step.
  • It’s not a pitch in any way, shape, or form.

The donor feels like they are a partner in the giving adventure, not the recipient of a carefully staged, awkward, scripted ask.

Bottom Line: You really can use an expert feasibility study to close major gifts.

We can help you with an expert feasibility study if you’d like. Just email us at gail.p@gailperry.com and we’ll talk about your campaign plans.

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 coaching@gailperry.com 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 coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

Is a major capital campaign on the horizon for your institution? Do you feel a little overwhelmed because, as you know, campaigns can be a heavy lift? Would three secrets to success help guide you in the right direction?

Our goal is for campaign clients is to get focused in three key areas that will set them up for a campaign that brings in extraordinary fundraising results. 

Three Secrets of Success

1. Begin your planning with a deep prospect analysis.

The major gifts in a campaign always come from a very few people. We are seeing as much as 95% of the money coming from only 5% of an organization’s donors. 

Even more, the success of capital campaigns is always built on a small number of large gifts.

So one of our key success secrets is to analyze prospect data early in the game. 

We recommend that all campaign planning begins with a wealth screening on your donor database. This enables us to identify our clients’ sleeper prospects. Those are the wonderful donors who are passionate about the cause – and who have significant wealth.

Most importantly, the screening allows us to organize the prospect pool using our Campaign by the Numbers approach.  This means you will work with the right prospects at the right time yielding optimal results. 

This deep analysis and organization of your campaign prospect pool is THE essential activity for the campaign planning stage.  

2. Use a conversational approach with donors.

Once the priority donor prospects are identified, we recommend that our clients start spending quality time with them. These are very special people who believe in the cause – they often are happy to learn more about the work and engage more deeply. 

But how do you really engage a donor? 

Many people think their goal is to “present” to a donor. They spend hours crafting laborious pitch decks about their institution’s work, so they can “wow“ their donors. 

That’s not it at all. The best way to engage a donor is to get them talking about WHY they care.

The fundraiser’s job is to find out what makes the donor tick. What does the donor want to do that your organization can help them achieve?  We call this approach “listening your way to a major campaign commitment.” 

We teach our clients an approach that we call the Conversational Ask. And, you can move directly into a Conversational Ask with a donor at almost any time. That is, if you know the right questions to ask! 

Involving and engaging these top prospective donors early is literally the key to successful campaign fundraising.  You are creating true partners – donors who are invested in your institution’s success and want to help.

3. Go slow to go fast.

Often board members and/or executive team members don’t understand capital campaign strategy. They don’t understand why we go very slowly and silently in the beginning. 

Organizational leaders often ask: “Where is the money?” “Why aren’t we out in public yet?” “Where are the balloons and parades?” “We want events and hoopla!”

In fact, being out in public too early could hurt you.

We strongly recommend a careful strategy of going slowly in order to go faster later. 

Early in the game, you engage privately with those very few potential lead donors, laying the groundwork and involving them. This takes time, and it might be the most important activity in the entire campaign.

Organizing a campaign is like setting up dominos: take your time to enlist the right volunteers and to engage the right major donors. Take all the time you need to secure the support of key influential leaders

Then, when all your ducks are in a row – so to speak – or the dominoes are all lined up, you’ll be amazed at how quickly everything can move forward. Because you took the time to deeply involve key donors and leaders, doors that were once closed will fly open for you. It’s because the right person knocked on the door. 

Bottom Line: Use These Three Secrets for Capital Campaign Success

All smart major gift fundraisers understand this strategy. As consultants – one of our key goals is to help our clients’ leadership teams understand and embrace this approach. It’s the winning approach every time!

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 coaching@gailperry.com if you’d like to schedule a free strategy call with us.

There is really nothing more painful than a capital campaign that loses its momentum. It’s a sad situation – the institution is out there in public with an important initiative, a very public goal, and major gifts designated toward the goal.

Yet the energy of the campaign has fizzled out. How will the organization go forward, when everyone is tired, no more donors are coming forward, and there’s little progress towards the goal?

It’s a very difficult situation to turn around because the energy and momentum are gone. The lead donors have been approached, but they made disappointing smaller gifts.

What now? Don’t let this happen to you and your campaign!

Here are three key reasons we see capital campaigns start to stall in mid-stream and lose momentum:

1. Rush to begin asking.

We all know that the heavy lifting in a capital campaign starts at the very, very beginning. There’s much work to do long before we even think about asking for gifts.

The very first thing we do is evaluate our fundraising capacity – do we have the donor prospects to reach our hoped-for goal? We begin with a deep evaluation of our donor files to identify the most likely donors for the upcoming campaign.

In addition to researching our donor prospects, we prepare by enlisting important volunteers to help lead the campaign and provide credibility, stature and influence to our initiative. Another important early step is to test out our campaign case and proposed projects with potential donors to find out where they stand.

Smart organizations develop trusting relationships with a consulting firm, and initiate a feasibility study to find out how donors feel about our upcoming campaign.

All of these vitally important steps go into setting a winning campaign strategy.

When there is a rush to imply “get going,” and get some initial money in the door, then you are forced to skip over the most important strategic steps of all.

Takeaway: Lay the proper groundwork for your campaign and don’t lose momentum. Don’t let an eager board or CEO rush the campaign planning process. Rushing now will make everything take longer in the end. 

2. Board is not in full agreement.

Occasionally, board members are not all aligned with the organization’s plan to expand, build or grow. Some board members who are not familiar with big ticket fundraising may stonewall because they do not understand the strategy, or may feel intimidated by the numbers.

In other cases, we’ve seen board members argue among themselves about the specific plan for expansion. It’s really impossible to gain momentum when part of your support team is dragging their feet.

When the board is not fully aligned, the division and discord is a huge distraction for already stressed staffers who are trying to move forward. This type of background chatter can make a campaign run aground, even before it starts.

Takeaway: Take the time to help your board come to agreement about the path forward.

3. Campaign prospects turn you down because they are not ready to discuss a gift.

Oh dear. You’re approaching major campaign prospects for 6 and 7 figure gifts – but they say they’re not ready to discuss a gift. Clearly this means that you are trying to move too quickly to the ask.

This is what happens when planning and preparation are rushed. Most donors have to be engaged and warmed up prior to a big ask. It’s so important to take the time to bring them into the campaign process and make them feel like insiders.

Even worse, if you are skipping the discovery and qualification process with your key donors, you could be shooting yourself in the foot. If you skip this basic donor research, you may even approach the wrong people – donors who simply are not that interested.

Moreover, when you ask for a gift too soon, you may even damage your relationship with your donor. You certainly don’t want them to feel this is an affront, which can happen if you try to rush them.

Take away: Take the time to cultivate your important lead donors – and don’t ask until they are ready.

Bottom Line: A smart consulting firm can help you lay the proper groundwork and set up your campaign to sail smoothly toward your goal.

We can help. Let us know if you’d like a free campaign strategy call – just send an email to coaching@gailperry.com with the subject line “Strategy Call.”

Some days the work of a fundraiser is not easy. But stories like this one can remind you why a fundraising career is the right choice.

Have you ever had one of those affirming moments where your inner voice says you have made the right choice – you are on the right path?

Let me share a story with you. 

A story about a young woman and her father, and the gentleman who changed their lives. 

The story.

When I was Director of Development at an independent school there was a young woman who had received a full scholarship for four years.  She was a great student, active in student life and well respected by her peers.  She was even graduating with honors.

On graduation day her family came to celebrate her achievements, proud as can be. Her father was literally bursting with pride. He beamed with joy.

The scholarship fund that had funded the young woman’s education had been created by a gentleman and his wife. They also came to witness her graduation.   

I had the special honor of introducing the young woman’s father to the donors.  Full of joy, pride and gratitude the father took the donor’s hand in both of his and just held them.  The two stood with their hands clasped – tears in both their eyes. 

To this day, it is a moment I treasure.  For in that one moment, I saw the true meaning of what fundraising is all about. That was my affirming moment and I knew I had made the right choice to pursue a career in fundraising.

So how did i get to that moment?

An affirming moment. How I got started in fundraising.

Many years ago, when I was nearing the completion of my MBA,  I didn’t have a clear idea of what my next step would be.  I was selling real estate to fund graduate school and I knew that was a means, not an end.  This question kept coming up -what was I going to do with my career and my life? 

A friend and I talked this over. She suggested I might like, and be good at, fundraising. 

She said I had the right personality and the “smarts.”

Before I knew it, my friend set up a meeting with her father, who was a fundraising consultant. Fast forward and within two months I had a job with the consulting firm as an assistant campaign director.

A fundraising career was born.

As I look back on those early experiences, I am filled with gratitude.  A young thirty-something woman embarking on a new journey – suddenly I was working with smart and passionate professionals. And I was working with donors looking to make a difference in the lives of others. 

Whether through education, healthcare, child welfare, animal welfare, the arts and many more, I found that the desire to generate goodwill in the world is the key motivation for giving.

This is my inspiration every day.

Some days the work of a fundraiser is not easy.  My career has certainly had its ups and downs.  But on days when things are not going as well as I hoped – I remember the story of that young woman, her father and the gentleman.  This story always reminds me why I do what I do. And I smile and know I made the right choice.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you, especially our personal stories. 

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

Over the years, many fundraisers have asked about our journey from practitioners to consultants. How Gail Perry Group got started. And how did we come to be consultants – offering advice and strategies to all sorts of organizations and institutions?

Well, we can tell you – it’s a journey filled with adventure, mistakes and lots of learning.

Here’s our story – with the lessons we learned along the way. 

Years ago, Kathryn and I were advancing in the fundraising field, doing well at our universities – seemingly happy.

But something kept bothering me. Something was missing. 

I enjoyed my work, but all along I had this idea that I needed a broader scope than only one organization. I wanted to reach out – and inspire – more and more nonprofit leaders and fundraisers.

That’s why, for me, when the time came to leave my position at the University of North Carolina, the move to consulting happened organically. Organizations were reaching out to me quickly – asking if I could help them grow their revenue so they could expand. And before I knew it, I was in deep with many consulting clients. 

But the transition wasn’t easy. Becoming a consultant required some learning. As Kathryn and I embarked as consultants, we learned that to achieve true mastery with our clients and their campaigns, we had to get a few things right.

Lessons Learned: Becoming Master Consultants

1. Always Keep Learning and Learning 

As a consultant, you must keep up with the latest knowledge and trends in the field – especially the various reports tracking shifts in donor behavior, along with everything else.

In addition to major gifts and capital campaigns (our forte) we also needed to know as much as possible about all types of fundraising: integrated direct mail and digital campaigns, planned giving, Donor Advised Funds, corporate and foundation grants, government and public sector funding, event sponsorships, auctions, and social media. 

And yes, finance and accounting, too.  Don’t forget digital and video marketing. Add Big Data, CRM’s and wealth screening to the mix as well. Acquiring the scope of knowledge we needed was – and is – a lifelong commitment. 

We found that to be expert consultants, we consistently need a solid working knowledge of all these areas, and more. 

2. The Art of Client Management

One thing we learned quickly is that, as a consultant, you can’t just pontificate and tell people what to do. It doesn’t work.

People don’t want to be told what to do – they need to be coached in opening to a new idea. 

What does it really take to get someone to accept a change or a challenging concept? We learned to go slowly, and respectfully meet people where they are. We learned to serve as mirrors – reflecting back to our clients and guiding them to come to their own realizations.

Only when you do that can you really create an impact or foster deep change. 

We also learned that all organizations are different. What works for one may not be right for another. Flexibility is the name of the game. We learned that you can’t only see things one way, and that a cookie cutter approach just doesn’t work. 

Mostly, we learned to ditch the standard cookie cutter approaches, and instead customize each campaign and fundraising initiative to each client. 

3. Mastering Board Dynamics  

The field of board governance is complex and vast. And as a consultant, it is a critical arena to better understand and know how to maneuver in order to help clients.

Learning to understand the subtle arts of organizational politics and the psychology of group process (management by committee, anyone?) was a journey in itself. We needed to develop a working knowledge of organizational behavior, and hone our leadership and facilitation skills.

Not only that, but our clients needed us to be a grounding force with their boards. Corralling board members into one direction, while at the same, inspiring and motivating them. Needless to say, this is an art that not everyone masters. 

We learned how to build a strong board, how to best introduce fundraising and friendmaking to boards in a way that makes it fun, and how to get board members to engage in and support the fundraising process. 

Bottom Line.

Sometimes to get where you want to go, you need to ask for help.

As a blossoming consultant, I hired a business consultant myself. They taught me powerful new facilitation skills and the secrets of creating change within an organization. Those ideas are ultimately what inspired my bookFired Up Fundraising: Turn Board Passion into Action, and my popular board workshop, Easy Fundraising and Friendmaking for Board Members. 

Looking back, I can confidently say that when we started we did not know what this journey would entail. But now, after helping hundreds of nonprofit organizations and boards, and learning through experience, we know this journey was our calling and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

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

I wish you could have been there. 

It was a hot Friday evening in July, and a group of friends had gathered together for supper at my house. 

My new daughter was a year old, and I was just starting to think about going back to work, after taking a year off to enjoy being with her. 

As we enjoyed the cooling air on the back deck, one of my friends spoke to me directly. 

It was my good friend Michael Rierson, who was the head corporate fundraiser at Duke University.

And he said some magic words: 

“Gail, are you ready to go back to work? 

There’s a fundraising job at Duke that you’d be great for.” 

Hmmm, I thought to myself. Fundraising. I had several years of professional sales experience but had never thought about getting started in fundraising. 

Yes, at 35 years old, I had already served on several nonprofit boards, and even chaired a board. Yes, nonprofit causes and making the world a better place definitely interested me. 

To me, it seemed like the perfect match: Professional sales plus nonprofit mission. And I heard a little tiny voice in my head: 

“Fundraising. That feels like fun. Yes.”

Now and then in people’s lives, a small voice speaks clearly inside their heads. Some people ignore that voice. The lucky ones hear the message, listen to it – and take action. That voice is how I started in fundraising.

I jumped at the opportunity to interview for the position of Major Gifts Officer at Duke. Six weeks later, I started my new job. Hurray!

Now, raising money at Duke University was a lesson in advanced fundraising. These people knew the art of cultivating donors. As a result, the gifts were flowing into Duke. Here are some of the lessons I learned at my very first fundraising job at Duke:

Lessons learned at Duke University. 

1.     Make the first gift such a nice experience for your donors that they will quickly give again.       

Make it an occasion of joy and celebration on the part of the receiving institution AND the donor. So – the first gift from a donor is (hopefully) never the largest! 

2.     Set objectives for each donor meeting.

Once you get started in fundraising, if you don’t have a plan for each visit with a donor, you may end up wasting your time. It’s easy to be social, and avoid having a direct conversation. But if you don’t engage the donor in a conversation about their interests, you lose a valuable opportunity. 

3.     Find seven ways to thank your donor, and they’ll give again.

Donors who are thanked properly are highly likely to give again. There are all sorts of ways you can acknowledge and appreciate your donors – videos, impact reports, personal notes, events, invitations, etc. It takes a lot of work but it’s totally worth it when your donor gives more and more and more. 

4.     95% of the money comes from 3% of your donors. 

A whopping majority of your gifts and contributions comes from very few people. If they are wildly passionate about your work, then they deserve your focused attention. You must focus on the very few people who can give the most.

5.    Stay in front of your prospects.

There is a direct correlation between the number of contacts a donor has from the organization – before the ask – and the amount of the gift. This also means that the longer you wait to ask, then the bigger the gift will be. 

6.    Ask for a specific amount always – based on the donor’s values and explicit motivation. 

Say: Would you consider a gift in the range of _X dollars_ for _X years_ if we can show you how it could be done?  In the life cycle of a donor there are perfect moments for asking for money. You are just nudging the inevitable.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. Let us know what you think of our new branding in the comments below!

Over and over, we all fight the same battle: how to control our talking when we are meeting with a donor.  After all, talking too much is the kiss of death.

It’s a challenge for everyone – newbies, experienced fundraisers, executive directors, board members, academic leaders alike. 

So, let’s review why it’s so important to listen to the donor, rather than to make a presentation. Why do we want the donor to do most of the talking? Why is talking too much the kiss of death in fundraising? 

You will turn your donor off.

Guess what – in a meeting, your donor is probably expecting to do most of the talking. She has opinions, she’s been thinking a lot about your organization, and she wants to express her point of view. She’s expecting to be heard, and she is not expecting to be presented to by you. 

Above all, you want your donor to stay interested and involved in the conversation. If you are talking and talking, she may start taking mental side trips. Her eyes may start to glaze over. And then, the worst thing can happen – she may feel bored. 

If that happens, she just might not want to see you again. Who wants to visit with someone who talks and talks all the time?

Put yourself in your donor’s shoes.

How long has it been since you felt stuck in a meeting with someone you could not escape from? And you were longing for a way out?

You certainly don’t want your donor to feel like she’s desperate to get away from you. Not at all; you want her to enjoy the visit and want to see you again.

You may think you’re being interesting, but your donor may think that you are droning on and on. 

Are you guilty of the kiss of death – the “talking problem?”

Too many nonprofit leaders – CEO’s, development directors and board volunteers alike – are guilty of the “talking problem.”

Everyone thinks they need a presentation that can sell the donor on their cause. Even more, too many people think they need a sales pitch.

Here’s the truth.

You don’t need a pitch. You need to listen to your donor instead.

Why are listening skills more important than presentation skills?

Because in fundraising, we have to follow our donor’s lead. When meeting with a donor, we cater to them. Always, we try to bring the donor out and make them feel comfortable. It’s far more important to listen than it is to talk.

As major gift fundraisers, we pay very close attention to what is on our donor’s mind, so that we can find out where she stands. If we want to develop her interest, then we have to know where her strongest interests are. 

If we truly want a warm relationship, then we need to know what is important to her. What her values are, and WHY she is so interested in our cause.

If we have this information, we can probably engage her deeply, get her involved, create a happy long term relationship and develop some wonderfully generous gifts.

Without this information about your donor, you are pretty much at a dead end. There is no cultivation pathway, and no way to plan an appropriate ask. 

Our recommendation is that you and your team should never do more than 50% of the talking. You’ll find that you can become quite comfortable, simply sitting there, holding the space for your donor to share her thoughts. You can relax, watch, gauge and listen.

We think that self-awareness, self-control and a light touch should be very highly prized skills for major gift fundraisers.

Bottom line. Make this your fundraising motto: “Listen Your Way to the Gift.”

The donor will show you the way.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

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

How Board Members Can Help Increase Donations by 39%

If you are serving as a nonprofit board member, I’m sure you are often asked to help in fundraising.

Here’s how you and your fellow board members can help increase donations to your organization by 39% – without having to do any “asking.”

To Increase Donations, All You Have to Do is Say “Thank You.”

Are you and your fellow board members nervous about having to solicit or ask for gifts? We understand.

So we’d like to suggest a different role in fundraising for you. How about taking on a thanking role with donors?

When you, as a board member, offer your personal thanks to your organization’s donors, you can make a huge difference.  In fact, you can directly impact your institution’s bottom line, while avoiding gift solicitations that could be awkward.

Special Thank You Treatment for Donors.

Try this test and track your results. Then you can evaluate how this strategy works for you and your fellow board members.

The next time your organization sends out a fundraising appeal, work with your staff to select out a random group of donors to receive a special thank you treatment.

Organize a team of  board members to make thank you phone calls to these donors within 24 hours of the gift being received. It’s important to make the call immediately after your organization receives the gift.

If the donor does not answer, the board member can leave a message that simply thanks the donor.

The phone calls are not about asking for another gift. They are for stewardship only.

If any of the board members are adventurous, they can take another step and ask the donor why they chose to make this gift. That would create a rich conversation that the donor will enjoy.

Track Your Results.

A few months after this first gift, your organization should send another fundraising appeal to all donors – both those who received the extra thank you phone call and those who just received a standard acknowledgment letter.

And when repeat gifts come in, compare the results of both groups.

You’ll find, when all other things are equal, some interesting results.

The donors who received a prompt, personal thank you from a board member within 24 hours of the gift being received, will usually give up to 39% more than the other group.

This is how board members help increase donations without having to ask.

3. The Original Research Findings.

Fundraising pioneer Penelope Burk performed the original research that found these amazing results. Her team originated the  “Donor Centered Fundraising” philosophy, a paradigm shift that changes the emphasis away from the organization’s needs and instead focuses on helping the donor create an impact.

Penelope Burk shared this data on board member thank you calls at an AFP International Conference from her research:

  • Donors received a thank you phone call from a board member within 24 hours of receiving the gift.
  • The next time they were solicited, they gave 39% more than the other donors who did not receive a call.
  • After 14 months, those called were giving 42% more.

4. How to Implement Board Member Thank You Calls.

Some board members may offer to make calls, but not follow through. So you will want only those who are enthusiastic and committed to sign up for this project.

  1. First, share the data with board members about the financial results from making prompt, personal thank you calls to donors. Be sure everyone understands the “why” of the project and the upside positive potential from making these calls promptly.
  2. Have one or two board members take charge of the project. Enlist a small committee. Be sure to coordinate closely with your staff.
  3. Make sure the committee members all understand that prompt timing is essential.
  4. Give each committee member specific phone calls to make. Don’t send out a whole list to the entire committee and hope that someone will make the calls.
  5. Have each board member report back weekly on the results of their calls.

One organization we know asked the board members to post their thank you call results on a shared Google document. That way each board member could see who was making their calls. Word had it that a competition took hold and each board member tried to outdo the others.

The busiest person on the board – a busy lawyer – made sure his calls were as up to date – or more up to date – as all the others. Now that is productive and friendly competition!

A Success Story of How Board Members Can Help Increase Donations:

Here’s an example from our own history:

One of our consulting clients, a local Rape Crisis Center, was staging their annual auction. One of our friends attended with us, and apparently purchased a lot of items at the auction.

The next day I was sitting in my office, when our friend called.

Excitedly, he said, “You won’t believe what just happened!”

“I’m speechless,” he continued. “I just got a phone call from a board member of the Rape Crisis Center thanking me for . . . for   . . .  for being the largest donor at the auction last night!”

“I just can’t believe it,” he gushed. “I’ve given money all over the country and I’ve NEVER gotten a call from a board member.”

We could just feel him beaming all the way over the phone. He was absolutely thrilled.

The next year, he asked us “Is the Rape Crisis Center having their auction this fall? I haven’t gotten an invitation yet?”

That year, he bought an entire table and hosted the president of the largest foundation in North Carolina at his table. I think the Rape Crisis Center has him for life now, because they gave him such special treatment.

Bottom Line: Board Members Can Increase Donations to Their Organizations – Simply by Saying Thank You.

A little effort goes a long way – remember that and remind your board. A simple acknowledgement phone call could be just the thing your donor needs to become a loyal lifelong major donor.

As always, it is a pleasure to share our weekly news and insights with you. 

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

We were helping one of our clients work through a challenge yesterday.

Our client, a national organization, is planning a $300 million capital campaign. The problem is, the organization’s board is not composed of “heavy hitters” so to speak, who hold power and influence.

The organization has a lot going for it. Its mission is solid and its impact is proven. But its leadership doesn’t have the connections they need to raise hundreds of millions.

Our recommended solution: we are guiding them through a deliberate networking process to bring in individuals who have power, connections and influence with funders.

Do You Have Enough People of Power and Influence Standing Behind Your Institution?

Every successful capital campaign needs powerful individuals who add credibility to the campaign. Their most important function is to help open doors to important donors – which can significantly shorten the time it takes to close a major gift.

For example, some key individuals can make a phone call, and quickly give you an open door to an important funding source. Or you have may a specific need: with one email, a key leader can suddenly access the resources to make it happen.

What You Get: Instant Leverage

Early in the game, we advise our clients to identify significant leaders of influence in their sphere and pull them in closer. As we all know, one key, well-connected individual can often draw three powerful leaders in.

When they lend their authority and back your work, their own credibility increases the standing of your organization. It builds confidence in your mission.

It’s like they are giving their seal of approval to your initiative.  Again, they can help you dramatically shorten the time it takes to forge significant relationships with funding sources. You can raise serious money much faster.

What You Get: Shortened Timelines

When you have the benefit of the right door-opener, then you don’t have to painstakingly build a trusting relationship from scratch with a donor. Instead, your “key influencer” can help you move right into a Gift Conversation with the donor. This saves you and your team so very much time and effort.

They add a backdrop of visibility and prominence so that doors to donors will fling open early in the game. Key funders will say, sure, I’ve heard about this and I’m happy to discuss your project with you.

In two of our capital campaigns, we’ve helped our clients network their way to a former governor of their state. Imagine how helpful a former governor could be to a campaign – he or she can be a key influencer of many companies, foundations, families, and even government funding sources. It’s a win-win all around.

Planning a Capital Campaign? Stack the Deck with Power and Influence

This is one of our key campaign planning strategies that we incorporate in our campaign planning studies. Who are the leaders who can help your campaign the most?

We advise all our clients – early in the game – to set themselves up for success. Add the right well-connected, influential volunteer leaders as soon as possible. As we mentioned, they’ll  bolster the prominence and visibility of the pending campaign, and make things so much easier by offering access to major and lead donors.

The Right Timing Can Build Momentum

How, and in what order, do you enlist your key influencers? It’s important to understand the whole landscape and lay out a careful sequence of priority steps.

Who is the first person you can enlist? If you can get a certain individual on board now, then who will they attract? What relationships can they leverage?

This is why the early campaign ramp up activities are absolutely critical. The right sequence of key people joining, one by one, to back your project can create that magic campaign ingredient we call momentum.

For example:

One wonderful individual joins on, and they say “have you talked to this person?”

You say, “I barely know them.”

Then your key influencer says, “I can fix that.”

You just moved from game space one to game space five.

Building Your Board Prior to a Major Campaign

If you are even thinking about a capital campaign in the next few years, you need to immediately start building connections with potential board members of influence and standing in your community.

Your board will play a key role in the campaign.  While you are working to recruit top volunteer leaders for the campaign, your board can help create the confidence and momentum needed to help attract those special individuals.

For example, achieving 100% giving participation by the board early can send a strong message to potential leaders that your board and organization are committed to the success of the campaign.

One of our campaign clients did just this. When they went to recruit their campaign chair, they were able to use the board’s early campaign commitment to successfully recruit their desired campaign chair.

It’s never too early to stack your board with people who can not only make major campaign gifts, but also bring other donors with them.

Bottom Line: Who Do You Need to Add to Your Team to Increase Power and Influence?

Is it time for you to reestablish key relationships? Who are your former board members, key funders or supporters who might have drifted away?

Can you seek out advice visits early while your campaign is still an idea? Can you engage them early in campaign planning?

Remember, stacking your deck with people of power and influence can shorten your campaign timeline, help you secure lead gifts faster, and give your campaign prominence in your community. It’s a smart strategy.