Tag Archives: Culture of Asking Series

Leveraging the Donor: The Fourth (and Final) Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund

David A. Mersky imageWhen I began this series I asked you, “In this coming year, what are you going to do to exceed your fundraising goals?”

Well the year is up. How did you do? Did you write down your goals and objectives? Did you meet or exceed your expectations?

In this coming year, there is one more thing you should plan to do…if you do not do it already, and that is to leverage your donors to identify, interest, involve and gain investments from others.

This is the last step in the cycle of life-long giving. To succeed with this fourth step, you must plan to help donors talk with their friends and introduce them to your agency.

The process begins with the first contact after the gift. Like the follow-up call—that we discussed earlier in this series—an immediate contact is essential. The call allows you to let donors know how excited you are to receive their latest gift and to let them know right away. Such a telephone call within two days of “receiving” the gift, employs a basic follow-up call script including the one “killer” question:

Is there any one you might invite to learn more about what we are doing?

You can expect that the conversation will be a positive one as it is a perfectly natural occurrence since donors feel good about their gift, are happy to hear from you and you are providing them with an opportunity to deepen the relationship with you and the agency in which they have just invested.

Your task is now to engage donors to grow the circle of supporters. You might start by asking them to host a gateway event and with you create the invitation list of prospective investors. If you have followed each of the steps in the cycle, the donors will trust you to do for their friends and family what you did with them. They will expect you to treat their friends with utmost care and respect.

The dream for you and your organization is that each new referral from one of your donors will become a life-long supporter.

Thus, the circle grows exponentially in an ever-widening way just as the ripples in the pond when you start with a single stone—one donor—who introduces two new donors, each of whom introduces two more.

Making the Ask: Third Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving—Part 2

A Four-Stage Plan for Major Donor Cultivation for the Annual FundDavid A. Mersky image

When people think about making the ask or engaging another to do a solicitation for the organization on whose board they sit, they procrastinate most often when they contemplate making an appointment to meet face-to-face, the only way substantial money is ever raised. After that, when they are face-to-face, most people fear the prospective donor’s objections to the request to contribute.

In fact, research has shown that:

  • 44 per cent of all solicitors gave up after they heard first objection.
  • 22 per cent gave up after the second objection.
  • 16 per cent gave up after the third objection
  • 10 per cent gave up after the fourth objection

The same research established that 73 per cent of all donors voiced five or more objections before being sure enough to make a gift!

In order to succeed as a solicitor, then, all one needs to do is stay in the game, welcome the objections that a prospect may have and manage to overturn them.

There are four key steps to managing objections

  1. Clarify what the prospect is saying and be sure that you understand exactly what the person is saying.
  2. Acknowledge that you heard what the prospect is saying by repeating what the person said—even using their exact same formulation.
  3. Resume making the case for the gift now focused like a laser only on the objection that the prospect has raised. And, finally,
  4. Close again, this time restating the gift in a different form—as an annual, quarterly or a monthly amount.

While using these four tactics for managing objections, do not become argumentative. After acknowledging and responding to each objection, close again. Restate the gift and wait quietly for a response—ready for the next objection or a commitment.

As the solicitor, you should always seek to end the meeting with an agreement. If you do not achieve a commitment to give on the part of the prospect, at least agree to continue the conversation and set a time and place for your next meeting.

On the other hand, if a final gift decision has been made by the prospect, then restate the gift so the donor can hear you confirm the amount. Say thank you and congratulate the donors.

Everyone should feel great about the shared accomplishment.

Next Month: A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund— Fourth Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving–Leveraging the Donor

Previous articles in the series include:

A Strong Leadership Team—Elements of Organizational Success– Part 1

The Development Cycle

A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund

Making the “Ask”: Third Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Nonprofit Giving —Part 1

A Four-Stage Plan for Major Donor Cultivation for the Annual Fund Series

David A. Mersky image“What do you fear the most?” is a question I often ask a group whom I educating about the fine art of solicitation and nonprofit giving. People respond with all of the usual answers that you would anticipate, “Death,” “Getting caught in a fiery conflagration,” and, not surprisingly, “Public speaking.”

No one ever says that they are afraid of “Asking.” But, fear of asking is totally legitimate. In fact, we have an in-bred fear of asking for anything. And, when you overlay our fear of asking for anything with our cultural neurosis about money, then you can understand why a board member refuses to undertake a solicitation
This article is designed, in part, to help you overcome our anxiety about asking.

Step One
The first step is to recognize when a prospective donor is ready to be asked. Signs vary but may include that the prospective donor answers your phone calls, volunteers more and/or make gifts-in-kind.

Step Two
The second step in overcoming your anxiety is to obtain an appointment for a face-to-face meeting. The entire appointment-making process becomes much easier if you truly prepare for the call in great detail. Here is a sure fire way to “score” the appointment which enhances your chance for success.

Begin by clarifying your objectives. Pretend that you are a reporter and that you have to be sure that the lead—the first sentence or paragraph of your story—answers the classic journalist’s questions, “Who, what, when, where, why and how.”
Then, write a script for your side of the call. In that way you will be able to function in an unconsciously competent manner and be prepared to listen actively to the person on the other side of the conversation.

Next Month: Making the “Ask”: Third Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving—Part 2

Previous articles in the series include:

Follow Up and Involve: The Second Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

Gateway Events: First Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

A Four-Stage Plan for Major Donor Cultivation for the Annual Fund – Part 2

Follow Up and Involve: The Second Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

David A. Mersky imageWhenever I travel to meet clients—as I am doing on a flight to Dallas as I write this piece, I often engage with the person sitting next to me. The conversation invariably turns to the inevitable question, “So, what do you do?” I answer that our firm is the “one to call when a nonprofit organization needs to raise more money.”

More often than not, my seatmate begins to talk about a benefit or a gala as if that were the only way they knew how to raise funds. Now, I like a good party as much as the next person, but, I explain, that the real job of development—not just a euphemism for fundraising—is in “developing” and nurturing relationships through a disciplined process of follow-up and involvement that ultimately leads to a face-to-face solicitation.  This is major donor cultivation.

In fact, I say, passionately, as I warm to my subject, disciplined follow-up is the single most important step to creating lifelong donors. It is process that never ends—from the very first contact to a stewardship event long after a gift has been made.

Every follow-up call is essentially a personal contact asking for feedback. You might even view such a contact as a systematic market research call. The questions for which you are seeking answers are, “What will it take to have this prospective donor feel that she or he has made a real contribution?” and “To what extent does he or she want to become involved?”

When you engage a prospective donor through a follow-up call—as you would after they have attended a Gateway event—it enables you to create a customized plan for each prospective donor. And the sooner you can connect and ask for feedback with a follow-up call, then the sooner you can give the prospective donor what she or he wants so that he or she keeps coming back for more—and ultimately make the gift that begins or continues the process of becoming a life-long donor.

I believe in preparation. And, for a follow-up call, that means a script.

Here is a sample that you might use with a prospective donor to learn how she or he might want to become involved. And, as important as the script—knowing what you plan to say—is, even more important you ability to listen actively for cues that the prospect will provide.

After you have reached the person with who you wish to speak, identified yourself and asked permission to speak for a moment or two, you might begin by saying

Thank you for coming to our Gateway Event last Thursday. What did you think?

Be quiet and listen

Is there any way you could see yourself becoming more involved with our organization?

Be quiet and listen

(When you ask someone about becoming more involved with the organization, you should be prepared with two or three options, if they ask you what “involvement” might look like.)

Is there anyone else you would suggest we invite to another Gateway event like the one you attended?

Be quiet and listen

If you have listened well, you will have learned how to plan a “campaign of one” to engage, interest and involve this prospect so that it leads to a philanthropic investment that begins the journey toward life-long support.

NEXT MONTH: Making the “Ask”: Third Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving


Missed last month’s post? Read Gateway Events: First Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving by clicking here

A Four-Stage Plan for Major Donor Cultivation for the Annual Fund

Gateway Events: First Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

David A. MerskyIn the last month, the media has been filled with news of the ALS ice bucket challenge. The challenge is an awareness and fundraising strategy that went viral thanks to Instagram, Facebook, and famous supporters like Oprah Winfrey and has raised more than $100 million dollars.

My friend, Greg Warner, CEO of MarketSmart, posted on his blog an answer to the question of what can we in the nonprofit world learn from the ice bucket challenge. His answer, “Nothing…well, almost nothing.”

Greg points out that we do not yet know the “average gift size, whether any of these donors will continue to support the mission,” and, in his mind, “what this viral campaign will mean for major and planned gifts.”

My guess is that well-meaning board members and staff are trying to figure out how they can replicate this viral campaign on behalf of their own agency. As Greg advises, “you should not spend one more minute concerning yourself or your development colleagues with this. Instead you should pick up the phone or jump in your car to go visit with a major donor, planned gift prospect, Legacy Society member, or anyone else from whom you might secure a major gift.”

But, the essential question is how then do we introduce people who could become a major donor to our organizations in the context of creating a “culture of asking?’

Beginning this month I will outline the first of four stages in the process of lifelong major donor cultivation to sustain the vital work which nonprofits do. The first point in this cycle is the Gateway Event—the very means by which we introduce new friends to support our agency.

Imagine a breakfast meeting on-site, a luncheon in a board member’s conference room, or a wine and cheese reception in a donor’s home. Eight to ten prospective donors who have been identified by your board members and have been invited to gather and learn more about the work of your agency. There will be no solicitation of funds—all you are seeking to do is to introduce high net worth individuals or corporate leaders to the important work that you do in the community.

The invitation is issued by the prospect’s friend and that friend accompanies the two or three folks whom they have invited to attend.

There are three basic components to the Gateway.

  • Capturing names and contact data with permission of the prospect
  • Exquisitely present a well-prepared, succinct overview of the mission, vision and values of the agency, its work, the costs of doing that work, the outcomes of fulfilling the mission and achieving the vision and, finally, the opportunities for people to engage with you.
  • There needs to be a compelling, emotional hook. We are after all, as individuals, we are emotional donors. While we seek rational reasons to justify our decision to give, that decision is essentially an emotional one.

The key to the success of the Gateway Event will be realized 48 hours after the event by which time every prospect who was present will be called…and, we will explore that topic when next we “meet.”

For more information on how we can help you prepare a Gateway event and help your nonprofit with major donor cultivation – email me by clicking here.


NEXT MONTH: Follow Up and Involve: Second Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving

A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund

David A. Mersky imageLast month it was the seven ages of man that led us to understand the mandala of the development cycle. This month, I want to introduce you to the way in which you apply the cycle to a disciplined four stage plan directed to engaging individual prospects and donors for an enhanced annual fund. In each of the next four months, I will drill down and provide detail, but for now a taste of what is to come.

The first stage of the plan is designed to introduce or re-introduce people to your organization. We call these initial gatherings Gateway Events. For the prospective donor, a gateway event serves as the first point in a cycle of life-long giving. For current and lapsed donors, such an event can serve to reintroduce the person to what is happening now in the field and in the agency.

If the gateway event plants seeds in the minds and hearts of prospects, donors and funders, then during the second stage, you consciously begin the process of cultivation through a series of moves that are designed to follow up and involve people. It is the most important step to build lifelong donors and it is a process that once begun, never ends.

When the prospective donor is ready, you move very naturally to the third stage; you make “the Ask.” You will need to overcome your own fears and anxieties which are completely natural. And, through an interactive, respectful conversation, you will move the prospect to making or renewing a gift to this year’s annual fund.

Then, once the commitment to make a gift has been secured, you enter the fourth stage where you leverage the donor and your relationship to expand the circle. Your new (or renewed) donor now, with your disciplined plan of stewardship, begins to introduce others to the process. This is the last step in the cycle as they get to bring people to a gateway event just as they were engaged at the very beginning.

You have now moved one year closer to creating a life-long donor who gives and gets others to do likewise. You are living the dream in which each referral becomes a lifelong donor with an ever-widening circle.

And, the circle of donors—like the circle of life—grows exponentially.

NEXT MONTH: Gateway Events: First Point in a Cycle of Life-Long Giving:

Read the other articles in the Creating a Culture of Asking Series.

The Development Cycle

Creating A Culture of Asking Series

David A. Mersky imageWhile Shakespeare wrote, in As You Like It, that there are seven ages of man, some mistakenly believe that he saw life in a linear way. But, if you read the seven ages carefully you will see in fact that they are more like a circle—a mandala.

The word “mandala” is from the classical Indian language of Sanskrit. Loosely translated to mean “circle,” a mandala is far more than a simple shape. It represents wholeness, and can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.

Describing both material and non-material realities, the mandala appears in all aspects of life: the celestial circles we call earth, sun, and moon, as well as conceptual circles of friends, family, and community. A mandala is an integrated structure organized around a unifying center—and in the development cycle the donor is at the center.

There are also seven stages in the development cycle, also not linear but very much circular.

  1. Identification
    You cannot do anything without first identifying who is a prospect. Who has the capacity—and possible interest—to support your organization. Create a process by which you regularly meet with and interview board members and other donors, sharing with them the names of your prospects and soliciting help in making a connection with the nonprofit.
  2. Research
    The second step is to do as much research about your newly identified prospect as you possibly can. There are two ways to do this:

    The fruits of your labor in this regard may yield you valuable clues as to how to engage with your prospect. However, you may also learn that this person is not a good prospect…and that could be equally as valuable because of the time you will save in not pursuing an unworthy prospect.

  3. Planning
    As a result of the research that you have completed, you should now be in a position to create a plan for engagement. While I will develop this notion more extensively in the coming months, it is important to note that there are four components to such a plan:

    • Opening the Gateway is when we introduce the prospect to our organization
    • Cultivating the relationship is all about the value of the follow-up
    • Making the ask details everything from preparation to face-to-face solicitation
    • Leveraging the donor explores the benefits of stewardship

    And, like any good plan, you have to allocate resources – both financial and human – necessary to achieve the desire results. Who is to be involved in the process at each and every stage? What will be required in terms of special events, communications and marketing materials? What are the anticipated outcomes?

  4. Cultivation
    A prospective donor is not unlike a seed that is planted and requires thoughtful nurturing. To elicit interest on the part of the prospect, create opportunities for involvement in the work of the organization and provide the time and place to deepen a relationship. The most critical element of the cultivation phase of the development cycle is in the careful follow-up so that each and every time there is a point of contact between you your organization and the prospective donor there is a specific plan to reengage within 48 hours and get feedback as to how the relationship is maturing.
  5. Solicitation
    Presuming that your prospect is a candidate for a personal solicitation, then who is involved in that conversation, where it is to take place, “scripting” the drama of the face-to-face encounter, are all steps that have to take place before you meet the prospect to ask him or her for a philanthropic investment. An essential part of the planning for the solicitation itself is obtaining the appointment. You cannot ask someone personally unless you are knee-to-knee and heart-to-heart with your prospect.
  6. Stewardship
    Stewardship has many values. Chief amongst them is to assure that the donor feels great about the interaction that she or he had with you and is thrilled with the opportunity to have made a philanthropic investment in your organization. But equal to that is to find ways to engage the donor even more deeply by helping them identify other prospects and possibly engage in the development cycle by being part of cultivation teams and even undertaking to do face-to-face solicitations.
  7. Renewal
    The seventh and final stage of the development cycle is the process that was begun in the stewardship phase. The plan to renew support next year for an annual gift and in perhaps several years for a special gift begins almost immediately after the initial gift was realized.

And thus we come full circle.

Next Month: A Four Stage Plan for the Annual Fund

Nonprofit Model Fund Development

Creating A Culture of Asking Series

If leadership is the conditio sine qua non for success in the nonprofit enterprise—as it is in any endeavor—then that leadership has to be committed to a program that is a model of best practice in fund development.  Only in this way will you be able to exceed your fundraising goals.

There are six elements to nonprofit model fund development.

  1. First, development must be understood to be a community-building initiative.  Each and every donor is cherished as a valued contributor who in collaboration with others enables the organization to fulfill its mission and achieve its vision—all in keeping with the core values.
  2. Development is the means by which any organization maintains the relationships with all of its stakeholders.  And through those relationships, the programs and services of the agency serve as the fulfillment of the individual and collective aspirations of the community of funders and donors, clients and vendors, staff and volunteer leadership, who make-up this unique community.
  3. Even as a program of model fund development creates and strengthens community, it does so based upon respect for the diversity and individuality of each donor and prospect.  Whether writing an email solicitation or crafting an invitation to a special event, the organization is best served by envisioning the individual for whom the communication—in whatever form—is intended.  In that way, a positive response from repeat donors or first-time contributors is more likely to be assured.
  4. Through donor cultivation, individuals form bonds with the mission, vision and values of the enterprise—and with each other.  People are drawn closer and closer to a better world of which they are the architects as well as the builders.
  5. At every level possible, a program of model fund development aspires to engage with people through face-to-face encounter.  In a world in which we communicate in 140 character bursts and spend our time looking at screens small and large, development is committed to high touch, deeply personal connections.  How else can we validate one another’s worth to a more civil society?
  6. Finally, the outcome of model fund development is to instill in every donor—and those who engage with them, donors themselves—the joy of giving and living.  No one said it better than Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

NEXT MONTH: The Development Cycle

A Strong Leadership Team — Elements Of Organizational Success – Part 2

David A. Mersky image

Creating A Culture of Asking Series

Last month I outlined the first five of the ten essential elements that will help you realize nonprofit capital campaign success.  All of them have to do with,  “leadership…people who do what they say they are going to do.”

Now, while this applies to staff—professional and support—and even more so to volunteers.

As I mentioned there are ten core concepts of volunteer leadership responsibility.  The first five are to:

  1. Determine the mission.
  2. Select the CEO.
  3. Support and evaluate the CEO.
  4. Ensure effective planning.
  5. Monitor and strengthen the agency’s programs and services.

This month, I want to focus on the next five.

6. The sixth core responsibility of the board is to ensure adequate financial resources.  This concept requires the recognition that development is everyone’s responsibility.  The minimum requirement for the board is to achieve 100% participation in development efforts with a personal, exemplary gift.  Then, by working through the Development Committee to:

  • Approve the case for support;
  • Identify and diversify individual sources of funding;
  • Open doors;
  • Solicit the gifts of others; and
  • Steward relationships and acknowledge the support of others.

In sum, board members should become ever-increasingly skilled in the tasks of development and fundraising.

7. Protecting the organization’s assets and providing financial oversight form the seventh central responsibility of board members.  As fiduciaries, they collectively safeguard the organization’s financial health through the work of a finance committee which:

  • Reviews, understands, approves and monitors the annual budget;
  • Establishes policies to balance short- and long-term needs;
  • Verifies systems and practices the fulfill Generally Accepted Accounting Principles;
  • Ensures that there are adequate financial reserves;
  • Provides for appropriate risk-management; and
  • Approves investment policy and oversee performance.

In their role of providing financial oversight the board is supporting the CEO and staff in the work of the mission of the organization.

8. The eighth essential element of success of any board is their role in leadership development that builds a competent board.  Through a standing committee on Governance and Leadership Development, the board begins by creating and maintaining a board profile of existing members.  The committee is constantly identifying prospective new leaders to fill gaps in representation by age, gender, demography, profession, involvement, etc.  The committee engages the board in articulating a set of mutual expectations—both individual and collective.  Additionally, the committee leads the board in:

  • Annually orienting board members—new and old;
  • Connecting the board with meaningful work; and
  • Assessing and evaluating individual and collective performance.

9. By ensuring legal and ethical integrity, the board fulfills its ninth core responsibility.  The board regularly reviews its legal structure and by-laws to conform to current realities and best practices.  They ensure adherence to and compliance with all legal standards and ethical norms.  They maintain total transparency, accountability a culture of openness and adhere to a rigorous conflict-of-interest policy.

10. As ambassadors to the community, the board members meet their tenth central role.  Individually and collectively they advocate on behalf of the organization.  The board represents all of the organization’s stakeholders and they communicate the agency’s story effectively.  They tell the story of their own involvement as well as the organization’s impact.  Board members take primary responsibility for expressing appreciation for donors and funders support and they participate joyfully in the life of the organization’s events and activities.


A Strong Leadership Team—Elements of Nonprofit Organizational Success – Part 1

Creating a Culture of Asking Series

David A. Mersky imageSince last I wrote, one month ago, I have visited with the volunteer and professional leadership of more than eight current or prospective clients.  Invariably, someone—almost always a member of the board—has asked, either, “how can we be assured of success” or “what will cause us to fail.”  Just as invariably, I would reply, “it is all about leadership…people who do what they say they are going to do.”

This applies to staff—professional and support—and even more so to volunteers.  In this article, I want to focus upon the volunteer leaders, the essential elements of success for any nonprofit organization.

There are ten core concepts of volunteer leadership responsibility – the first five will be covered today – that when applied, will secure success.

1. The first core responsibility of the board is to determine the mission.  Volunteers do this in partnership with the staff by first re-imagining the organization on a regular basis.  Then, the board members consult with representatives of all the agency’s stakeholders to periodically ensure that the mission statement is useful, honest, valid, current and advanced.  This assures that the mission statement articulates clearly why and for whom the organization exists.  Most importantly, the board constantly reviews that its priorities as well as those of the staff are mission-driven and that, particularly, the fundraising strategies are empowered by the mission.

2. The second core responsibility is to select the CEO.  When all is said and done, this is the single, most consequential decision that the Board will make.  In the process, the Board identifies the desire attributes of a CEO based upon a consensus about the organization’s culture and circumstances, strategic priorities and goals.  The Board acknowledges that the CEO’s success is linked to the Board’s effectiveness.  In this context the Board develops a clear succession plan, creates a methodology for determining future leadership and installs an emergency transition plan.

3. Third in the list of core responsibilities of the Board is to support and evaluate the CEO.  First and foremost, the relationship of the Board and the CEO should be marked by mutual respect and a distinction of responsibilities.  The Board manifests its support for the CEO and, by extension, the staff by being predictable, clarifying boundaries so as not to micromanage, encouraging decisiveness, providing encouragement and responding to the CEO’s requests for assistance.  In addition, the Board provides an annual, formal, written performance assessment of the CEO generally conducted by the Personnel Committee and the Executive Committee.  Then, the Board encourages and supports the CEO to assess the staff.

4. The fourth core responsibility is to ensure effective planning.  Through effective strategic planning process, the Board translates the mission into goals and objectives, recommends priorities for physical and programmatic expansion and focuses human and financial resources and energies throughout the process.  The Board maintains focus on mission, vision and values, formally approves agreed-upon strategies and outcomes, and monitors the plan’s implementation as well as the organization’s progress in the fulfillment of the plan – all while staying focused upon the big picture.  Note: The Board maintains the strategic vision of the organization while the CEO and staff “operationalize” the annual plan.

5. The fifth core concept is found in the Board’s responsibility to monitor and strengthen the agency’s programs and services.  This is best accomplished by focusing upon the organization’s impact.  The Board also serves as the arbiter in deciding between competing priorities by asking what is the organization trying to achieve, how it assesses its effectiveness and how it measures success.  They can accomplish this by working through a well-developed committee structure.

NEXT MONTH: A Strong Leadership Team—Five Additional Elements of Organizational Success