From the Mailbox to the Living Room Part 1 – How we talk about creating an Inspiring Donor Journey

by Marcy Heim on April 14, 2023

Today I’m headed to Austin to present AFP Austin’s Major Gift Intensive! Excited to share major giving magic – even more excited to be WARM! There’s still SNOW in my backyard!

Flowers in snow!

Along with the snow and the deep layer of accumulated leaves and branches are these determined flowers! No stopping them! There’s a lesson there for you. YOU, too, can push through barriers to SHINE!

One of our biggest barriers is that “line” between all the transactional stuff we do with our donors and really wanting to foster a personal relationship.  Sometimes that “line” feels like a 50-foot high cement wall, doesn’t it? But if the goal is to begin a conversation about a MAJOR gift and life-long giving….we NEED TO HAVE that first IN-PERSON visit.

Here’s how my colleague Tim Logan, a direct response expert, pictures it.  If you are coming to AFP ICON April 16-18 jump into the session I’ll be doing with Tim and Nancy Gerard, Director of Development and Alumni Relations, Georgia Cumberland Academy. It’s Monday, April 17, 8-9:15 am.  The title – Getting from the Mailbox to the Living Room! Creating an Inspired Donor Journey. For those of you not able to attend, my next series of blog posts will be dedicated to this topic AND go more in depth! Wohoo!

The Development Gap

So back to that call to begin an IN-PERSON relationship…

Maybe you call and use all those phrases you have been told – ask for advice, you just want to thank them, you want to give them an update or share a new program….

Maybe you get anxious over how many times you should call them before you are a pest. Should you leave a message? Maybe some people just don’t want to meet, right?

Did you ever consider that getting together in person might be just as scary for them as it is for you?  They may be wondering what you are going to ask them – will they be put on the spot? Will you ask for money? What do you reallywant?

While this is only one step in creating an inspiring donor journey – it’s an important one in bridging the gap between transactional interactions and those that build a more genuine in-person relationship. Let’s figure out how to start building a bridge.

Deepening Transactions to a Real Relationship – Part I – Securing the first in-person visit.

1.    Transactions give you a starting point.

Whatever your giver may have done to date – made an annual gift, attended an event, volunteered, responded on social media…. they have ‘raised their hand’ and said they are interested in your mission. 

2.    Research helps you narrow the list.

We are constantly looking for what we share – “Oh, you like ABBA too?”  Consider your current major donors. What values and interests do they have?  Family? Faith? Children? Art? Music?  If you have a large list of smaller donors consider using a wealth research product to narrow down the list you want to engage personally.

3.    Determine the purpose of your call – and stick to it!

If you call to say, thank you – say thank you. Period.  If you call to say you appreciate them liking your facebook post. Say that. Period.  If you just sent out an appeal in an email and you want to know if they saw it and are considering a gift. Say that. If you want an appointment. Say that. 

“Hi! This is Marcy from Southside Day School. I’d really like to get to know you better. Would a morning cup of coffee or an afternoon conversation work for us to meet? It will be so nice to hear your thoughts on the school.”

4.    Get your mind set for success.

“We become what we think about.” (Earl Nightingale) Before you make any of these calls, consider that you are fun and enjoy being with people – hearing about their lives, sharing things you have in common and bringing them to better understand your non-profit.  You aren’t qualifying them, interrogating them, asking them, or judging them.  Would you want to meet with someone like that?

5.    Real relationships take time. 

“Hi! My name is Marcy. Will you marry me?” Oh right, I’m already married. While I do believe in love at first sight – I fell for Ken the second I saw him – it takes time to grow the relationship. You may feel more efficient if you gather a lot of key information over the phone or on the first visit –people often love to share.  You’ll be more effective LISTENING even if you don’t get through your list of data points you wanted from this visit.  If you are “processing” your visit list – and really don’t care about authentically getting to know them, it’s SO apparent on you call. I wouldn’t meet with you either.

6.    Let people know you are going to call or call back.

Use different vehicles to let someone know you are working to connect. Send a text that you are going to call in an hour or so.  Write a note saying you want to get together and will call to find a time. If you call LEAVE A MESSAGE.  Research shows that messages (well done messages) are 90% as effective as actually talking. Be conversational (even if you have scripted it and practiced it), genuine, caring and brief. Don’t ask them to call back. Let them know when you will call again OR ask them to look for an email from you. Or send an email letting them know you are calling.

7.    Always have a next step in mind.

If they don’t want to meet in person ask if they would be more comfortable joining a group of people meeting on Tuesday morning. Or see if coming to your offices is something they would rather do. Or what would be their advice for making this visit happen?  

8.    Call them again a few days later with a reflection of your earlier call.

“Marcy here – I was thinking about you today – I believe you like our XYZ program.  Today we had the best thing happen and I wanted to share it with you.”  This can be done on the phone, email, text…

9.    This whole getting together piece is easier with someone they know, like and trust in the middle. 

Best, if the friend has time, invite them to join in.  I remember once at a board training session talking about Board members making introductions. One looked so annoyed so I said, “This doesn’t seem to be resonating.” She replied, “I’m not going to set up my friends to be hit up for money.”  By all means, invite the board member along and please don’t “hit them up!” What a great opportunity to educate on the art of fundraising!

10.    Decide you really like this piece of our work!

If you really do love your mission, and you feel your mission is worthy of the investments of others – just stay the course. How long until you give up?  In the sales world they say 20 calls in 2 weeks – Can you believe this? I say it depends on how much you already know – if you feel there is potential for a major gift at some point, I’d stay in touch. I used to dress up, put on perfume, and head into a conference room for 2 hours twice a month – smile like crazy – believe these were all people who really wanted to get to know me and us better and I’d just start calling. “Marcy here, just checking in to see how you are doing.”  What about the notion that some people really just don’t want to meet in person. I guess so. If your focus is whatever is best for them, you will always be right.

Admit 1

Next time – Face to Face for the first time – Do’s and don’ts.

Until then – you have a calling and I’m so grateful you picked fundraising and development work to share your gifts as staff, donors and/or volunteers. More and more being real – genuine – clear – direct – simple. The world may seem complicated right now. Your life doesn’t have to be.  SHINE ON!

Invest in JOY®

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