Are you talking to your donors?

A recent Wall Street Journal article about a $100 million gift from billionaire couple Henry & Marie-Josee Kravis to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center reminded me of the simple power of talking to and engaging donors in our work. The article shared how the gift started . . . with a simple conversation:

It grew out of a conversation at a social event 18 months ago between Mr. Kravis and Craig Thompson, Memorial Sloan Kettering’s president and chief executive officer. As the men recall it, when Dr. Thompson described how the emerging ability to analyze the DNA of individual patient’s tumors was changing cancer care, Mr. Kravis asked how Memorial Sloan Kettering could make a unique contribution.

Dr. Thompson told him about the center’s database of more than one million patients, including archived tumor samples and details of care and outcomes, dating back to 1980. Mr. Kravis asked what could be learned from the history of the patients that were already treated.

How has your successful donor engagement led to major gifts? I’d love to hear your success stories in the comments!


I’m Quoted . . .


As you can see above (feel free to click the photo to  zoom in), I was quoted in the newest book on major gifts fundraising, Rainmaking: The Fundraiser’s Guide to Landing Big Gifts by Andrew Olsen, CFRE & Roy Jones, CFRE.  If you are interested in learning some great strategies for starting or refreshing your organization’s major gifts strategy, check out this book!  For more information and to buy it, go here.

If you end up buying a copy, please feel free to share your thoughts and how you find it helpful in your work in the comments below.

Do You Survey Your Donors?

While looking through Lynne Wester’s website last year, I came across a sample donor survey that she used and this inspired me to integrate these surveys into my stewardship efforts.  As a result, I included a survey and return envelope with the annual President’s Report to Donors (which went out in hard copy and via e-mail), and was mailed to a few hundred donors last Fall.  Of the approximately 400 surveys that were distributed, I received about 7% of the surveys back (between hard copies mailed in and web submissions).

While I was primarily interested in gathering feedback from our donors on this stewardship piece that was just in its second year, I was also able to:

  • deepen relationships with donors based on their responses to a question about what areas of our work they would like to learn more about
  • gather more information about the donors through follow-up phone calls and letters

Because of the survey, I identified donors who are interested in I-House’s music programming and its history (which provided a way to connect with a donor who is a second-generation alumnus).  It also resulted in a donor making an Annual Fund gift twice as large as what she usually gives (which helped us with the multi-year challenge grant we completed at the end of last month — and about which I will be sharing in a future post).  I found this to be a really great way to touch donors without making an ask and provide a rare opportunity to get their input.  If you can, you should definitely integrate surveys into your stewardship strategy.

To learn about an interesting donor survey strategy, check out Pamela Grow’s blog post — Could You Borrow the Smartest Thing I Ever Did?

Have you used donor surveys before?  What kind of response did you get?  Did you find them useful?

 Photo credit

Quick Tips: Fundraising with Your CEO

In last week’s post, I shared some great points that I gleaned from Fund Raising Day in New York’s “Leading the Leaders: How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts” session.  Today, I want to cover some quick tips that the panelists put forth on how to work with your organization’s CEO (or Executive Director) on fundraising:

When the CEO doesn’t “get” fundraising . . .

Gregory Boroff of amfar — The Foundation for AIDS Research encouraged working progressively with your CEO when he/she does not get fundraising.  For example, you could start him/her off with thank you phone calls and slowly move into deeper donor relations and engagement efforts like donor visits, active cultivation & stewardship, accompanying solicitors on face-to-face asks and finally making the face-to-face asks.

Managing expectations

Kerry Kruckel Gibbs of WNET-Thirteen stated that she is very clear with her CEO at the beginning of each year about what she expects and needs him to do in regard to fundraising, with details about the number of asks, visits, etc.  When facing resistance to meeting these expectations, she is clear about the role that charitable gifts play in the organization’s budget and why the CEO is an important part of reaching the overall fundraising goals.


In those situations where she is preparing the CEO for an ask, Ms. Gibbs will always be sure to rehearse the aforementioned ask with him/her.  Not only does this get the solicitor comfortable with the major points that should be covered and what to expect from the donor, it should provide the fundraiser with sufficient comfort that the solicitor is fully prepared.  Now, Ms. Gibbs did note that there have been some occasions where her CEO went off-script during an ask and that it was not always a bad thing, so do keep in mind that possibility.

I hope that you have found these quick tips helpful.  What other tips would you share for successfully and effectively reaching your fundraising goals through the direct efforts of your CEO?

Seminar Recap: Engaging Your Board in the Major Gifts Program

As I noted in a recent post, I attended Fund Raising Day in New York, the largest one-day conference for fundraising professionals here in New York City, last month.

The other workshop that really caught my eye was entitled “Leading the Leaders — How to Motivate Your Board to Cultivate Major Gifts.”  Gregory Boroff, Vice President of Development at amfar, The Foundation for AIDS Research; Kerry Kruckel Gibbs, Vice President for Development and Communications at WNET-Thirteen; and Andy Robinson, an author and consultant served as panelists with Kevin Allan, Senior Managing Director at Changing Our World, moderating.  I have summarized below some of the major points that I gleaned from this talk.

Ms. Gibbs was very clear about the board of WNET-Thirteen’s responsibility to give and get.  She also advocated for the implementation of term limits for board members, as an opportunity to shift off those members who are not as effective, but also to  keep exposing new groups of prospects to your organization’s work.

Mr. Robinson made a great point (that also came up in last week’s Michael Chatman Giving Show) about how we (non-profit staff, but especially fundraisers) need to stop defining fundraising only as asking for a gift, as it should be regarded as an entire process of engagement.  He also made note what he called “The Incentive Plan,” where specific grants are solicited from longstanding supporters that will incentivize the behavior that you want out of your board members (e.g. a small to medium grant that will be awarded on the condition that the board attends fundraising training or a certain percentage of trustees come along on donor visits).  He found that this is a form of aversion therapy, as the board members will be more likely to be open to doing a specific activity after having a positive experience with it.

Mr. Boroff stressed the importance of annual meetings with trustees to set an agenda for the year and clearly express the organization’s fundraising expectations.  He also made a point to encourage fundraisers not to overlook the fact that trustees also need to be treated like donors by cultivating the relationship, sharing the impact the organization is having and engaging them in the work.

Ms. Gibbs shared a great story about identifying who would make a leadership gift for a capital campaign.  After talking with five trustees, she found that they all agreed that the same fellow trustee would be the ideal person to make this gift and motivate others to support the campaign.  Based upon their recommendations, Ms. Gibbs was able to approach that trustee with the angle that others were “counting on him” to make this gift.  After the trustee made a $15 million gift, they turned things around and had him make asks of the other trustees who had recommended him in the first place to make their gifts and follow his lead.

Mr. Robinson had another great idea about setting clear expectations for your board — let them know that you want your organization to be one of their top 3 charitable priorities during their tenure.  This supplement to the overall expectation that they give and get should also aid in the recruitment of serious and committed board members when they know what they are getting themselves into, in contrast to many organizations that only have unspoken expectations (which tend to frustrate staff members and leaders, though these unspoken expectations are not fair to the board members if there is a lack of clarity and candor).

At its simplest, Ms. Gibbs said that trustees are leaders (whether or not they realize it) and as such should be motivating others to support the organization and sharing why they are involved in this work.

I have taken some of these ideas to heart and hope to use some to more deeply engage board members in various aspects of I-House’s fundraising.  Of course, you can look forward to hearing more about these efforts in the coming months.

In my next post, I’ll share a few tips that I picked up from the panelists about working with your Executive Director/CEO on fundraising.

Photo credit

How Receptive is Your Donor Reception?

The President of Eastern Virginia Medical School thanks donors for their support in 2010 and sends the message home with the banner behind him.

Last month, we hosted a donor reception at work specifically for loyalty donors (those who had given consecutively for at least five years) and recent reunion alumni who had contributed toward a named resident room.  Earlier this month, my graduate alma mater — NYU’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service — hosted its annual reception for donors.

After going through the donor reception experience so recently on both sides of the fence — as both a fundraiser and a donor — I wanted to share some tips for making these events a success:

1. Matching up donors with those benefiting from their generosity

A colleague of mine matched up a small group of I-House residents with the donors who were attending the reception.  These matches provided each donor the opportunity to get to know a resident directly and see the use of his/her Annual Fund dollars over the years.

2. Personalize invitations, so that donors know why they are being invited/recognized

When you are inviting donors, you must make it clear why they are being invited.  When you use vague language, your donors are likely to be confused.  One quick story that I must share on this point:
I made numerous follow-up calls to loyalty donors who had responded to the invitations that we had mailed out.  When I called one in particular, she asked why she had been invited (assuming that only major donors were invited for donor receptions) and I got to explain to her that she had been supporting our organization for many years and we appreciated her dedicated generosity.  Even after we were explicit in the invitation that she was being invited for her “many years of financial support,” she still assumed that there was some sort of mistake.  (At a later date I will explore in greater depth the fact that many donors are so ill-stewarded that they don’t know what to do when they are truly thanked and appreciated.)

3. Create a draw for your event, aside from being thanked in person for their support

It always helps to have some well-known people in your organization’s universe to take part in your donor receptions.  The chance to meet and greet with these people will encourage some donors to attend your reception, though it will also provide some good photo opportunities that can be used later  to further cultivate and steward the donors in attendance.  While we scheduled our reception to begin immediately following a meeting of the board of trustees, which allowed donors to network with a good group of them.  NYU Wagner had Former Congressman Harold Ford, Jr. make some brief remarks and take questions from the donors in attendance (he has recently joined the school’s faculty as a Distinguished Practitioner in Residence).

What successful donor reception strategies have worked for you?  Please feel free to share in the comments.

Photo credit