Everyone Matters | Facebook Article

I just noticed a new Facebook feature that allows one to write an article. I wrote the following on Facebook, and I am also sharing the text here with my WordPress followers.

I often encounter people who seek to raise major gifts for worthy nonprofit causes. And some believe all that is involved is chatting with wealthy prospective donors. But the process of inspiring the trust of potential funding partners is much more involved, and it can take months – even years – to gain access to them for a meaningful fundraising “chat.” Even then, after the “ask” takes places, it may take months of research and deliberation on their part (and on the part of their professional advisors), before a decision to donate is made.

What kinds of things can impact major gifts that you might not expect?

  • I have known a groundskeeper to inspire a $1 million endowment gift, simply by taking the time to walk with and talk to someone who – unknown to them – was capable of massive generosity.
  • I have witnessed a tantrum on the part of a donor who called the office of a nonprofit, and was forced to speak with a secretary, rather than the capital campaign coordinator directly. And if you wonder why I no longer have a secretary, now you know why.
  • I have watched seven-figure donors work hard and thoughtfully alongside staff at all levels, doing routine and fairly mundane tasks. And the staff had no idea of their capability.
  • I have had a few nonprofit volunteers walk over to my desk where I was quietly conducting business, and tell me they would like to make five- and six-figure donations. I had no idea they were capable of such gifts.
  • I have seen completely “bombed-out” capital campaigns where the community, its civic leaders, and the local philanthropic community actually hated the nonprofit. And within six months, I’ve seen them change their minds and donate substantially.
  • I have seen expensive consulting firms conduct research on nonprofits and report that there is little or no hope of raising major gifts. This is even though some of the wealthiest people in the United States own property in the neighborhood, and they occasionally attend events hosted by the nonprofits.
  • I have seen a $25 annual donor turn into a $5 million capital campaign donor.
  • I have heard nonprofits say they only have a few donors and they wring their hands, fearing they can raise very little in the way of major gifts. But I have reviewed their modest donor and prospect lists, and I have found a billionaire or two, and some donors with connections to foundations and corporations.
  • I have seen donors look at a nonprofit website and determine solely from that (and perhaps also a lackluster Facebook page), that the nonprofit is primitive and doing nothing much at all. But, the nonprofit has been busy doing other, very important things.
  • I have also seen donors look at an all-volunteer nonprofit’s Form 990 (tax return), and because they have little income and expenses, say they aren’t sophisticated enough to handle a major gift. But then, being inspired nonprofit entrepreneurs, they got all their work done, and all their materials donated, free of charge. Surely, this must count for something, smiles.

So, major gift fundraising has taught me that chatting with prospective donors is perhaps 3% of the total work involved, and maybe less.

As we move forward in this complicated, multi-faceted world, consider these things. Everyone needs to be a little more flexible and forgiving. And our sector must realize people at all levels of nonprofit organizations matter. They can have tremendous influence (positive and negative). Make them feel part of the organization’s overall success. Last but not least, volunteers matter. A lot. And of course, we must all do more research.

Best wishes for your fundraising success this coming year!

Carolyn M. Appleton

You can find me on Facebook at carolynmappletonfornonprofits

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