Lisa Kelly Zuba is a smart, funny Major Gifts fundraiser and owner of BiZZantik, a nonprofit consulting firm. I asked her to write a series of posts about major gifts. Today, we have the second one! Thank you Lisa!

Lisa Kelly Zuba, Major Gifts Fundraiser

How can you be more like this Wild Woman? 🙂

How To Speak Your Donor’s Language?

Start from where you are.


Now that you know your style (see Part 1 of this article), you’re well positioned to meet each donor in a very personal and very focused manner. It doesn’t mean you have to take Berlitz or Rosetta Stone class, but you do need to speak your donor’s language.

Donors give to organizations and individuals that they know and trust. And they give when they are good and ready — not necessarily on your timeline. You cannot make someone give who isn’t ready. To get to a position of trust, you must speak their language.

Speaking someone else’s language means getting out of your comfort zone. It’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. You have to invest the time and energy in understanding your donor. Learn who they are as individuals and what’s behind their interest in your organization.

No Winging-it Allowed!


Learn the language they speak by doing proper research. Dig deep. Find out what other organizations they support. Where did they go to school? What did they do before they started their very successful company? Are they family oriented? What other interests to they have? Who else do they trust? Don’t just learn about their capacity to give, i.e. money, discover what makes them tick!

Some relationships come naturally and are easy to maintain. But other times you’ll have to do something new and different. That’s when it’s crucial you meet a donor where they are.

If the mountain won’t come to Mohammad, then Mohammad must go to the mountain.

How far are you willing to go? How hard are you willing to work? How many chances are you willing to take that result in a major gift?

If you’ve been courting a donor for five months (i.e., innumerable voice mails) to get him to take a meeting, and he gives you two-day notice to meet him at his him across the country, would you do it? Of course you would! That is, if you did your research and knows he has deep interest and capacity for your nonprofit. But if that’s all you know about him, the only language you’re speaking is yours. And nobody really enjoys one- way conversations – except for people who likes hearing themself talk.

You’ve got to start with genuine care and concern for your donor. I have an expression: how far are you willing to go to build a meaningful relationship with your donor? You go as far as you can … and one-step more.

Love Is In The Air

You’re in the business of philanthropy, which actually means “the love of humanity.” There can be no greater endeavor than to foster philanthropy. Giving is good! Knowing this provides the confidence fundraisers need to close difficult gifts, pursue challenging relationships and speak donor languages that may be foreign to you.

How many languages can you speak?

Want to read another post about Major Gifts Fundraising?

Making that major gifts call
Who is a major donor?
Starting your major gifts program
Why major gifts fundraising is like hosting a dinner party-Guest post by Cassie Gruenstein
Face to face ask