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INTERVIEW: Getting more major gifts with Jeff Schreifels

2 August 2016

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 August 2, 2016
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Jeff Schreifels

Hey, everybody. Welcome. This is Mazarine Treyz of Wild Woman Fundraising and today I have the pleasure of chatting with Jeff Schreifels, cofounder of the Veritus Group. Also co-author of It’s Not Just About the Money. I’ve reviewed Jeff’s book before, and I’m really excited to have him today speaking with us about how to get more major gifts. Jeff, welcome.

JS: Hey, thanks for having me. Glad I could be here.

MT: Right on. Jeff, can I ask more about your background and why people should listen to you about major gifts?

JS: Well, let’s see. I’ve been in fundraising for 27 years. I did it right out of college, started working for a small nonprofit, and I learned from doing. I didn’t know anything about fundraising, and I just picked it up and I fell in love with it. So I worked for two nonprofits as development director for eight years total. Then I went to work for a company called The Domain Group based in Seattle that did direct response fundraising for large nonprofits all over the country, and I did that for 11, 12 years and just absolutely loved it. Loved the strategy part of all of that, and while working there we also did a little bit on the major gifts side.

I really enjoyed it, and when The Domain Group was sold back in 2005 and I eventually left in 2008, the former owner of The Domain Group, Richard Perry and I came together, and said, we’ve always wanted to work together. We feel like major gifts is just underserved. There’s not enough good thought around major gifts. So let’s focus on that. So in 2009, we formed Veritus and we started working with clients specifically around major gift programs. So we help create, build, and manage those major gift programs. We’ve been doing that seven years now. It’s been a lot of fun. So we work with dozens and dozens of clients and manage over 100 MGOs. So we’ve got a little experience, I think, to share. We’ve been writing our blog now for over five years. So a little bit of history there.

MT: Jeff, just in case people here don’t know, what is the most effective way to fundraise with time in versus money out?

JS: It depends on the nonprofit. But I would say overall, that if you’re focusing on the 80% return with 20% with your people. I mean, the top 20% really are going to give you 80% of the revenue. That’s why we really wanted to focus on major gifts, because there’s a lot of organizations focusing on that lower end, and I understand that because you’ve got to build a pipeline up for yourself. But if you’re a small or medium size organization, really focusing in on the top part of your pyramid is probably the most effective and cost effective way to bring in that revenue for your programs.

MT: I agree with you. Major gifts is the way to go. So people should really come to your session at the nonprofit leadership conference. But why do small nonprofits have such a hard time getting major gifts?

JS: I think it’s because they are so busy with doing everything that they have to do with the nonprofit that they don’t spend the quality time, nor do they have the patience to work it. For those organizations that do spend the time and have the patience, they see in 24, 36 months, some real changes in their revenue. They see some drastic changes where they break through, where they’ve just kind of been going every year, every year. If they really focus on the major gifts side of things, I’ve seen some incredible growth. But it does take time, and it takes effort and it takes discipline to run a major gift program. If you’re not patient enough, it’s frustrating because it takes time to build relationships with donors. That’s the key to major gifts, and I think for small nonprofits, it’s difficult because they have so much going on.

MT: It’s true. Even if, say for example, I’m a donor to a small nonprofit. Maybe I even want to give a major gift. What stands in the way of me, a major donor, wanting to give to a small nonprofit?

JS: Probably the nonprofit itself. They stand in the way. We either don’t know what to do with the donor, or we don’t know how to craft an offer. We haven’t spent enough time building the relationship. So I know everyone has major donors on their donor file. But it’s a matter of spending the time and energy and discipline on really creating relationships with those donors and really trying to find out the passion and interests of that donor, and matching that up with your organization. So I think a lot of smaller, medium sized, and even large nonprofits, they don’t do a good job at that. So there are donors that want to give, but we’re not cultivating them right and we’re not asking them. A lot of nonprofits are not challenging their donors, but they could be. I think a lot of that is because they haven’t really gotten to know those donors well. So I think what stands in the way is the nonprofit itself.

MT: So that leads us to what are some typical mistakes that nonprofit leaders make when they ask for a gift? Do they ask for a gift that’s too small? Do they not cultivate enough before asking? What do they do?

JS: All of those. So again, it goes back to not really establishing a relationship, knowing what the donor’s passion and interests are. I’ll say that over and over again, but it’s very true. So if you’re just going after the money, because gosh, we need to get this by the end of the year and there’s all this pressure for the money, you’ll do stupid things. You’ll ask a donor before you’re ready to really ask the donor for a gift. Or you’ll ask for just a nominal gift of $1,000 or $5,000, when if a donor is properly cultivated and stewarded, you could probably ask for $25,000 or $50,000. But it’s not spending the time getting to know who that donor is. That’s really the problem.

MT: How do you know what size of a gift to ask for when you’re cultivating a donor?

JS: That really become apparent as you get to know that donor. So you will understand what their capacity is. You will have discussions about what they want to do to make an impact for your organization. You’ll do all kinds of research. What kind of gifts have they given to other organizations? Many times, a donor will almost tell you – if you’re really doing it well, what kind of gifts they want to make. If you can get that kind of a relationship, then it’s fairly easy as far as knowing what I should ask for. But it really is about doing your homework. It’s about creating that relationship with that donor.

MT: So is a major gift something that a nonprofit leader should give themselves before asking others?

JS: I think it would be – I mean, depending on what you think of a major gift as. But I think that helps, to know that you’re committed to the mission. I don’t think it has to be, but I do think that those leaders that do make those gifts, they can at least say, I myself am committed and supported, or even I support other organizations with major gifts, if they’re able to do that. But I think anyone who works in fundraising needs to give. They, themselves, have to give to other organizations. It’s just like mandatory to me, that if you’re going to ask others for gifts, you yourself should give.

MT: And would you say if you work in an organization, and you’re doing major gifts for the organization, should you be giving to your own organization?

JS: Well, I think it’s up to everyone. If it were me, yes, I would. I think it’s important not only that you’re giving your time, obviously, and your energy and everything about you. But you’re also giving your resources and I think that’s important.

Read part two here!

One response on “How can you apply the 80/20 principle to Fundraising?

  1. Madison says:

    Wonderful interview! Jeff Schriefels really knows his stuff, the 80% return for 20% people seems like a smart basis to work from with Major Donors. It is very encouraging that he’s seen comprehensive major gifts plans lead to real change in revenue. I think a big question though is how should small non-profits re-evaluate their time to make more for interacting with potential major donors, especially when they don’t have a lot of time. And Treyz is very right in saying that it all starts with knowing the donor first, and then not being afraid to ask and challenge them. Looking forward to part 2!