Chances are myths and misconceptions about major donors and mega gifts are holding you back from raising the sustainable, reliable revenue you need for your mission.
Let’s look more closely at the common major gift mistakes many organizations are making – and get you back on track to raising more 5, 6, and 7- figure donations for your cause (even if you’re a smaller shop).
Myth #1: Big donors are somewhere “out there”
If you’re an organization with a small established donor base, chances are there are donors already giving to you who are interested in making a greater investment in your organization.
A lot of organizations wonder why they are struggling to build a healthy major gift pipeline. The single biggest mistake I see is they are ignoring one of the most important places to start when building your pipeline – those donors who are already committed to your cause.
I was recently working with a client on a major gift project when we discovered that their most dedicated donors had the capacity to give 8 times more than they were currently being asked for.
It’s crucial to start building your pipeline by looking first at those closest to you. You already have donors who are ready to be meaningfully engaged and introduced to more aspirational opportunities to create change.
Myth #2: You should pause on major gifts and wait for things to get better
If your organization has made this decision, I get it – we are in uncharted territory, and we’re all just trying to do the right thing to get through this time of crisis.
However, I’m seeing a lot of organizations making assumptions about their donors right now: deciding that donors won’t want to speak with you because they’re dealing with the impacts of COVID too, maybe they’ve lost their jobs, or a loved one is ill.
I’ve heard from some fundraisers that their boards have even ordered a stop to fundraising because it’s “inappropriate” or “insensitive.”
There’s a huge disconnect between what donors are thinking and feeling about fundraising during the pandemic, and what leaders BELIEVE donors think and feel.
And frankly, if we don’t effectively bridge this disconnect, your leadership could be making unfounded assumptions and decisions about donors and fundraising that may put your organization at serious risk.
I’ve been keeping my eye on all the research about donor attitudes and behaviour during the pandemic and study after study is showing that the vast majority of donors are planning to maintain or even increase their giving this year.
And this new report, hot off the presses from nonprofit marketing research leaders Campbell Rinker, got me REALLY excited.
This research focused on “high-dollar” donors who gave more than $2,500 to charities in 2019 – and here’s what they found:
- 70% said they expect to give at least the same amount this year as in 2019
- 18% said they expect to give more this year than last year
- 12% said they expected to give less
One of the most interesting aspects of this study is that they also looked at the donors’ experience of economic stress.
Participants in the study had high confidence in their own ability to manage economic disruptions. 80% said they are under no economic stress, and only 13% said their situation is “mildly challenging.”
If anyone in your organization still thinks it is insensitive or inappropriate to ask donors for donations right now, please share this research with them!
Myth # 3 – You can’t raise major gifts without face-to–face meetings
You’re not alone in struggling with the (temporary) passing of the face-to-face meeting – nothing compares to connecting in person when it comes to building strong relationships with your major donors.
Many fundraisers have been taught face–to–face meetings are the only way to raise major gifts – so they’re not using all the maximizing tools available to them.
Let’s face it – virtual donor meetings are here to stay.
While face–to–face meetings are powerful, they are off the table right now, so we really have to get creative and use ALL the channels that are available to us to build meaningful relationships with our donors.
You are most probably going to have to continue working with donors remotely, via phone calls and video meetings, for the foreseeable future.
The good news I am hearing from frontline fundraisers is that donors are actually easier than ever to reach right now.
And it makes sense – donors are not on usual travel schedules, they’re at home more often, they’re picking up the phone and they’re probably more willing to have a conversation with you about a cause that they’re passionate about.
There’s another silver lining here – because while we don’t have face–to–face meetings available to us, it makes it a lot easier to offer up something like a virtual coffee or a 20-minute phone call.
It just makes sense to book a donor to do something like this right now – you have more room to experiment and test what works with donors.
The key here is to give your donors a choice! You simply won’t find out if they prefer phone or video unless you ask.
Myth #4: Video meetings will look “unprofessional” to major donors
A lot of fundraisers have shared with me that their leadership is holding them back from using video meetings to connect with their donors because they’re concerned it’s going to look “unprofessional.”
First, I just want to say this is a myth – in fact, most successful major gift fundraisers are telling me that donors are more understanding now than ever before.
They know you’re not perfect, they know you may be interrupted by your kids – and that actually makes us more human, which is not a bad thing when it comes to building relationships.
That said, it’s not difficult to ensure you have a polished and professional–looking virtual meeting with your donor. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind:
- Face a light source: you don’t need fancy lighting – simply positioning yourself in front of a window is one of the easiest ways to be well lit. Avoid being backlit by making sure you’re facing toward, not away from, a window or another light source.
- Position your camera correctly: ensuring your camera is about eye level or a little above will help you look and feel your best on video. I’ve talked to a lot of live video pros, and they’ve used everything from a cardboard box to an ironing board to get the height right! You can improvise with things you have around the house (I use a stack of coffee table books).
- Look into the lens: this creates the impression of eye contact and builds a sense of connection and trust with your donor. Experiment with this yourself the next time you’re on a zoom call with colleagues – it’s a very different experience for the viewer when you look into the lens, versus the sense of disconnect that can occur when you are focusing on their face onscreen.
Myth #5: You’re too small to raise major gifts
A lot of fundraisers feel major gifts are the exclusive domain of large organizations with huge teams, a staff of major gift specialists, and seemingly bottomless resources.
But the reality is, small and mid-sized shops are perfectly positioned to raise more 5 or 6-figure gifts and have some significant advantages over big shops.
Many large charities don’t start counting a gift as major until it’s well past the $100,000 mark. This means you have an incredible opportunity to build powerful relationships with generous donors who aren’t even on the radar for a lot of big shops.
For instance, I noticed a recurring pattern when I was working at a small shop about ten years ago.
We kept hearing from donors who were giving to us BECAUSE of our small size!
Over and over, we’d hear comments just like this one:
“My donations feel like a drop in the bucket at large charities – but at your organization, I know my gift is making a big difference.”
Our smallness was a unique selling point, and one we quickly worked into our case for support.
Many donors feel their gift is going to stretch a lot further and make a bigger impact at a smaller organization. So, don’t hesitate to emphasize the fact that you are small, or hyper local, if that’s something you notice resonates with your donors.
We are heading into what could be the most important year-end fundraising season of our lifetime – I hope this myth busting session helps inspire you to swing into action with your major giving program.
The world needs you and your mission now more than ever – it’s GO TIME my friends!
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