12. No Surprises – No Insults

As the COVID Cloud seems to be dissipating, at least we hope so, it gives all of us the opportunity to get back into the field with our ministry partners. This is a great time to ask your top 10, next 20, or even your top 50 donors for a personal year end appeal. You have already done your internal and external donor research to know their giving capacity (the first “R”). Hopefully, during this COVID downtime you have deepened your donor relationships by sharing how much you love and appreciate them (the second “R”). Now, you are ready to make a request (the third “R”). Here are a few tips for your mega/major donor relationship asks.

Goldilocks gives us some fundraising insight. The porridge was either too hot, too cold, or about right. Your gift request can be too high, too low, or about right. To determine the right amount, you should ask some key questions. What was their gift last year? Are you sharing an urgent need, launching an innovative program, or asking for a project they are keenly interested in? Have they had a recent wealth event such as a business sale, inheritance, or other windfall? All these factors make a difference. If your need is large enough you may want to ask them to share a large year end gift and roll part of their fulfillment into the next fiscal year.

This is somewhat counterintuitive; asking too low could offend your major donors. If in doubt, ask high, or even higher. It is usually better to stretch a donor’s stewardship decision rather than to feel like you asked too low. If it’s too high, they will tell you. Rarely will they say, “You didn’t ask for enough so how about we add a zero or two to your request?” My old pal Dr. Charlie Phillips of the Maclellan Foundation wrote, “No large ask should be a surprise; every smaller ask could be an insult.” 

For the past 40 years, I have regularly been in the field with a CEO, president, major gifts officer, or an advancement officer making a personal request. Why? It’s fun! It is also where true stewardship decisions are made. This week, a college president and I visited some ministry partners. As we sat at their dining room table, the president shared the case for support and I shared a personalized request. In a pre-campaign study, they indicated their potential gift of $25K so we asked for $25K-$50K over two years. I concluded my ask with this famous fundraising phrase, “If you can do more than the amount we requested, we certainly need it and will appreciate it.” They surprised us with, “We can do more than you asked. If we had three years, we could give $100,000.” Of course, the President said, “YES!” We asked too low, but God-Jehovah Jireh, our Provider had already intervened. Five days earlier, they had received a bonus and wanted to share part of their unexpected bounty with the college.

Major donors want to make an impact with their dollars. They want to be challenged to consider a large gift. No reason to be shy. Asking too low may communicate to your key ministry partners the following:

  1. You don’t really know them.
  2. You don’t really know their hot buttons. Do you know what makes your donor pound the table and say, “Yes, we want this to happen, and we can help in a big way!”?
  3. You suffer from “Ministry FUD” (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), and are afraid to really challenge them.
  4. Your faith is too small; you’re not trusting God to meet and exceed your need.

There is an art and science to any major donor presentation. If you ask too high the donor will likely say, “That is more than we were thinking.” A good response is, “Mr. and Mrs. Donor this is the largest step of faith in our 40-year history. We are asking our ministry partners to take this step of faith with us and consider the largest gift they have ever given.”

Don’t offend them by asking too low. Pray for open minds, hearts, and checkbooks for each of your mega/major donors asks this calendar year end. Do your homework, determine if you have the relationship, present a clear and credible need, and invite their major/huge participation.

For individualized help with your major donor ask strategies contact Pat at pmclaughlin@timothygroup.com

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About the Author: Pat McLaughlin President/Founder – Pat started The Timothy Group in 1990 to serve Christian ministries as they raise money to advance their missions. TTG has assisted more 1,800 Christian organizations around the world with capital, annual, and endowment campaigns. More than 25,000 of Pat’s books, Major Donor Game Plan, The C Factor: The Common Cure for your Capital Campaign Conundrums, and Haggai & Friends have helped fundraisers understand the art and science of major donor engagement. Pat makes more than one hundred major donor visits annually and provides counsel to multiple capital campaigns.

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