For the most part, major gift fundraising has looked the same for decades: lunches, meetings, tours, introductions to those served by a nonprofit, introductions to executives, etc. Often, when we have looked for inspiration, the best way to do that was to meet with donors. And face-to-face discussions have been, for many of us, the most inspiring part of our work. They have uniquely allowed us to make connections between our institutions and supporters that impact our cause in extraordinary ways.

But the reality is that major gift fundraising has long relied on much of what we can no longer do during a pandemic. Not only are those tools unusable now, they may take a backseat for a long time, or even permanently. Stay-at-home orders may be lifted only to return in the fall. People — older people especially, like so many of our prospects and donors — will be mindful about being in close quarters or large groups with each other.

Many us of us have worked months, years or decades to hone our skills, particularly strengthening our face-to-face strategies, only to have those skills now take a back seat. In conversations with many of you I hear your sadness at this loss, and that’s okay. We need to grieve these changes, but also to recognize that with every transition comes opportunity.

Which leads to the conundrum many major gift officers face right now: figuring out how to deepen relationships, create momentum, and provide compelling giving opportunities in this new world. After all, we can only call our prospects to check in and provide updates so many times. We must move beyond “how are you” to true engagement with our institution’s work. And, the skill with which each fundraiser can do this will become more and more in demand, as an uncertain economy challenges us all.

We will need to be diligent and creative to build these skills and develop new tools. It will be critical to rethink what a connected donor relationship feels like, and to re-evaluate how we might move thru the donor cycle with these news tools. Honing and testing those skills is possible though, through strategies like these:

  • First, name the challenge: Recognize that waiting for things to return to normal is not the path to success, and instead identify the key phases of a prospect strategy that need new tools to navigate.
  • Brainstorm: Bring a group of colleagues together, because more minds leads to more creativity and opportunities to test new tools. Seek brainstormers outside of your current colleagues, too, for the broadest range of ideas.
  • Role play: By now you should be very good at calling prospects to check in, but it’s time to use calls to move relationships forward. When you role play those conversations with your colleagues, you get plenty of feedback and hear multiple styles. Role play for virtual meetings too, especially if you’re using a visual aid (PowerPoint, video, etc).
  • Shadow: We may not be able to shadow during in-person prospect visits, but some colleagues will continue to find success in phone and virtual formats. Ask to shadow those conversations where it’s appropriate for the prospect. You’ll not only hear new styles and language, you’ll also get exposure to virtual meeting tools that many of us may be less comfortable with.
  • Keep learning: Participate in as many webinars as possible. They are goldmines for new ideas and insights, as are many of the blogs and articles being posted.
  • Keep talking: The pandemic is forcing rapid change in major gift fundraising, and none of us will become experts overnight. Be open with colleagues and learn from each other’s successes.

Let’s continue learning from each other here — what new tools and outreaches are you using in this new world of fundraising?

KDD Philanthropy can coach your fundraising shop remotely (both individually and your teams) to build your teams toolbox. Topics include qualification and donor meetings via phone, Skype and Zoom; portfolio management; creative and impactful stewardship and driving written strategies that work. We also offer virtual coaching and professional development while travel may be suspended. Contact us today.

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