So sometimes I am lucky enough to meet one of my e-newsletter subscribers, in person! Last year, I got a chance to meet Lisa Kelly Zuba. Lisa Kelly Zuba is a Major Gifts fundraiser and owner of BiZZantik, a nonprofit consulting firm. She was swinging back through Austin on a whirlwind trip and we managed to get 45 minutes together. I relished every moment of our meeting, and realized that she brought some useful knowledge to the table, namely, how to get major gifts! Since that’s not one of my strengths, I asked her to write a series of posts about major gifts. Today, we have the first one! Thank you Lisa!

Lisa Kelly Zuba, Major Gifts Fundraiser

How can you be more like this Wild Woman? 🙂

You’ve heard it before: major gift fundraising is an art, not a science. But, how can you create the art that brings in larger gifts to your organization? It’s not in paintbrush, but it’s all about the language that you and your donor speak.

Communication is the foundation to successful major gift fundraising. It will make or break a relationship. And, building a relationship is at the crux of fundraising – especially in major gifts. Your reason for wanting their gift is almost always different from their reason for wanting to give. Since they are the ones with the money, their reasons matter the most. You will build a deep relationship with your donors if you learn to speak their language. But first, you must know your own.

What Language Do You Speak?

Language is not just about the words that come out of your mouth, but also about your mannerisms and knowing when to be quiet. It’s about body language and how you comport yourself. The nonverbal accounts for two-thirds of all communication. Developing your personal style counts more than almost anything else you can do as a major gift fundraiser. In other words, you can’t fake it.

Know Your Style…It’s More Than Words


  • Do you talk fast or slow?
  • Do you use jargon?
  • Do you know what you’re talking about?
  • Do you speak with passion?


  • Can you hear what’s not being said?
  • Do you interrupt when the other person is talking?
  • Do silences make you uncomfortable?
  • Are you thinking about what to say next when your donor is speaking?


  • Are you relaxed around people different than you?
  • Are you observant of your surroundings?
  • Do you truly care about what’s good for your donor?
  • Have you attached yourself too stridently to a desired outcome?

How To Shape Your Style

Discipline isn’t a dirty word. No one ever got good enough without practice — so practice. Do your research and know your strategy. Script and record conversations. Practice being comfortable with silence. Be aware of your body language and nonverbal signals you send.

Invest in yourself. Make a commitment to learn something new every single day. In order to be interesting to others, you need to know what’s going on in the world. It’s good to have opinions, but know when to share them and when not to. Developing your own interests and hobbies expands who you are as a person and makes you more interesting to your donors.

Discipline and investment bring confidence. Having confidence is fun! You can’t speak your donor’s language until you know your own.

Successful major gift fundraising depends on the art of speaking the right language.

Stay tuned for Part 2: How To Speak A Donor’s Language

Thank you very much Lisa! Looking forward to your next post!

If you have any questions about major gifts, please leave a comment and we’ll make sure to address these in the next post.