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You claim in your book, Asking that printed materials and computer presentations aren’t that important. Really? Even in this age of smartphones and tablet computers?
JEROLD PANAS: I put campaign brochures very low on the list of what motivates a donor. Every study I’ve done supports this. Those fancy line-embossed, die-cut, four-color brochures just aren’t read, though the photos will be glanced at. Worse still, they’re often a turn-off, due to the perceived cost of producing them.
And as far as a computer presentation is concerned – ugh!
In my experience, nothing takes the place of a one-on-one presentation, the solicitor probing and asking questions – and listening most of the time.
I do bring a few pieces to leave behind. One is usually a three-ring binder. That’s because no one has ever thrown away a three-ring binder! Another is a simple question and answer folder – one that can fit in a breast pocket or in a purse. Think of seven or eight questions that are likely to be asked, or questions that simply must be answered. This Q & A piece will be one of the most read pieces in your arsenal.
In your book, How to Write Fundraising Materials that Raise More Money, you cite nine flaws that sabotage most nonprofit communications. We don’t have time to discuss all nine, but maybe you can describe two or three of the most harmful.
TOM AHERN: I do a lot of audits, evaluating the "donor readiness" of nonprofit communications. And the big problem is always the same. Charities want to talk about themselves … how good they are at their work … how they do their work … how their people are eminently qualified. They don't often talk about the donor, except as bystander who can be placated with perfunctory thanks. This gravely undercuts the potential of most communications programs. CEOs need to realize that there are two very different types of communications a nonprofit can produce. You can do 1) "corporate" communications, which are all about how great the organization is. Or you can do 2) "donor" communications, which are all about how great the donor is. Most nonprofits incorrectly choose #1. It's a bad strategy. Corporate communications raise the LEAST amount of money. DONOR communications raise the MOST, because they flatter the donor rather than try to impress him her. I watched a hospital improve giving to its donor newsletter 1,000% between one issue and the next, to $50,000 in gifts per issue, by simply changing from a corporate communications approach to a donor communications approach.
According to the research you did for The 11 Questions Every Donor Asks, what about the solicitor matters most to the would-be donor?
HARVEY MCKINNON: Trust is absolutely essential. Without it, a gift is unlikely. Guess what’s not so important. How smart you are. I know some brilliant people who aren’t good person-to-person fundraisers. They don't connect well, can’t read social cues or engage in the kind of conversation that motivates donors. And then there are fundraisers of average intelligence, who because of their charm, passion, and integrity raise a fortune.
One last thing: I’m often asked which of the 11 questions I discuss in my book is most important. Of course, virtually nothing applies to 100 percent of any population. But if you forced me to choose the one question that’s most important to the majority of donors it would be: Will my gift make a difference? All else equal, if you can answer that question honestly, and compellingly, your chances of getting a gift soar.
It sounds counter-intuitive, but in How to Raise $1 Million (or More) in 10 Bite-Sized Steps, you claim that when an organization thinks about financing its vision, it’s better to think big than small. Why?
ANDREA KIHLSTEDT: As you think about financing the vision for your organization, you may be surprised to discover that, rather than thinking small, your best bet is to begin by thinking big. Why? Because raising $1.5 million is usually no more difficult than raising $1 million. In either case, you’ll go through the same process and approach the very same donors. The difference is only one of scale.
This sounds strange, I know. But often the same person who can afford to contribute $100,000 can also give you $250,000 if she’s convinced the larger expenditure will make the project notably stronger.
The risks of thinking big early in the process are few, and the rewards may be great. You’ll have a chance later to scale back if your goal proves untenable. But you won’t have a second chance to set bigger goals or create a broader vision once your campaign is underway.
A lot of board members think they can “quick-cultivate” a prospect – you know, bring a wealthy person on board as their campaign heats up and then ask for a sizable gift. Does that ever work?
THOMAS WOLF: I won’t say “never.” I have seen new prospects come to an event or activity – especially one that may involve kids or needy individuals – witness some transformational experience, and write a check on the spot. But as I emphasize in How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise, most major donors are more deliberate and careful. They want to get to know an organization, and especially the people within it, before giving anything significant. With endowment gifts, the level of scrutiny will be even greater. After all, such gifts presuppose a healthy and thriving organization for a very, very long time.