Fundraising Superpower: Mind Reader

Perhaps you’ve heard this famous fundraising axiom, “Successful fundraising is the right person asking the right prospect for the right amount for the right project at the right time in the right way¹”.

So, how do you know the right amount to ask for? What if you ask too high? Or, too low? Can you go back for seconds if you asked for the wrong amount the first time? Here’s where the fundraising superpower of reading your donors’ minds would come in handy. You could nail the right ask every time. This superpower doesn’t come by gamma radiation, exposure to chemicals from another planet, a science experiment gone wrong, or a radioactive spider bite. But it’s not as complicated as you might think.

Asking for the right amount starts with research. Who is this donor or prospect? Have they given before? How much? What do you know about them personally? What other ministries do they support? How much do they usually give? You can research this donor with internal and external data. Internally, you should review your donors’ giving records, talk to staff who know them, ask board members if they have any personal or business relationships. Check out external online wealth screening resources such as Blackbaud Analytics, Donor Search, Donor Scape, iWave, and Wealth Engine to name a few. Both internal and external research provide key datapoints to help you determine the right gift amount.

Rules of Thumb

•  Start with their largest annual gift. If you are   asking for another annual gift, suggest the donor increase their gift by 25% or more.

•  If you’re asking for a capital campaign multiple year pledge, you could request 10 to 25 times their largest single gift, depending on their capacity.

•  If in doubt, ask high. It is usually better to ask a donor to “stretch” their stewardship decision, rather than feel like you asked too low. If it is too high, they will tell you. Rarely will they say, “You didn’t ask enough, I was planning to give $_______.” Charles W. Phillips of the McLellan Foundation once remarked, “No large ask should be a surprise; every smaller ask is an insult.”

A client shared a recent capital campaign ask where the donor responded, “You’re leaving money on the table. You asked for $4,500 but we could give $10,000.” Their largest single gift was $1,500, so she tripled it for the three-year campaign ask, but she didn’t realize that this donor was silent partner in a very successful local car dealership whose profits were up this year. If she had done her research, perhaps she would have asked for more and received more.

“Sweet Spot” Solicitation

Personal solicitation is built on relationships which you cultivate before the actual ask. Get to know your donors – their interests, passions, and what motivates them most about what you do. The more you know, the more accurately you will discern the right project and the right amount. A donor’s “sweet spot” is not always easy to detect or uncover, but once you do, you have a better chance to hit a home run. Just like in baseball, hit the sweet spot, and watch it fly out of the park!

I saw this principle happen firsthand on a recent visit with a client engaged in a major capital campaign. The development director and I visited a couple and presented a gift proposal for $30,000, based on their last campaign gift eight years ago and their annual giving since that time. It was a bit of a “stretch” over their past giving.

The visit went well; they loved the campaign components. After our $30,000 ask, the donor said that he and his wife would talk and have an answer in a week. We then showed him a list of named gift opportunities ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. It’s helpful to share this information even if the donor can’t give more or is not interested in recognition, because they may know someone who might be.

Little did we know that one of the items on that named gift list hit a “sweet spot.” Four hours after our visit, the donor came to the office with a completed pledge card for $150,000! That is right – not the $30,000 we asked him, but five times that amount. Their family’s interest in music, drama, and the arts had gone largely undetected, but they wanted to leave a legacy. As they discussed the campaign, they decided to put their name on an outside amphitheater.

Just think of the success you could have with every major donor if you took the time to uncover their “sweet spots.” It doesn’t always happen the way I described above but you need to be intentional about discovering your donors’ true interests. It’s hard work, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

You really don’t need to be a superhero to know how much to ask your donor. Listen to their heart and passion, then you can pitch the right project and the right gift amount!

Resource: ¹Weinstein, Stanley. The Complete Guide to Fundraising Management, 4th Ed. Wiley. 2017.


About the Author: Kent Vanderwood, Vice

President – Kent offers clients over 35 years of non-profit experience including teaching, administrative, consulting, and directorships. Through his work as Development Director for The Potter’s House, Gospel Communications International, and Mel Trotter Ministries, Kent brings a wealth of experience in fundraising and development. He currently serves as a board member for the West Michigan chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP). His passion for seeing Christian stewardship principles applied in a systematic way helps the non-profit organization or ministry be successful in fulfilling its mission.

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