Journey to Generosity

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” What a great fundraising principle! The first gift is the hardest gift to ask for and receive but a $100 entry level gift could eventually grow into a $1 million gift if you carefully and prayerfully guide your donor along the generosity path. Five mile markers lead to a game-changing gift: (1) Information, (2) Education, (3) Cultivation, (4) Inspiration, and (5) Solicitation.

We live in an information age. Everything we need to know is virtually at our fingertips. Donors with different capacities–entry level, mid-range, major, and mega donors–need different types of information to distinguish what makes your organization unique. There is truth in the phrase, “You never get a second change to make a first impression.” In this information phase of the relationship, you need to clearly share your mission, vision, and core values. Your mission is who you are and what you are about. Your vision statement states where you are going or at least want to go. Your core values express what you hold dearly. Let me say it another way, “What is the single most persuasive idea you can convey about your ministry?” Share what sets you apart from the other 1.8 million 501c3 organizations in the United States. Go beyond mission, vision, and core values—define your critical core competencies. What do you do best and what is unique about your ministry?

There is an art and science to donor development. This is the art phase. Education can be defined as “the purposeful activity directed at achieving certain aims such as transmitting knowledge or fostering skills and character traits. These aims may include the development of understanding, rationality, kindness, and honesty.” You have shared information with your potential donor, now help them understand your organization. In the education process, we often try to weave in this question, “We wonder who would address these specific needs if we were not in business?” Donors have many giving choices. Why should they give to you? You are educating your donor about your organization, and they are educating you about who they are and their hot buttons. What is a hot button? It’s what makes a donor pound the table as they emphatically state, “This must be accomplished, and I will make it happen.” Information and education might not motivate your donor to make a 7-figure gift—there are a couple more steps, but you’re getting closer.

Cultivation is drilling deeper with your donor relationships. Ask your ministry partner how they want to receive information. Do they prefer snail mail, e-mail, text, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, in person, by phone, or smoke signals? Make sure you are communicating in ways they will receive your messages.

Both previous steps are important but in the cultivation phase you are personally communicating the human need you have identified and how you are addressing that need. Cultivation is sharing how your ministry is changing lives. It’s not about bricks and sticks, or endowment, it’s about the power of the Gospel in the lives of people—real people with real needs and how the work of Christ in their lives can change them for eternity.

Listen to the donor during this cultivation period. It’s a discovery phase for you to determine what really gets them excited about giving to your organization or a specific project. What gives them great satisfaction in their giving? A sign along a rural road in Kansas says, “Pray for a good harvest… but keep on hoeing.” A synonym for hoeing is cultivating. Work the soil of the mind, the heart, and the checkbook.

Donor development is story and plan. The inspiration step is all about your story. Share with your donor success stories of the people you serve. Let them see what you do through the lives of your service recipients, such as a student whose life has been changed, a homeless person who found Christ through your ministry, or a couple who have benefited from your counseling program. Let the people you serve help tell your story.

Inspiration doesn’t happen through a brochure, e-mail, or text. It’s the life-changing story you tell in person, or on zoom, or a video you share on your iPad. It’s your mission, vision, and core values seen in a real person who has experienced real change because of what God has accomplished in their lives through your ministry. Here are four words to help define inspiration: spur, stimulate, motivate, and encourage. Show your donor how you are impacting lives and how their gift can make an eternal difference. This inspirational message may come from your CEO or your Executive Director. It’s not about hype or empty publicity. This is where you meet the need of the donor “to know.” They want to look behind the scenes and be confident you are using their money wisely.

Here’s the fun part—the culmination of this donor process—the Ask! If you have been successful in building toward this with the other four steps, this one is truly enjoyable and easy. Consider this acrostic ROOF—Reason, Opportunity, Observation, and Follow Up.

The Reason for the donor visit should have been clearly defined by what you have shared with the donor in the ramp up to the Ask. By the way, 98% of the time this is a personal visit.

The Opportunity is the project you are asking them to fund and the timing of that funding.

Observation involves watching and listening to their response. Did you ask too low, too high, or about where you should be with this donor? Very likely if they do not gasp when you make this request you may have asked too low. Rarely will a donor who has been through this four-step process be offended by the Ask, even if it’s a large one.

Follow Up is working through their responses: Yes, Maybe, No, or even No Not Now. Once again, your response should be personal, which means following up with a phone call, text, and a handwritten note. You will need a signed commitment device or a letter of intent to confirm their commitment.  

Overcome your FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) in the solicitation process. This is a friendly family discussion. Practice the Golden Rule, ask them as you would like to be asked. There is no reason to be shy! Utilize this 5-step process with Mid, Major, and Mega Donors on your file and you will achieve success by the Grace of God. In closing, please practice Pat’s 4 C’s:

  • See the People!
  • See the People!
  • See the People!
  • See what God’s going to do with the relationship!

As high tech we get in our fundraising process, don’t forget high touch!

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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