Mistakes, we all make them, heck I make several a day. And, we are especially susceptible to them when we are in the high-pressure situation of being in front of a donor. Mistakes often happen in front of donors, and the hardest part is that they don’t usually tell us when we are making them.
We might get wound up and too focused on what we are going to say, or how we are going to handle that push back from the donor. Checking our best fundraising rebuttal list over and over, rather than actively listening and building a genuine understanding of the person’s sincere interest in making an impact.
Here are 7 common mistakes I’ve seen fundraisers make in asking for major gifts:
Most of us have been taught that the pitch or case is the be all end all when meeting with a qualified prospect ready to consider a gift (for our thoughts on a qualified prospect see here!). Some people might even encourage you to tell your story and ask for an update. In response, fundraisers tend to go into “spray & pray” mode, rattling off stats, impact, stories, and all the ways a donor can become involved. Not realizing the no longer potential donor is staring blankly, overwhelmed by the information you’re sharing fire-hose fashion.
Sophisticated donors have a sense of when an ask is going to happen. And that’s why having a big pitch is a tragic mistake. Instead of the “show up and throw up,” take time to engage prospective donors in a meaningful conversation and ask probing questions to understand why they want to be part of your organization and why they want to make a difference.
When you open with a big pitch, people tend to shut down (scientific research shows people listen for about 70 seconds). After you understand the person’s longing to be involved and make an impact, you can then understand where in the organization she can connect and make a meaningful difference through her investment.
2. Great Enthusiasm
Giving is a very meaningful experience. It’s a serious activity involving considerable thought, family, and planning. Don’t ruin it by entering a meeting with irrational exuberance. I know you are excited about your organization, that it is doing amazing things, and through more funding, that impact will only grow. But if this enthusiasm seems phony or you are a bit off kilter, no one is going to want to have a serious discussion.
It must have been years ago where some fundraising guru suggested the more passion and enthusiasm you bring to the table the more likely you will get a gift. Take it down a notch, you are not going to convince someone to give through sheer exuberance. It’s better to have a meaningful conversation and understand how this person wants to make a difference.
Stay attuned to the person and what they care about. Be calm, authentic, and human. Drop that excitement and forced enthusiasm. That’s going to connect with donors so much more than high energy ever will.
I see so many major giving job descriptions that state that an expert level of persuasion is required. I don’t think I’ve ever talked anyone into making a major gift (for more on persuading people to make major gifts see here).
Major gift fundraising is not about persuading people to make gifts. It’s about understanding their passion and where they want to make an impact through giving. Rather than trying to persuade people, we should listen and truly understand what they feel is most important. That’s right, if you can understand a donor’s need to make a positive impact in this world and match it to your organization, you’ve done much better than persuasion.
Stick to your ears here folks! Listening to the donors’ need is the key to major gifts. If her need to make a difference and a positive impact on society is different than what your organization does, point her in the right direction to the organization that is a better fit and pleasantly part ways.
4. Too Much Gabbing
For the most part, we fundraisers are an extroverted bunch and love to hear ourselves talk. We love our organizations and the impact they make and love to talk about it. And talk about it. And talk about it. “Ramble on,” is a Led Zeppelin song, not a strategy for securing major gifts.
Keep the talking to around a minute at a time. Again, that’s about the length of time before people start to tune you out. Also, keep it one sided, one-sided to the donor’s side. No need to show up and throw up, spray and pray, or otherwise just ramble on.
The rule of thumb is that you speak 30% – 40% of the time, and the prospect speaks 60% – 70% of the time. But that doesn’t mean you have to speak for 15 minutes straight or even 10 or even 5. Try to keep your statements under a minute at a time.
Always Be Closing, right! Are you selling timeshares for a Cadillac or helping someone understand how they can invest in something greater than themselves? Unfortunately, one of the first fundraising training I attended was all about the rebuttal. If the donor says this, then respond this way to counter it. Additionally, there was a lot about how to apply some artificial deadline pressure. Yes, the coercion method.
Errrr…not tactics that made me feel comfortable, and I’m sure would not make a donor comfortable. Major gift fundraising is about taking a person through a journey. This means: take the time to listen to how he or she wants to make a difference and where they want he wants his money to make the most impact (have I mentioned that yet in this article!?!)
If you have asked the right questions, actively listened, and understand the donor’s passion and where she or they (yes, couples often make the decision together) want to make the most impact, you are pretty much there.
Now it’s a matter of continuing that journey. The donor’s gift is just a stop on her philanthropic journey. You are merely guiding that person to a destination of giving to your organization.
6. Needing the Gift
Every organization needs every gift that can be made. Development officers, executive directors, and anyone asking a donor for a gift wants to bring in funds for our organizations. Yes, goals need to be met for operational funding to keep the lights on. But that is your organization’s timeline andgoal, NOT the donors.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking your need is what should motivate people to give. The thing is, when you need to close that gift, the donor can immediately feel it and it turns them off. The desperation just oozes out of you. And the second you need to “gain a gift commitment,” people are going to feel guarded and start to shut down because it’s not about them, it’s about you or your organization meeting its goal. Instead of her giving goal!
Never show that you need a gift or commitment. Even if you’re thinking to yourself, “If I don’t close this gift, I’m not going to hit my goal, or we won’t fulfill our mission” you’ve got to act like nothing’s at stake because there are other donors ready to give. Never act like you NEED the donor’s commitment because it will immediately lower the value of your visit. You need to be strong and tell yourself, “Our organization and I are going to be fine without this gift. We’ll thrive with or without because I know other people are ready to invest.”
Following up is the most essential part of major gift fundraising?” Right? Yes, but it’s also the one fundraisers stumble on the most.
Frontline fundraisers can be so intent on making the ask, that a clearly defined next step is not agreed on. This is a big step in the process of asking. You need to have a clear and scheduled next step before ending the meeting with a potential donor.
Major gift donors are usually very busy people. So, if that next meeting is a few months away, then it’s a few months away. But, just make sure that you have confirmed a date and time for that next step.
There it is, the seven biggest mistakes us fundraisers make when setting up and making the ask. Remember, it all comes down to being the calm, intent self you are, and listening, actively listening. Then matching up the donor’s interest in your organization with an opportunity to invest. And, lastly setting clear and direct next steps. Do these steps, and avoid the seven sins above, and you’ll succeed.