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Thursday, October 19, 2017

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10 Rules for Getting Major Gifts
Jacqueline Beretta

January, 2014

1. Identify your prospects

Go through your donor base, research previous donors and potential donors - run your list past your board and anyone else who has knowledge of individuals and corporations in your community. Get clues on how to categorize this list of potential donors - keep clippings from the newspaper or local magazines on who is attending what functions, who is giving to what, lists of boards, businesspeople in the news, etc. Get to know these people by reading about their accomplishments and looking at their photos in society columns and business pages. Invite them to your events.

2. Identify their potential level of giving

You must do your due diligence here - you can't just go in cold turkey and ask a future patron to give $1000 if they just sold their business for $20 million! And vice versa. It is far better to request too much as long as it is not absurd.

I heard the story of the nonprofit that went to a potential donor who had actually approached that nonprofit and offered a certain amount of money to re-surface a tennis court for young children. The nonprofit promised to send a proposal - and they did - 6 months after the initial conversation and for 6 times more than the donor offered in the first place. They had submitted a proposal for an entire sports complex instead of one tennis court. The donor, after their initial shock at the outrageousness of the proposal, totally disregarded it. And they never offered another dime to that nonprofit.

3. Identify what might interest the donor

Success rates improve when you figure out exactly what your potential donor might be interested in. And remember, your future donor might be analyzing and developing their philanthropic agenda right at this very moment. It is your job to find out all you can about him, analyze if he is good prospect and then plan your strategy.

Does this person have a strong interest in any aspect of your organization? If you are an organization that helps children with learning disabilities, can you find out if there are any instances of this in their family?

Does this donor have any ties to some aspect of your organization? Perhaps Bill Gates is the 1st cousin of one of your mentors? What a coup!

Perhaps your donor has realized great success because of a mentor who counseled them when he was just a pup. Your Mentoring organization would be just the thing to tell him about.

4. Write the proposal

Prepare a unique proposal. The fact that the donor gave you time is definitely a plus today, considering that people's time is precious. But with the added aspect of a well crafted and interesting proposal, you have a much better chance at capturing the donors attention and interest.

Include the following:

  • A sincere cover letter. Get to the meat within the first sentence, or you will lose your donor.

  • A precise1 page overview

  • A list of board members and key people involved with the project

  • 501 c 3 documentation

  • A budget and a list of other donors committed to/or entertaining the idea of supporting this project

  • Reasons why to support your organization

  • A list of goals and a chart of levels of giving. If your donor does not feel the urge to give $100k, he might just consider $25k instead.

  • Architectural plans, a media presentation, letters of recommendation, photographs of art, whatever it takes



5. Prepare the team

Who would be the best person/group to send? Who holds the most influence in your organization? Would the donor like to see and executive, the ED, a board member - who would make the most difference in this presentation?

Teach your team to listen, be respectful, ask the donor about themselves, encourage them to let you know why they might consider giving to your organization. Perhaps your donor had a pet bichon that she adored that dies years ago- so if you are from the Humane Society, plan to listen to all of her loving stories about Sophie the bichon. And I promise, if you are cordial and patient with your potential donor, you will have a very good chance of getting that major support you need. Let the donor talk, learn about hem and then tell about your project and why you think it might be of interest to them and why it is imperative to their community.

Prep your team to answer tough questions about finances, reporting, and most importantly teach them how to motivate. If an answer is unclear, then teach your team to answer honestly that they will have to research and answer for that question. And then get back to them with that answer ASAP.

6. Make the appointment

Make your appointment and hand them your proposal in person. Ask the donor how they would like to receive the proposal - some donors like to have lunch, some like to meet in their home or office. Just remember - for a large gift - you want to look the donor right in the eye when you have them your proposal.

7. Ask

Fear - this is what you must overcome. Calmly give a thoughtful verbal presentation allowing the potential donor to ask a question if he would like. Have courage, confidence and great presence. Again - be calm - breathe deeply - and listen. You will be able to read the body language and know if you have hit their interest button.

Believe in your mission and your cause - believe that you will indeed get this major gift - because if you do not believe you will succeed, then you will not.

If you meet with rejection, remember that this is not personal. Well, not often anyway. I heard the story of a request to a donor from a school that rudely had refused to even consider an interview the donor's child for admission years before for some ludicrous reason. In that case, or one like it, a refusal might be personal.

8. Motivate and Encourage

If the donor has to ponder/think on it/look into it/consult with their whatever, let them but suggest a time when you might contact them to "ask them if they have any more questions". Let them know how important their participation is in this project and that time is of the essence. Sometimes, letting them draw their decision out too long might encourage them to forget about your project altogether. Uncomfortable as it may feel, sometimes persistence is essential. Just remember to be polite.

9. Hopefully You Will Thank Them Profusely!

If your donor agrees to give, thank them profusely. Run, don't walk back to the office and write a thank you note.

You can then take the opportunity to ask them for some other appropriate people they might suggest for you to visit. This new and wonderful donor might just introduce you his best friend who would be a great candidate for a $100k gift.

Also, you must follow up with a plan for payments regarding their contribution.

Once the first check is received, ask your board president to write a note thanking the donor for the first check - and do this each time you receive a check. In the letter, make sure you update the donor on the progress your agency has made in regard to their project.

10. Just in Case - Plan B

Remember, rejection should not be taken personally. Many donors like to learn about nonprofits, but might not give at that particular time. That doesn't mean they are not a candidate forever - Tuesday just might have been a tough day. Next year on Wednesday you might have luck with the same donor. Or, possibly after you have gotten a few donations in your coffer, that donor might join the crowd and make a substantial donation.

Think about the buffalos on the plains that stampeded right over the side of many a cliff, just because they were following the buffalo before them. Sometimes people follow suit too, just like the buffalos.

Always thank your potential donor for their time anyway - whether they give or not. And remember to follow up after some time has lapsed. Develop a good relationship over time and your chances for getting a major grant will definitely improve.

Jacqueline Beretta is a sixth generation of the Austin family in Texas. She is the great-great-great-great-grand-daughter of Moses Austin, who was the father of Stephen Fuller Austin and Emily Margaret Austin Perry. Jacqueline is the creator and inspiration for Texasnonprofits® and, like her great-great-great uncle Stephen Fuller Austin, is very proud to be a Texan.


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