“Top performing gift officers always know ‘where their prospects are’ in relation to making a gift. Many reach the point of becoming a trusted philanthropic advisor for their donors.”
That’s a quote from John Glier of Grenzebach Glier and Associates. He was giving a talk about research his firm had done on top performing gift officers – those consistently raising $1M+ a year.
Becoming a donor’s trusted philanthropic advisor is a privileged status. If you get there, great! If you don’t, don’t worry.
The part we want us to focus on is knowing where your prospects are. It’s absolutely essential. And it’s no mystery why this distinguishes successful fundraisers from the rest.
Knowing where your prospects are means at least three good things are happening:
- You’re talking to your donors/prospects about philanthropy. They’re not just names on a list you’re hoping will respond to the next mailing.
- You have goals in mind and know where your prospects are in relation to them.
- And you know what you need to do next to move them closer to those goals.
This is the heart of cultivation work. We’ve covered a lot of ground already, including the psychology of donor cultivation, how to put a game plan together, and some ideas for effective cultivation activities.
Today we’re going to provide tools – questions, conversation starters – you can use to learn “where your prospects are” and to move them closer to making that gift.
We’ll stick with the two frameworks we’ve been using all series: 1) the learning, trusting, engaging bridge, and 2) the Seven Faces of Philanthropy.
I want to start at the very end of the cultivation stage. With proposal readiness.
This is what it’s all about – it’s why we bother with cultivation in the first place: To get to the point where a prospect is ready to say “yes, I’d be happy to take a look at a proposal.”
But, how do you know if your prospect is there?
Like most things in our business: you ask him.
Here are some examples:
- Straight-shooter: John, I’m delighted you were able to join us for a tour of the construction site. This ambitious project will allow us to double the number of clients we serve. And it’s all happening thanks to the private philanthropy of members of this community. It would be wonderful to have your support as well. Can I treat for lunch in a week so I might share a proposal outlining what your involvement could look like?
- The “idea” conversation: Tammy, you’ve been such a friend of the organization over the years. And it’s been great seeing more of you lately. I’m especially glad we were able to introduce you to [name] to talk a little more about our plans in the area of leadership development. It’s the right program at the right time. We’ll keep you informed of our progress, but would also like to share an idea with you for how you might get involved. Can we come see you at your office next week to talk about it?
- Testing the waters: It’s an amazing project – ambitious too. And we’ve been humbled by the way this community has rallied in support. Would you agree that it’s the right thing at the right time? Have you ever been involved in a project like this?
Get a positive response to any of the above and you’re done with cultivation! You’re ready to solicit your prospect.
With the endgame of cultivation now in view, let’s talk about ways you can build up to that point. I’ll provide some specific language recommendations. The words you say – particularly the questions you ask – matter.
Learning, Trusting, Engaging
Quick refresher: A major gift is like a bridge between a donor’s passion and your organization’s work. This bridge is built upon three pillars: learning, trusting, and engaging.
So, how do you uncover what your prospects want or need to learn? How do you find out if they trust you? What involvement opportunities might they enjoy?
Again, the answer is: ask them.
- Are there any questions I can answer for you?
- We’d like to keep you up-to-date. Is there a particular area of the organization we can highlight for you?
- Is there anyone at the organization you’d like to meet?
- Have you had the opportunity to read our strategic plan, or hear our vision for the future?
- I hope you enjoyed meeting [top executive]. What were your impressions of her?
- I hope you’d agree that our mission is important and that success would mean a lot to [population served]. What are your impressions of our effectiveness?
- Do you feel that your giving to our organization is making a difference?
- When you talk to your friends about [org name], what do you tell them?
- How would you like to be involved in the coming year? Can I highlight a few ways others in the community have partnered with us?
- Would you ever consider [volunteer opportunity]?
- What has been meaningful to you about your involvement at [other org]?
- How might you help us address these important issues?
7 Questions for 7 Faces
The other framework we’ve used in this series has been Prince and File’s Seven Faces of Philanthropy.
I like it because it forces me to think about my prospects/donors in a donor-centered way. The mere exercise of trying to figure out which “type” someone is usually yields insights.
Past posts in this series have described each profile in greater detail. Today I’m going to provide one great cultivation question for each.
- The Approach: Communitarians are focused locally. They tend to be business owners and tend to want their philanthropy to help the same community their businesses serve. When thinking about getting involved with a non-profit, they think in terms of ROI for their business – mostly from a PR perspective.
- The Question: How do you want your business to be perceived by the community? His answer will let you know how you can position involvement with your organization in a way that will help enhance his reputation locally.
- The Approach: The devout get motivation from their faith and their religious communities. Their giving tends to be “values based” and typically aligns with a “sense of purpose” or a “mission in life” that’s rooted in religious belief. Most faith traditions value generosity and service.
- The Question: Where do you feel the mission (or work) of our organization aligns with your values?
- The Approach: Have your facts and figures ready. Investors approach charitable giving in the same way they approach business decisions – with an eye toward ROI. They consider their personal “return” (i.e. tax advantages), as well as the societal “return” (i.e. an organization’s impact – quantified, of course).
- The Question: What’s the best business decision you’ve ever made? What’s the best philanthropic decision you’ve ever made? Why? Her answer will give you key information on what type of impact she’s hoping to have and how she evaluates opportunities.
- The Approach: Socialites have valuable social capital. And they know it. But, they’re also painfully aware that their reputations are at stake anytime they rally their “group” around a cause. They want assurances their group will be treated well.
- The Question: Who else needs to be involved, and what would make them feel great about joining the cause? The question behind the question: We want you AND your network on board. How can we take care of the group?
- The Approach: Altruists tend to be motivated by internal forces such as empathy and a desire for personal growth, rather than externals, like public recognition.
- The Question: You’ve been quietly, and without fanfare, making a huge difference in this community. Tell me about your work with [other org]. What made it meaningful for you?
- The Approach: Working with repayers tends to be pretty straightforward –thankfully! Your organization changed their lives. And they have positive feelings because of it. This is a great foundation for your case for support.
- The Question: I’ve heard you say that [org name] made a huge difference in your life. Tell me more about that. How did it help shape who you are today?
- The Approach: For families steeped in philanthropic tradition, motivations can be nuanced, particularly for younger generations. And, decisions typically involve other people. It’s helpful to know who they are.
- The Question: I understand you and your [family/wife/husband] are very involved with [other org]. I’d love to hear how that’s been meaningful to you. Who was involved in the decision to make [reference a noteworthy gift they made to the other org]?
There it is. Seven questions for seven types. Go forth and cultivate!
And with that, we’re at the end of our series. We’ve covered a lot of ground.
Did I miss anything? Any lingering questions? Leave your question or comment below.
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