Fundraising is Changing. Are You?

The philanthropic landscape is evolving — and tightening. According to the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at IUPUI, our nation has seen “continued attrition in the percent of households who give to charity, from about two-thirds in 2000 to just over half in 2016.” At the same time, a CASE study documented the continued slide of philanthropy toward the wealthiest in our society, with the top one percent of donors now responsible for 78% of giving.

In other words, there are fewer donors out there. And at the same time, heightened attention to COVID, systemic injustice, and climate change is making the competition for donor dollars steeper.

These factors make urgent the need for a new approach to prospect engagement and donor relationships. This evolution has been underway for some time, but many organizations and their fundraisers have chosen to ignore it. However, for advancement shops to continue securing the funds needed to move forward their causes, change must occur.

I am often asked about favorite blogs or writers. Jim Langley, Lynne Wester, Jason McNeal, and Jason Lewis all have a sincere and authentic approach to fundraising. No gimmicks, just honest approaches to listening and building authentic relationships, and a sincere desire to thank in meaningful ways.

This may sound pretty simple, and yet many shops expect donors to simply meet the organization’s needs without cultivating relationships that will produce true partnerships. With so many worthwhile causes to support, why would a donor fund yours if they’re not engaged, listened to, and consulted?

If there was ever a time for our profession to evolve our thinking, it’s now. Rarely have our nation’s challenges appeared more pressing, and donors want to be a part of solving them. If we meet this opportunity, what can we make fundraising look like in a year, five years, ten years? What steps will we take to truly engage donors in meaningful ways?

In the past few weeks, two books have expanded my thinking about additional changes needed for the future of philanthropy to thrive.

The first, “Philanthropy Revolution,” is by Lisa Greer, a self-described entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. Lisa’s blog, Philanthropy 451, holds no punches. Her story of how she and her husband “found themselves in the 1% virtually overnight” is a must-read for all advancement professionals. While I did not agree with everything in her book, her experiences with “fake friends” (fundraisers) and several organizations provide a cautionary tale about how donors interpret our work — and us.

The other is “The Future of Fundraising” by advancement professional Jim Langley. His examples, especially “Cherry Picking versus Cultivating Cherry Orchards,” provides a great forum for discussion amongst our teams. Jim’s insight about how much our future will be centered around donor relations and donor engagement is spot on (and yes, that’s me cheering the more formal recognition of why donor relations teams should be the anchor in every fundraising shop!).

Many of us have chosen this profession for the opportunity to bring change to missions we believe in. To meet that opportunity, we as a profession and as individuals need to do better. That will require meeting donors where they are and taking the time to listen, get to know them, understand what drives them, and treat them as partners in our work. This, ultimately, is the theme of Lisa and Jim’s books — and an important wake up call for us all.

Building New Fundraising Skills for a New Time

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.

The Value in an Objection in Donor Relationships

Overcoming objections: a topic we as fundraisers think through, write about, train on and – occasionally – obsess over after making a solicitation. Being prepared for objections, including how to anticipate them and how to respond, is one of the most important traits of being a strategic and relationship-based fundraiser.

When I’ve prepared to ask for a gift, I aimed to know as much as possible: what motivates the prospect, what size ask is best, and what factors will be present in that prospect saying “yes” or “no.”

But the reality is there may be something I won’t know or didn’t anticipate, and sometimes that thing is only surfaced in response to a request. Often, the objection is where the most important information comes out. And if we do our work well and ask meaningful questions, objections come much earlier in the relationship than the ask: we field concerns throughout a relationship, about everything from our institution’s efficacy to its leadership to its policies and more.

These doubts can not only shut a fundraiser down, they can turn off our institutional partners who we count on to help build prospect relationships. That is why it’s so important to frame the surfacing of objections, and addressing them, as a necessary, normal, and productive part of the process.

When prospects tell us what concerns might get in the way of their generosity, they are handing us incredibly valuable insight. Which is why our opportunity is to engage in those objections – not so much to immediately overcome them, but to dive deeper in, seek to understand, and then to work together to move past them.

Of course I still advise identifying potential objections and preparing responses. But it’s in the objection that the most productive insight can be unveiled, and the most impactful work can be done to move a prospect toward generosity if we’re willing to listen, understand, and engage.

KDD Philanthropy can help your organization strengthen its culture with fundraising essentials training, including preparing for and overcoming objections.. Contact us today about how we can help your team achieve even greater success.

Are You Missing Opportunities By Not Asking?

You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date!

How many times have we heard that as a reason to never solicit a donation in a first meeting with a prospect? I have worked with countless development officers who are wary of making an ask in the first meeting. Some even swear it off as a matter of policy, citing reasons like the marriage analogy. However, I’ve never been convinced that those who refuse to ask for the gift early are always doing so because it’s in the best interest of the prospect.

Hesitation to solicit a gift in a first meeting will lead to countless missed opportunities. Consider these scenarios:

  • Your prospect is deeply moved by your cause but is currently fulfilling a multi-year major commitment to her alma mater, and is therefore unable to give a major gift to your organization for at least two years. But, a donation of $1,000 would allow her to begin a much deeper relationship with your organization that would position you for a larger commitment when her university pledge ends.
  • An alum has sporadically made gifts to your annual fund: six over 10 years. The last donation was last year. In meeting, you realize he doesn’t have the capacity to increase his gift size significantly, but you could increase his frequency by both securing his next gift and discussing the value of ongoing annual support.

What would happen if the development officers in these meetings avoided a conversation about making a gift because they were uncomfortable? They’d shortchange not only their organizations, but also their prospects who would welcome a thoughtful dialogue about giving.

What do we do on first dates? We ask a lot of questions. We get to know the values, goals and interests of our date. And if there seems to be a match, we ask them for the next date.

This is the analogy for a first-meeting solicitation. We should ask the questions that determine shared values and mutual interest. And when those elements are present, we should ask for the next meaningful step – and sometimes the thing we should ask for is a donation.

Ready to hone your skills to determine when a first-meeting ask is appropriate and develop and practice language for the solicitation? Join me at the next KDD Philanthropy Fundraising Essentials Bootcamp 1.0 on October 18, and Bootcamp 2.0 on October 19, where participants will discuss specific prospect scenarios and develop their own toolbox of questions

Fundraising Myths and Folklore

“I’ve been called a shark, a vulture, a barracuda…all by faculty who are supposed to be my partners!” – Development colleague

“I’m sure my fundraiser has a rolodex of prospects she can reach out to for donations if she really wanted to.” – Faculty partner

Let’s face it – if you’ve been in the fundraising field, you’ve heard misunderstandings like these and more. To our institutional partners, their understanding of securing philanthropic gifts can be more unpleasant myths and folklore than a fulfilling and important reality.

None of these myths are more important to overcome than the impression that our work is less noble and nuanced than it is. As long as our colleagues don’t understand the value of our work and our professionalism, it will be a barrier to successful fundraising.

Let’s look at how this misunderstanding can manifest in the minds of faculty, physicians and other partners – and what we know to be true instead. Do you recognize any of these misconceptions?

  • Myth: Fundraising is like sales.
  • Fact: In philanthropy, the donor is not driven by a need for an item, but rather by values and goals. Unlike sales, where there is an item or activity to be purchased, fundraisers offer opportunities to act upon personal beliefs about philanthropy, community and issues of concern to prospects. Most fundraisers do not receive a “commission” based upon amount of money raised.
  • Myth: Fundraising is about begging for money, and people don’t like to be asked to give.
  • Fact: Giving to a cause that is personally meaningful is a rewarding activity. Fundraising is the process of getting to know prospects’ values and ability to donate, and then offering gift opportunities based upon this information so that donors can act in alignment with their beliefs and values.
  • Myth: I could never do what you do – asking for money is so hard and awkward. And, I don’t want to offend someone by asking for such a large amount…it seems crass.
  • Fact: Once you’ve practiced and seen some success, you’ll be surprised how much less awkward or impossible this work feels. When done correctly, the solicitation is a natural next step in the conversation, rather than a surprise, and the amount is a reflection of the prospect’s ability and desire to have an impact.
  • Myth: Development staff are often pushy with prospects and will make prospects uncomfortable.
  • Fact: A fundraiser is successful by building prospects’ trust in the institution and its ability to impact a cause, and by developing respectful and purposeful relationships – so it is counterproductive to make prospects uncomfortable. However, fundraisers are often in the role of keeping philanthropic conversations on track to allow faculty, physicians and other experts to play different roles.

Perhaps one of our most challenging and rewarding opportunities in this field is to educate and inspire our partners to see the facts about fundraising, and then to welcome those partners more fully into this irreplaceable work. Imagine how your results would increase if you could move some of your colleagues from myth to fact. In fact, I would argue that we should regularly ensure that our interactions are serving this very purpose, by demonstrating our integrity and communicating clearly.

If you’d like to ensure that your faculty, physicians and other colleagues are prepared to be full partners in the philosophy and practicalities of fundraising, KDD Philanthropy’s unique approach to training may be the right fit for your institution. Our focus on providing hands-on, real-world scenarios allows our partners to gain true insight and appreciation for fundraising, and their role in it.

Contact us today to learn more about our offerings!

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Powerful Probing Questions

Is there anything more impactful to a meaningful philanthropic solicitation than truly understanding your prospect’s motivations, feelings, and values – not just about our organization, but about their lives?

These factors are the very foundation of helping our donors achieve their fullest giving potential, and in turn create the greatest impact.

The use of probing questions is one of the best tools in a fundraiser’s kit to make such solicitations. These questions are critical to the three keys to bringing allies on board for our organization: Assume less. Accept more. Listen well.

What are probing questions? They are follow-up questions that ask for additional information on what your prospect has said, or ask your prospect to give even deeper insights into her thoughts. By “going deeper,” you demonstrate your interest and desire to understand your prospect, and you are able to:

  • Set the stage for a successful strategy by obtaining information that will lead to better decisions and outcomes
  • Assess situations from a variety of vantage points
  • Move a relationship from conversational to transformative, built on creating trust with your prospect
  • Ensure you see issues from your prospect’s perspective, including anticipating objections to a solicitation
  • Open a dialogue where your prospect asks you questions, allowing you to best match her passions with institutional priorities

Probing questions are transformational. Imagine if we all accomplished each of the items listed above in our prospect meetings – our giving conversations would increase in both efficacy and frequency! So ask yourself in your next meeting, “Am I truly seeking to understand? Did I ask How did you decide…, Tell me more about…, Why do you think…?”

We should remember that when we authentically ask and listen,

  • We are fully attentive to the other person
  • We ask questions that are not leading, diagnostic, or confrontational
  • We listen to comprehend
  • We expand our ability to match the passion and mission of our donors to the passions and missions of our organization

The more we ask thoughtful questions, the more thoughtful our donor relationships become … and the more effective we become in raising the critical funds that our institutions rely upon to do their good work.

I will be sharing more about probing questions in my book, Productive Conversations with Donors: A Handbook for Frontline Fundraisers. It shares specific questions that I’ve seen used to great success, discuss how these questions can help overcome objections, and more.

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Transitions: The Power of the Shadow Visit

When was the last time someone on your team joined another fundraiser on a visit with a prospect – not to collaborate on a strategy, but to learn from each other?

Shadowing on prospect visits is a powerful tool we can use as fundraisers and leaders, and one we can implement immediately.

Why should you incorporate shadow visits into your team’s professional development?

  • These visits give a platform for our best talent to share their “secret sauce” with members of the team who are hungry to learn more.  Our high-performing professionals who have honed their skills often want an opportunity to mentor, and shadow visits are a perfect venue!
  • Want to onboard new team members in a meaningful way? Partner them with the development staff who tell your story best, and help them rapidly grow their ability to represent your institution.
  • When you need to expand the approach or style of an employee, having him or her watch another professional in action is a holistic way to do this. Remember to have them build in a debriefing conversation to discuss what they learned.
  • Reverse shadow visits – having a more seasoned team member shadow a junior colleague – are a great way to provide meaningful feedback to our growing team members on their skills.

Shadow visits can support a changing culture in a meaningful way, by facilitating a culture transparency, collegiality, and ongoing learning. It will also support high performance: those who role model strong frontline skills will provide leadership through this tool, and you will see both metrics and numbers of visits grow.

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Transitions: Moving from Conversational to Transformational

Every fundraiser I know has left at least one meeting with a prospect and asked themselves, “What just happened in there?”

One of the most common ways we get sidetracked, and leave without accomplishing something meaningful, is when the conversation gets off track and we are unable to bring it back. This is usually accidental – although we’ve all known prospects who seem quite skilled in diverting the topic from philanthropy!

We’ve also seen our leaders and allies get sidetracked in prospect meetings. Our faculty, volunteers, physicians, and others can be hesitant to move from the comfortable warm up to the business at hand, or from business to philanthropy.

When we lack the ability to make progress in our meetings that move a strategy forward, we lose the momentum in our strategies. Transitions give us the ability to create momentum, focus, and ultimately – more successful strategies AND meetings!

These transitions for common conversational road blocks will help you make the most out of your prospect meetings, whether you’re representing your organization alone or staffing a leader through the dialogue:

  • I know you said you only have 20 minutes, and I want to be respectful of your time.
  • It’s wonderful to get to know more about you, and I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on our work at our organization.
  • I promised when we spoke on the phone that I wanted to discuss how you can be a part of this, so may I share some ideas?
  • Would you be comfortable if we shifted the conversation to this project we’re seeking community support for?
  • Your feedback on this new initiative is critical to our next steps, would you tell me about…
  • You’re right, it is a big project. Would you be open to learning how you can be a part of it?
  • It sounds like you’re excited about this program – I’d love to share how you can support it.
  • It’s been great to hear about your story as an alum/patient/etc. May I ask about you as a supporter/community leader/etc.?

Transitions are most effective when they match your style and feel natural. As you noticed in the examples, asking permission to transition can be an effective technique if it suits your approach.

Regardless of style, however, the skillful use of transitions can lead to more impactful prospect meetings – and ultimately, more success.

Want more development and fundraising insight? Register today for one of our Fundraising Bootcamps!

The Art of Listening

A development colleague recently relayed a story to me. She had invited a faculty member to join a prospect meeting, and as they sat down with the prospect, the professor immediately launched into a discussion of the initiative at hand.

After a few minutes, the prospect interjected and said, “I’m sorry if I seem particularly effusive today. My granddaughter was just in town with her fiancée, and we spent the time together hiking and catching up. It was wonderful.”

The professor paused, took a breath … and then picked up the spiel on his initiative right where he’d left off! Some serious coaching about getting to know our prospects occurred on the car ride back to campus.

What does this story have to do with those of us who think we know better? Our stories don’t matter as much as our prospects’ stories, and we forget that all the time.

We say that we know this. We talk about “story listening” and “asking strategic or probing questions.” But let’s be honest – how often do we talk on in meetings, doggedly committed to our talking points, to making the case, to wowing the prospect with just one more exciting ranking or award? This is no better than the professor’s mistake.

Our role is to assist donors realize their passions, dreams, and interests through meaningful giving. To do so we have to understand their passions, but also their concerns, what motivates them, their self-perception, and more. The only way to do that is to ask the right probing questions and listen.

The following techniques will help you make sure you’re not talking your way out of a meaningful donation, and more importantly, a meaningful relationship for our organizations:

  • When developing talking points for a prospect meeting, or a larger prospect strategy, ask yourself, “What don’t I know?” Identify the gaps in your knowledge, and then write out the questions you need to ask. Draft your meeting talking points around the story you need to hear, not data you need to deliver.
  • Practice asking questions that go beyond the surface. You can do this by reflecting after each prospect meeting – what did you learn about the prospect’s deepest interests and concerns, and what gaps still exist? And then ask yourself what questions you could have asked in the moment to forge a deeper understanding and connection. Begin to notice whether there are themes to the type of questions you wish you had asked.
  • Develop your own question-asking style. We are asking prospects to open up to us in very personal ways, and we should each have techniques to encourage this. How do you develop this kind of rapport? Some fundraisers share an aspect of their own personal story before asking a similar question of the prospect. Others may explain their curiosity – prefacing a deeper question about giving with an explanation such as “Can I ask more about that? There are so many great nonprofits in town, and I love learning how people choose where to share their generosity.”
  • Watch your prospects when you’re talking in a meeting, and be mindful of how they’re responding– are they engaged, nodding, enthusiastic? If so, stop and ask about what’s resonating. Or has your prospect leaned back, crossed his or her arms, started looking around or down rather than maintaining eye contact? If so – stop talking even more quickly! Give space to your prospect by stopping and saying “I don’t want to go on and on – what are your thoughts so far?”
  • Teach your faculty, leaders, physicians, and volunteers to listen. How often do we tell our allies that their role is to persuade, endorse, or explain – and how often do we tell them their role is to demonstrate curiosity and seek to understand our prospects?

In my recent Golden Rules blog, I recommended that we speak for only 25-30% of a prospect meeting, and that we help our prospect fill the rest of the conversation. By using the techniques above, you can help ensure that this conversation provides the type of deeper understanding that is foundational to the most effective strategies.

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Donor and Prospect Meeting Essentials: The Golden Rules

Many fundraisers thrive on the feeling of walking away from a prospect meeting having made a meaningful connection and envisioning the possibilities before us.

This dedicated, thoughtful time to build a relationship face to face is irreplaceable – which is why we so often ask ourselves, “Am I at my best in these meetings?”

Over the years, I’ve seen my colleagues be successful in meetings across many individual styles in working with donors – new and experienced, extroverts and introverts, creative dreamers and practical thinkers. And, they’ve been successful because they’ve built their styles on a shared foundation of key behaviors.

What shared foundation do the best fundraisers have in common in how they meet with donors and prospective donors? They all practice these four Golden Rules of Prospect Meetings:

  • Silence is golden. Not once have I seen a development officer, physician, or organizational leader talk someone into making a gift. No well-crafted sentence, researched data point, or honed appeal will lead someone to make a thoughtful gift they do not truly want to give you.What does work? The age-old concept of story listening. Let your prospect tell you what they care about, what motivates them, what deeply held belief your organization can align with. You can’t get there without asking questions and listening. But that answer is always the prospect’s story, and that story is the roadmap to a gift.Research shows that we remember what we say in a conversation, not what someone else says. So ask the questions that allow your prospect to tell you how your organization supports their vision for the world. Ideally, you should speak 25-30% of a meeting, and allow your prospect to fill the rest.
  • Materials just don’t matter that much. I know this statement may meet with strong disagreement from some corners. But here’s what I can tell you from first-hand experience: materials do not make a case. Not even expensive, glossy case statements truly make the case. Brochures, white papers, proposals – these tools are at their most impactful when specifically used to underscore a meaningful conversation.If you hope your written material, or your video or web site, will have an impact – set them up accordingly. Use them as take-aways to underscore a conversation you’ve had, a visual aid to illuminate the finer details of a proposal, or in some other manner that is secondary to the dialogue. Plan in advance for when you present materials in a meeting. If you put a brochure on the table, does that facilitate the dialogue, or distract from the person-to-person connection?
  • The institutional relationship matters immensely. Development officers tend to be pretty friendly – we enjoy talking with our prospects, forming connections, and building relationships.However, no relationship matters more than that between the donor and the institution we represent. Therefore, our interactions with donors must always represent this fact.What does that mean? It means representing the institution’s interests over any personal or short-term interests. It also requires us to think about the longevity of our donors’ relationships. Perhaps you’ve been with an organization for six months – your donor may have been involved for six years. Be sensitive to how often they’ve had to tell their story, and that they may perceive themselves as more expert on the organization and its cause than you are.No matter the circumstances, your first and last responsibility is to represent your organization professionally – and we should commit to being as organization-centric as we are donor-centric.
  • Respect the value of time. Whether during a meeting or at other points in the relationship, demonstrating your commitment to the value of time, and keeping to time commitments, demonstrates integrity to your prospects.How does this play out? When you tell a prospect that you want to visit for 30 minutes, you demonstrate that you are conscientious and trustworthy by keeping to 30 minutes – making it more likely that you’ll get the next meeting.When you promise to follow-up with a key next step or information in a certain timeframe and you do so, you demonstrate that you are reliable – allowing your donor to feel that he or she will be well-stewarded throughout the relationship you are building.When you are thoughtful and strategic about timing, you build momentum into your strategies – leading, ultimately, to more gifts.

There is no one “right” way to be a fundraiser. Our individual styles and personalities can be our greatest assets when we build from the Golden Rules.

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