Today we are interviewing Jeff Schreifels on major gifts-the typical mistakes people make when trying to get major gifts, and how you can cultivate your major donors. Read the first part of this interview here.
MT: Okay. I made a gift this weekend to a political campaign because I had been asked to make the ask in front of everybody. It was scary and there were no plants in the audience. So I was making the highest gift there. But I felt like it was important to show that it was, you know, a worthy person to support. So I guess my question to you is really like, when people ask – when I ask – I had no preparation. I did not know who was going to be in the room. I wasn’t able to cultivate anybody before I got in there. So when you’re in a situation like that, when you’re just not really prepared, is there anything people could do well, even despite all of these barriers?
JS: Well, I don’t know if I would actually call that asking for a major gift, necessarily. I would call that more of a transactional gift. In other words, you’re in a room with a bunch of people, and you could make a passionate plea and because people are believing in what you’re saying and they’re in the moment, they’re going to write out a check for whatever. It may be considered a major gift, depending on the organization or the person receiving it or whatever. But I would say that that situation is more of a transactional kind of a gift, where a major gift, to me, when you’re really working with a donor, is going back to really understanding who that donor is. You’re really, as the fundraiser, the bridge between the need and that donor’s desire to help change the world. That is a whole different thing.
So that is something where you’re really looking at helping change the donor and bringing them joy, and then also doing something to alleviate some kind of problem through their philanthropy. That is a longer process, whereas the situation you were talking about is – I mean, I’ve been in those situations and it’s still an amazing thing. But I would say that in that case, it’s more like a transactional. Like yes, I’ll just do it in the emotion of it and give a gift because you believe in it. Therefore I see your passion and I want to do something. So I think that the key after that whole thing, is really to follow up from that. So now these folks have given a gift in that moment after your lead gift. You kind of said, hey, I’m doing this. Will you guys do something as well? And perhaps a bunch of them did. The key will be the follow up to that, and the other thing is political fundraising can be a little different too, because political fundraising is kind of built around the transaction versus really building relationships with donors.
MT: You’re right. It is different. That’s a really good distinction to make between transactional versus relationship fundraising, which is what major gifts really is.
So there’s so much anxiety that goes into the ask, and a lot of us know that a lot of the work happens before you ask. So how can nonprofit leaders prepare the ground with their donor to get closer to a yes? How can they feel more confident in asking? Two questions, I guess.
JS: Yeah, I think to prepare the ground for the donor, it’s all in what you’ve done beforehand to cultivate that donor. Again, it goes back to if I do know their passion and interests and I’m working to figure that out within my organization of how can I bring them together with that need that will satisfy them and do something great for the organization. Then you’re bringing that donor along in that journey. That takes a lot of anxiety around the actual ask because it’s almost by that time, the donor is expecting you to make an ask and help them do what they want to do. Really, that’s what you’re doing. The donor wants to give and you’re helping them do it.
How can you help them do it?
According to Jeff, within the first 30 days a new donor is on your portfolio you should send:
JS: The other part, though, is not only just preparing the ground for the donor, but for a person who’s got anxiety. There’s a lot of nonprofit leaders that have a really tough time with fundraising. They look at it as a necessary evil, and I understand that. Talking about money is a hard thing. In our culture, we don’t like talking about it. It’s uncomfortable, and I think for the nonprofit leader, they need to do some work on themselves and to understand that ultimately, they’re helping the donor find joy in their life through their giving, and just embrace that concept. So in other words, I like to say that as the fundraiser, you’re the broker of love. I always like to say that, because that’s what giving money is all about. It’s really about an act of love, and you’re trying to help that donor do something that they want to do and bring them joy. Because when people give, great things happen to those donors that do that. The great thing is that you get to do something great for your organization.
So when I’ve seen nonprofit leaders embrace that concept, they go, wow. I’ve never thought about it that way. They become much more relaxed and actually are excited about asking donors to give, because they’re looking at it in a completely different way. It’s not like oh, I just can’t ask that person. What if they reject me? No. This donor wants to give and you’re just asking them to do something they want to do anyway. It’s going to bring all kinds of joy to that donor. Oh, gosh, that’s a lot different. I like that. They can kind of flip a switch and then get that donor to a yes.
MT: So you’re talking in a way about what Lynne Twist talks about in The Soul of Money, which is that it’s almost a sacred duty to fundraise because you’re giving people a chance to have more meaning in their lives, connect with their values, connect with their legacy.
JS: It really isn’t actually about the money. It really is about helping someone do something that they want to do to make a difference in the world, and bringing them along in that journey as it relates to your organization and what you do to actually help change the world. So if you can bring those two together, then it’s a matter of how that donor wants to express that, and how much and all of that. But it really is about bringing that donor along in that journey.
Jeff goes on, in a post titled “You Can’t Rush a Relationship”:
“You can’t rush the process of understanding a donor’s passions and interests. Even if you are at a place where you know this about a donor, that doesn’t mean you’re done cultivating that relationship. Just like the relationship you have with your significant other or best friend, it will always take work.
Major Gift Officers who have an inner calmness about them – they almost always achieve their goals. If they don’t, it’s not because they didn’t work their plan. This is because their great joy is in helping donors find their great joy.
Philanthropy is about love, not money. Work with your donors from that place of love, and you will see transformation. You will also see growth in revenue for your organization.”
MT: You know, Jeff, as you’re talking, what I’m feeling in the energy behind your words is that now more than ever, we need people to do major gifts fundraising. Because with all of the endless news cycle of pain and worry and fear that’s going on right now, I hear that people are very angry and frustrated and worried about how the world is going. They feel like they don’t have any control over what’s happening. But if someone like you, right, can help them understand that they can affect a small portion of the world that needs to be righted, that could empower them is what I’m hearing.
JS: It will empower them. It’s absolutely life changing, not only for the donor and for the organization, but for the fundraiser. I’ve seen it happen over and over again, that there is a mystical thing that happens to all three of the parties involved, to the donor, the fundraiser, and the organization. When that all comes together, when the donor wants to do something transformational to help make an impact to that organization. All three are touched deeply, and it’s an amazing thing.
MT: That is incredible. It sounds like everybody should be doing this.
JS: I know. I know. That’s why I am so passionate about this, because I’ve seen the power that it has in people’s lives when they give away their money, and when fundraisers ask, and when good things happen with organizations with that money. I see it over and over again, and when people are like, well, I don’t know if we can invest in major gifts and spend the time. I’m like, if you just saw the joy that I saw in a donor’s eyes when they gave away $1 million, or a fundraiser who was able to spend a year with a donor and really helping understand what that donor wanted to do, and they made it happen. How incredible that fundraiser felt to do that. You would say, of course we’ve got to do this. We just have to.
MT: We should put that on film and show people. But it’s really personal and I know it’s a long process.
JS: It is.
MT: So what will you be teaching at the Nonprofit Leadership Summit?
JS: Well, I’ll be doing a presentation around what we call the seven pillars of a major gift program. So this is perfect for small, medium sized organization, who haven’t even started a major gift program, or who are thinking about it, or they just started one and they’re struggling. The seven pillars. This is what every major gift program has to have, and I’ll go through those seven pillars and have some stories on each one of them. But they’re absolutely essential. So it’s like the building block of a strong major gift program. So we’ll go through that.
MT: So who should attend that?
JS: Anyone who is just starting a major gift program or thinking about it or is concerned that their major gift program right now is not as effective as it should be. Then you should come to my session, because it will give you the ground work to have a solid program. I think it will inspire you to want to do something great.
MT: Thank you so much for being interviewed today. How can people get in touch with you or buy your book?
JS: Okay, well, the book, It’s Not Just About the Money, is on Amazon.com. So you can go on Amazon and look for it. If you want to get in touch with me, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can call me, 267-254-2939, and I’ll chat with you.